While the Dutch have their Delta Works, the Swedish have their Göta Canal: a 190km long hydraulic engineering project, of which 87km are hand-made canals. During a short ‘field trip’ as part of the Sweden STS Summer School I attended (see another blog about this soon), I visited the Göta Canal ‘museum’ (two wooden barracks with some information about the project and its founding fathers) near Motala, central Sweden, and it was really worth it.
Because some similarities between the Dutch and Swedish ‘grand hydraulics’ are striking: where Johan van Veen can be said to be the intellectual mastermind behind the Dutch Delta Plan, Baltzar von Platen, a former navy officer and minister, has fulfilled the same role in Sweden by developing a master plan and bringing it into reality. During a 22-year period canal stretches and sluice gates were constructed at different project sites and the canal itself was inaugurated in 1832. Von Platen was one of the Canal Company Committee, which further consisted of Swedish and British hydraulic and navy engineers. The project gave a boost to the Swedish engineer industry, for example by Von Platen’s newly introduced forms of ‘wet excavation’ (based on British experiences) and the establishment of the Motala Verkstad, a large workshop where the required dredgers, excavators and other machinery equipment was produced.
The museum’s information leaflets presents another similarity in terms of hydraulic and nation-building discourse: the project was considered the ‘Swedish Structure of the Century’ and a project of ‘national importance’: arguments related to national defence and economic security were the most important ones that were used. The Göta Canal provides an alternative connection between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, thereby avoiding ships paying heavy toll to the Danes at Øresund. However, by the time the canal was completed the Danish tolls were lifted, and the developing railway transportation system provided an economically cheaper alternative for transporting goods and people within Sweden.
Some differences, on the other hand, are that the Dutch Delta and Swedish mountainous and hilly landscape, dotted with numerous large lakes, present different geographic settings. Coastal and riverine flood protection was not in high demand. Also, where the Dutch Delta Works were implemented following the 1953 flood, the Göta Canal was constructed based on non-disaster situation and brought forward as an economically interesting project.
The project now mainly fulfils a touristic and historic purpose, providing a nice and quiet water landscape.