The Chignecto Ship Railway
Boston: Damrell & Upham, 
The current Canadian edition of Reader's Digest features a piece I wrote about some of this country's great unrealized projects. Toronto's Vimy Circle, the Chateau Prince Rupert and Jean Drapeau's 325-metre-tall concrete celery stalk figure, as do Thomas Mawson's plans to recast cow town Calgary in the City Beautiful style, but the Chignecto Ship Railway ranks as my favourite.
In Ketchum's dream, ocean-going ships would be raised from the Bay of Fundy, transported along a 27-kilometre double-tracked railway, then gently lowered into the Northumberland Strait.
And vice versa.
The pitch for what was to have been the world's first ship railway is all here in this booklet Ketchum wrote for the 1893 World's Columbian Water Commerce Congress. A desperate document, it was produced at a time when the project was in great jeopardy. You see, the most incredible aspect of this impossible dream is that the money ran out within weeks of completion.
It wouldn't be right to retell the whole sad, tragic story here – buy the magazine – but I spoil nothing in saying that the effort failed. The Chignecto Ship Railway died – and with it the whole idea of ship railways. Ketchum knew one could not live without the other, writing:
The safe transit of a ship in cargo across the Isthmus of Chignecto will be the signal for many other ship railway schemes to begin construction. The Tehuantepec, the Panama, the Cape Cod, the Ontario and Michigan isthmuses will be vanquished by this means; and various obstructions can be overcome and short cuts made in different parts of the world.
That passage is one of the most interesting in The Chignecto Ship Railway. The booklet is the work of an engineer doing his darndest to attract investors: bland prose is peppered with facts, figures and dollar signs. Visual aids would've helped.
Ketchum might have done well in turning to fellow New Brunswicker Charles G.D. Roberts. who had written about the project with great enthusiasm in the August 1890 edition of Cosmopolitan. The next year, Roberts painted a lovely scene in his Canadian Guide-Book:
When it is completed a line of steamers will run between St John and Charlottetown and the traveler will have the novel experience of watching from his vessel's decks a lovely landscape of meadows and orchards unroll below him as he moves slowly across the isthmus. The sensation will be unique, as this is the world's only ship railway.I'd have paid good money to take that cruise.
Or you could just read it gratis here.
A scale model of Jean Drapeau's 325-metre concrete celery stalk
(otherwise known as the Monument Paris-Montréal).