The Emperor and Empress of Russia, on Wednesday, May 27. 1885, the second anniversary of their coronation at Moscow, opened the Maritime Canal, in the Bay of Cronstadt, the shallow upper extremity of the Gulf of Finland, by which great work the city of St. Petersburg is made a seaport as much as London. St. Petersburg, indeed, stands almost on the sea shore, at the very mouth of the Neva, though behind several low islands which crowd the head of the Gulf; and though this is an inland sea without saltness or tides, it is closed by ice in winter. Seventeen miles to the west is the island of Cronstadt, a great fortress, with naval dockyards and arsenals for the imperial fleet, and with a spacious harbor for ships of commerce. The navigable entrance channel up the Bay of Cronstadt to the mouth of the Neva lies under the south side of Cronstadt, and is commanded by its batteries. As the bay eastward has a depth not exceeding 12 ft., and the depth of the Neva at its bar is but 9 ft., all large vessels have been obliged hitherto to discharge their cargoes at Cronstadt, to be there transferred to lighters and barges which brought the goods up to the capital. "The delay and expense of this process," says Mr. William Simpson, our special artist, "will be understood by stating that a cargo might be brought from England by a steamer in a week, but it would take three weeks at least to transport the same cargo from Cronstadt to St. Petersburg. Of course, much of this time was lost by custom house formalities.
Sometimes it has taken even longer than is here stated, which made the delivery of goods at St. Petersburg a matter of great uncertainty, thus rendering time contracts almost an impossibility. This state of things had continued from the time of Peter the Great, and his great scheme had never been fully realized. The increase of commerce and shipping had long made this a crying evil; but even with all these difficulties, the trade here has been rapidly growing. A scheme to bring the shipping direct to the capital had thus become almost a necessity. As Manchester wishes to bring the ocean traffic to her doors without the intervention of Liverpool, so St. Petersburg desired to have its steamers sailing up to the city, delivering and loading their cargoes direct at the stores and warehouses in her streets. If Glasgow had not improved the Clyde, and had up to the present day to bring up all goods carried by her ocean going steamers from Port Glasgow--a place constructed for that purpose last century, and which is twenty miles from Glasgow--she would have been handicapped exactly as St. Petersburg has been till now in the commercial race.
"For some years the subject was discussed at St. Petersburg, and more than one scheme was proposed; at last the project of General N. Pooteeloff was adopted. According to this plan, a canal has been cut through the shallow bottom of the Gulf of Finland, all the way from Cronstadt to St. Petersburg. The line of this canal is from northwest to southeast; it may be said to run very nearly parallel to the coast line on the south side of the Gulf, and about three miles distant from it. This line brings the canal to the southwest end of St. Petersburg, where there are a number of islands, which have formed themselves, in the course of ages, where the Bolshaya, or Great Neva, flows into the Gulf. It is on these islands that the new port is to be formed. It is a very large harbor, and capable of almost any amount of extension. It will be in connection with the whole railway system of Russia. One part of the scheme is that of a new canal, on the south side of the city, to connect the maritime canal, as well as the new harbor, with the Neva, so that the large barges may pass, by a short route, to the river on the east, and thus avoid the bridges and traffic of the city.
"The whole length of the canal is about eighteen miles. The longer portion of it is an open channel, which is made 350 feet wide at bottom. Its course will be marked by large iron floating buoys; these it is proposed to light with gas by a new self-acting process which has been very successful in other parts of the world; by this means the canal will be navigable by night as well as by day. The original plan was to have made the canal 20 feet deep, but this has been increased to 22 feet. The Gulf of Finland gradually deepens toward Cronstadt, so that the dredging was less at the western end. This part was all done by dredgers, and the earth brought up was removed to a safe distance by means of steam hopper barges. The contract for this part of the work was sublet to an American firm--Morris and Cummings, of New York. The eastern portion of the work on the canal is by far the most important, and about six miles of it is protected by large and strong embankments on each side. These embankments were formed by the output of the dredgers, and are all faced with granite bowlders brought from Finland; at their outer termination the work is of a more durable kind, the facing is made of squared blocks of granite, so that it may stand the heavy surf which at times is raised by a west wind in the Gulf. These embankments, as already stated, extend over a space of nearly six miles, and represent a mass of work to which there is no counterpart in the Suez Canal; nor does the plan of the new Manchester Canal present anything equivalent to it.
The width of this canal also far exceeds any of those notable undertakings. The open channel is, as stated above, 350 ft. wide; within the embankments the full depth of 22 ft. extends to 280 ft., and the surface between the embankments is 700 ft. This is nearly twice the size of the Suez Canal at the surface, which is 100 meters, or about 320 ft., while it is only about 75 ft. at the bottom; the Amsterdam Canal is 78 ft. wide. The new Manchester Canal is to be 100 ft. of full depth, and it boasts of this superiority over the great work of Lesseps. The figures given above will show how far short it comes of the dimensions of the St. Petersburg Canal. The Manchester Canal is to be 24 ft. in depth; in that it has the advantage of 2 ft. more than the St. Petersburg Canal; but with the ample width this one possesses, this, or even a greater depth, can be given if it should be found necessary. Most probably this will have ultimately to be done, for ocean going steamers are rapidly increasing in size since the St. Petersburg Canal was planned, and in a very few years the larger class of steamers might have to deliver their cargoes at Cronstadt, as before, if the waterway to St. Petersburg be not adapted to their growing dimensions.