The White Sea-Baltic Canal connects Lake Onega and the White Sea. Description, photos and construction history.

For a long time, people thought about constructing a waterway between the White Sea and Lake Onega. This would significantly reduce the travel time and the cost of transporting goods, since it would not be necessary to bypass Scandinavia through the Barents, Norwegian, Northern and Baltic Seas.

The first projects of such a canal appeared in the 19th century but were not fulfilled, probably due to economic reasons. Indeed, this region was (and still is) sparsely populated and Murman railroad built in 1916 could facilitate cargo traffic.

The White Sea-Baltic Canal construction

It was 1931 when by the decision of the Council of Labor and Defense of the USSR and personally by Joseph Stalin the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal began. Despite the absence of any significant mechanization of labor, the canal was built in one year and nine months, which is fast for a system of complex hydraulic structures, including 19 locks. The Canal was opened on August 2, 1933.

The total length of the canal is 227 km, of which 48 km are manmade; the rest goes along rivers and lakes, the largest of which is Lake Vygozero.

At the construction site, labor of prisoners was widely used, including those sentenced for political “crimes”. The exact number of people who died during the construction of the canal is still unknown.

According to some researchers, the quality of work was low, and the canal itself turned out to be quite shallow. This did not allow using it by heavy vessels. There is a theory that the main purpose of the construction was the transportation of military ships, in particular submarines, from the Baltic Sea to the White and Barents Seas.

During the WWII, many canal structures were destroyed. Before leaving to the Finns the village of Povenets in December 1941, Soviet troops blew up several locks. The village suffered significant damage from the flood.

After the post-war modernization, the capacity of the Canal has been increased, though it is still too shallow and narrow for most of modern cargo ships.

Until 1961, the canal was named as Joseph Stalin's White Sea-Baltic Canal.

Visiting the Canal

Many locks of the Canal are located in the wilderness and can be seen only from the boat.

Travelling by land, you can observe the facilities of the Canal in Povenets in the south and in Belomorsk in the north.


In this village, located by Lake Onega, you can see the first 3 locks of the canal. Photographing, however, is prohibited. An unusual church of St. Nicholas is located near the 2nd lock. It is built of concrete in the style of traditional northern wooden churches.

Not far from Povenets there is a place in the forest named Sandermokh. In the midst of the Stalin’s repressions in 1930s, thousands of prisoners were executed and buried there. Now Sandarmokh is a memorial cemetery. In a small chapel, there is a book with the list of executed people.

The exhibition of the regional museum of the town of Medvezhyegorsk contains exhibits dedicated to the history of the canal.


In ​​the town of Belomorsk, which stands by the White Sea, you can see the last locks of the White Sea-Baltic Canal, namely locks #18 and #19. At the 19th lock, there is a bow cross. The exhibition of Belomorsk Museum of Local Lore has documents on the history of the canal.