Canals are artificial channels for water. There are two types of canals: water conveyance canals, which are used for the conveyance and delivery of water, and
waterways, which are navigable transportation canals used for passage of goods and people, often connected to existing lakes, rivers, or oceans. For canals used for water supply, see Aqueduct.
Types of artificial waterways
Some canals are part of an existing waterway. This is usually where a river has been canalised: making it navigable by widening and deepening some parts (by dredging and/or weirs), and providing locks with "cuts" around the
weirs or other difficult sections. In France, these are called "lateral canals" and in the UK they are generally called navigations, and the length of the artificial waterway often exceeds the natural. Smaller transportation canals can carry barges or narrowboats, while ship canals allow seagoing ships to travel to an inland port (eg Manchester Ship Canal, or from one sea or ocean to another (eg Caledonian Canal, Kiel Canal).
At their simplest, canals consist of a trench filled with water. Depending on the
stratumthe canal passes through, it may be necessary to line the cut with some form of watertight material such as clay or concrete. When this is done with clay this is known as puddling.
Canals need to be flat, and while small irregularities in the lie of the land can be dealt with through cuttings and embankments for larger deviations, other approaches have been adopted. The most common is the pound lock which consists of a chamber within which the water level can be raised or lowered connecting either two pieces of canal at a different level or the canal with a river or the sea. When there is a hill to be climbed, flights of many locks in short succession may be used.
Prior to the development of the pound lock in 984AD in China by Chhaio Wei-Yo [Harvnb|Hadfield|1986|p=22.] and later in Europe in the 15th century, either flash locks consisting of a single gate were used, or ramps, sometimes equipped with rollers, were used to change level. Flash locks were only practical where there was plenty of water available.
Locks use a lot of water, so builders have adopted other approaches. These include
boat lifts, such as the Falkirk wheel, which use a caisson of water in which boats float while being moved between two levels; and inclined planes where a caisson is hauled up a steep railway.
To cross a stream or road, the solution is usually to bridge with an
aqueduct. To cross a wide valley (where the journey delay caused by a flight of locks at either side would be unacceptable) the centre of the valley can be spanned by an aqueduct- a famous example in Wales is the Pontcysyllteaqueduct across the valley of the River Dee.
Another option when dealing with hills is to tunnel through them. An example of this approach is the
Harecastle Tunnelon the Trent and Mersey Canal. Tunnels are only practical for smaller canals.
Some canals attempted to keep changes in level down to a minimum. These canals known as
contour canals would take longer winding routes, along which the land was a uniform altitude. Other generally latter canals took more direct routes requiring the use of various methods to deal with the change in level.
Canals have various features to tackle the problem of water supply. In some cases such as the Suez Canal the canal is simply open to the sea. Where the canal is not at sea level a number of approaches have been adopted. Taking water from existing rivers or springs was an option in some cases, sometimes supplemented by other methods to deal with seasonal variations in flow. Where such sources were unavailable,
reservoirs, either separate from the canal, or built into its course, and back pumpingwere used to provide the required water. In other cases water pumped from mines was used to feed the canal.
The oldest known canals were built in
Mesopotamiacirca 4000 BC, in what is now modern day Iraqand Syria. The Indus Valley Civilizationin Pakistanand North India(from circa 2600 BC) had a sophisticated canal irrigationsystem. Agriculture was practised on a large scale, and an extensive network of canals was used for the purpose of irrigation. Sophisticated irrigation and storage systems were developed, including the reservoirs built at Girnarin 3000 BC. [Harvnb|Rodda|2004|p=161.]
Egypt, canals date back at least to the time of Pepi I Meryre(reigned 2332 – 2283 BC), who ordered a canal built to bypass the cataract on the Nile near Aswan. [Harvnb|Hadfield|1986|p=16.]
ancient China, large canals for river transport were established as far back as the Warring States(481-221 BC), the longest one of that period being the Hong Gou (Canal of the Wild Geese), which according to the ancient historian Sima Qianconnected the old states of Song, Zhang, Chen, Cai, Cao, and Wei. [Harvnb|Needham|1971|p=269.] By far the longest canal was the Grand Canal of China, still the longest canal in the world today. It is convert|1794|km|mi long and was built to carry the Emperor Yang Guang between Beijingand Hangzhou. The project began in 605 and was completed in 609, although much of the work combined older canals, the oldest section of the canal existing since at least 486 BC. Even in its narrowest urban sections it is rarely less than convert|30|m|ft wide.
