The Canal, the connection between two Oceans

By Will Irvive

The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel that was dreamt of in the sixteen century and is still being perfected. Known by several nicknames, including “the big ditch” and “the French trench,” this manmade canal joins the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. With the canal’s massive impact on trade and shipping, it is sometimes difficult to imagine what it was like before the canal existed.
Whenever we think of Spain and seafarers, the first thing that comes to mind is Christopher Columbus’ historic voyage to America. But Spain, in the sixteenth century, was wealthy and adventurous and eager to establish new trade routes. They were keen to find a faster and safer route to Peru than having to contend with the dangers Cape Horn presented. In an attempt to achieve this, the King of Spain, Charles V, ordered the first studies to construct a canal to join the two oceans. The project was too complex and the canal remained a dream...that is, until the nineteenth century.

Having built the Suez Canal in 1869, the French were upbeat about being able to connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. In 1876, the Geographical Society of Paris set up a committee, La Société Civile Internationale du Canal Interocéanique de Darien, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps for conducting studies to construct the canal. Work on the canal commenced in 1880. But the French were in for a rude shock.

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They had not only underestimated the task at hand, they had also not taken into account the region’s harsh jungle terrain,torrential rains and unbearable humidity. Deadly diseases, particularly yellow fever and malaria, consumed not only laborers but also the company’s top directors. After seven years of battling with the atrocities being unleashed by nature and the death of almost 22,000 workers, the French abandoned the project.

The US had to pay $40 million for a transfer of rights and property from the bankrupt French company. It’s not that the French efforts were a total waste. In fact, the US inherited huge excavations, equipment and a railroad. The French had also built houses, hospitals and churches. However, the biggest challenge that the French company had faced was disease -tuberculosis, cholera, malaria, smallpox and bubonic plague… all were epidemics. By the turn of the century, medical advances had been made, which greatly helped overcome this setback.


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Excavation by the Americans circa1909 (above)
circa 1907 (right)


Port of Baltimore makes deal with Panama Canal. The Maryland Port Administration reached an agreement with the agency that runs the Panama Canal Authority to work with one another to promote use of a water route between the Baltimore Port and the Pacific Ocean. The understanding calls for the Baltimore port administration and the Panama Canal to launch joint efforts on information sharing and collective marketing.




Fossil horse teeth found at Panama Canal. Expanding the Panama Canal to make way for super-sized ships is providing geologists and paleontologists with rare finds. A paleontology intern at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, unearthed the set of fossil teeth in the Panama Canal earthworks that belonged to a horse living 15 to 18 million years ago. Bruce MacFadden, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, described as being from Anchitherium clarencei, a three-toed browsing horse.

The Canal Dig with the explosives being used, makes this area one of the very few places in the tropics where one has access to fresh outcrops, before mother nature can wash away by torrential rains or become victim of overgrown vegetation. The fossils that have been salvaged will no doubt resolve some major scientific mysteries in North America.



Copyright© 2011, Pan Am Publishing S.A., Republic of Panama