Canals in the Middle Ages
Naviglio Grandenear Milanwas the first artificial canal in Medieval Europe and the most important of the lombard “ navigli”; started in 1127and opened in 1257, allowing development of commerce, transport and agriculture. [Harvnb|Calvert|1963|p=.] Canal building was revived in this age because of commercial expansion from the 12th century AD. River navigations were improved progressively by the use of single, or flash locks. Taking boats through these used large amounts of water leading to conflicts with watermillowners and to correct this, the pound or chamber lock first appeared, in 10th century AD in China and in Europe in 1373 in Vreeswijk, Netherlands. [Citation | title = The International Canal Monuments List | url = http://www.icomos.org/studies/canals.pdf | format = PDF | accessdate = 2008-10-08] Another important development was the mitre gatewhich was probably introduced in Italy by Bertola da Novate in the sixteenth century. This allowed wider gates and also removed the height restriction of guillotine locks.
To break out of the limitations caused by river valleys, the first
summit level canals were developed with the Grand Canal of Chinain 581-617 AD whilst in Europe the first, also using single locks, was the Stecknitz Canalin Germany in 1398. The first to use pound locks was the Briare Canalconnecting the Loireand Seinecatchment areas in France (1642) followed by the more ambitious Canal du Midi(1683) connecting the Atlanticto the Mediterranean. This included a staircase of 8 locks at Béziers, a convert|157|m|ft tunnel and three major aqueducts.
Canal building progressed steadily in Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries with three great rivers, the
Elbe, Oderand Weserbeing linked by canals. In post-Roman Britain, the first canal built appears to have been the Exeter Canal, which opened in 1563. The oldest canal built for industrial purposes in North America is Mother Brookin Dedham, MA. It was constructed in 1639 to provide water power for mills. In Russia, the Volga-Baltic Waterway, a nationwide canal system connecting the Baltic and Caspian seas via the Nevaand Volgarivers, was opened in 1718.
The greatest stimulus to canal systems came from the
Industrial Revolutionwith its need for cheap transport of raw materials and manufactured items.
:see also|History of the British canal systemIn Europe, particularly Britain and Ireland, and then in the young United States and the Canadian colonies, inland canals preceded the development of
railroads during the earliest phase of the Industrial Revolution. The opening of the Bridgewater Canalin 1761, which halved the price of coal in Manchester, triggered a period of "canal mania" in Britain so that between 1760 and 1820 over one hundred canals were built.
In the United States, navigable canals reached into isolated areas and brought them in touch with the world beyond. By 1825 the
Erie Canal, convert|363|mi|km long with 82 locks, opened up a connection from the populated Northeast to the fertile Great Plains. The Blackstone Canalin Massachusetts and Rhode Island fulfilled a similar role in the early industrial revolution between 1828-1848. The Blackstone Valleywas considered the 'birthplace' of the American Industrial Revolution where Samuel Slater built his first mill.
In addition to their transportation purposes, parts of the United States, particularly in the Northeast, had enough fast-flowing rivers that
water powerwas the primary means of powering factories (usually textile mills) until after the American Civil War. For example, Lowell, Massachusetts, considered to be "The Cradle of the American Industrial Revolution," has convert|6|mi|km of canals, built from around 1790 to 1850, that provided water power and a means of transportation for the city. The output of the system is estimated at 10,000 horsepower[Citation | url = http://www.nps.gov/archive/lowe/loweweb/Lowell%20History/prologue.htm | title = Lowell National Historical Park - Lowell History Prologue | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-10-08] . Other cities with extensive power canal systems include Lawrence, Massachusetts, Holyoke, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire.
The 19th century
Competition from the railway network from the 1830s, and later the roads, made the smaller canals obsolete for commercial transportation, and most of the British canals fell into decay. Only the
Manchester Ship Canaland the Aire and Calder Canalbucked this trend. But in other countries canals grew in size as construction techniques improved. During the 19th century in the US, the length of canals grew from convert|100|mi|km to over 4,000, with a complex network making the Great Lakesnavigable, in conjunction with Canada, although some canals were later drained and used as railroad rights-of-way.
In France, a steady linking of all the river systems—
Rhine, Rhône, Saôneand Seine—and the North Sea was boosted in 1879 by the establishment of the Freycinet gaugewhich specified the minimum size of locks so that canal traffic doubled in the first decades of the 20th century. [Harvnb|Edwards|2002|p=.]
Many notable sea canals were completed in this period, starting with the
Suez Canal(1869), and the Kiel Canal(1897), which carries tonnage many times that of most other canals, though the Panama Canalwas not opened until 1914.
In the 19th century, a number of canals were built in Japan including the
Biwako canaland the Tone canal. These canals were partially built with the help of engineers from the Netherlands and other countries. [Harvnb|Hadfield|1986|p=191.]
Large scale ship canals such as the
Panama Canaland Suez Canalcontinue to operate for cargo transportation; as do European barge canals. Due to globalization, they are becoming increasingly important, resulting in expansion projects such as the Panama Canal expansion project.
The narrow early industrial canals however have ceased to carry significant amounts of trade and many have been abandoned to navigation, but may still be used as a system for transportation of untreated water. In some cases railways have been built along the canal route, an example being the
A movement that began in Britain and France to use the early industrial canals for pleasure boats has spurred rehabilitation of stretches of historic canals. In some cased abandoned canals such as the
Kennet and Avon Canalhave been restored and are now used by pleasure boaters. In Britain canalside housing has also proven popular in recent years.
Seine-Nord Europe Canalis being developed into a major transportation waterway, linking Francewith Belgium, Germanyand the Netherlands.
Canals have found another use in the 21st century, as
wayleaves along the towing paths for fibre optic telecommunicationsnetworks.
Cities on water
Canals are so deeply identified with
Venicethat many canal cities have been nicknamed "the Venice of..." The city is built on marshy islands, with wooden piles supporting the buildings, so that the land is man-made rather than the waterways. The islands have a long history of settlement; by the 12th century, Venice was a powerful city state. Amsterdamwas built in a similar way, with buildings on wooden piles. The pace of draining of fenlandand polderin the Low Countriesquickened in the 14th century and canalization made the village of Amsterdam a port. It became a city around 1300.
Other cities with extensive canal networks include:
Bruggein Flanders, Birminghamin England, Saint Petersburgin Russia, Hamburgin Germany, and Fort Lauderdale, Floridain the United States.
Canal estates are a form of subdivision popular in cities like
Miami, Floridaand the Gold Coast, Queensland; the Gold Coast has over 700 km of residential canals. Wetlandsare difficult areas upon which to build housing estates, so dredgingpart of the wetland down to a navigablechannel provides fill to build up another part of the wetland above the flood level for houses. Land is built up in a finger pattern that provides a suburban street layout of waterfront housing blocks. This practice is not popular with environmentalists.Fact|date=October 2008
Inland canals have often have had boats specifically built for them. An example of this is the British
narrowboatwhich is up to convert|72|ft|m long and convert|7|ft|m wide and was primarily built for British Midland canals. In this case the limiting factor was the size of the locks. This is also the limiting factor on the Panama canal where Panamaxboats are limited to a length of 294.1 metres and a width of 32.3 metres. For the lockless Suez Canalthe limiting factor for Suezmaxes is generally draft which is limited to 16 metres. At the other end of the scale, tub-boat canals such as the Bude Canalwere limited to boats of under 10 tons for much of their length due to the capacity of their inclined planes or boat lifts. Most canals have a limit on height imposed either by bridges or tunnels.
Lists of Canals
List of waterways
Canals of Canada
List of canals in the United States
List of canals in France
List of canals in Germany
Canals of Ireland
Canals of Great Britain
Barge(includes canal boats)
List of navigation authorities in the United Kingdom
List of waterway societies in the United Kingdom
Volumetric flow rate
*Citation | first = Roger | last = Calvert | title = Inland Waterways of Europe | publisher=George Allen and Unwin | year = 1963
*Citation | first = David | last = Edwards-May | title = European Waterways - map and concise directory | publisher = Euromapping | year = 2002
*Citation | first = Charles | last = Hadfield | authorlink = Charles Hadfield | title = World Canals: Inland Navigation Past and Present | publisher = David and Charles | year = 1986 | ISBN = 0-7153-8555-0
*Citation | first = J | last = Needham | title = Science and Civilisation in China | publisher = C.U.P. Cambridge | year = 1971
*Citation | first = J. C. | last = Rodda | title = The Basis of Civilization - Water Science? | publisher = International Association of Hydrological Sciences | year = 2004
* [http://www.towpathtreks.co.uk/ Leeds Liverpool Canal Photographic Guide]
* [http://www.nycanals.com/ Information and Boater's Guide to the New York State Canal System]
* [http://academic.emporia.edu/aberjame/wetland/canal/canals.htm "Canals and Navigable Rivers" by James S. Aber, Emporia State University]
* [http://www.canals.org/ National Canal Museum (USA)]
* [http://www.world-city-photos.org/Amsterdam/photos/Canals_and_Bridges/ Canals in Amsterdam]
* [http://www.canaldumidi.com Canal du Midi]
* [http://www.canaldumidi.com/Canal-des-Deux-Mers.php Canal des Deux Mers]
* [http://www.usbr.gov/pmts/hydraulics_lab/water/bubbler/index.htm Canal flow measurement using a sensor] .
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