Exhibition on the opening of the The North Sea Canal

The North Sea Canal exhibition will open in Het Scheepvaartmuseum on 26th January. The exhibition will open simultaneously with the new sea lock at IJmuiden, the largest of its kind in the world. The exhibition shows historical images about the construction and festive opening of the first sea lock on 1st November, 1876, when King William III officially opened the North Sea Canal. 

Sea lock then and now

The construction of the new sea lock in 2022 will make the port of Amsterdam accessible for larger seagoing vessels. The exhibition at Het Scheepvaartmuseum places the development of the sea lock in a historical context. The accessibility of the Port of Amsterdam has been a concern for centuries.

The history of the lock complex at IJmuiden begins in the nineteenth century. Around 1850, the largest freight ships could no longer reach Amsterdam. It was no longer possible to dredge against the silting of the shipping route across the IJ and the Zuiderzee, the current IJsselmeer. The Noordhollands canal, which ran inland from Amsterdam to Den Helder, had also become too narrow and too shallow. The consequence of this inaccessibility was that the important seaport of Amsterdam became less interesting for merchant shipping. That was seen as a problem for the economic prosperity of the entire country.

The solution lay in the construction of a shorter and direct connection to the sea. This was possible by canalizing the IJ and digging through the dunes at Velsen where a large sea lock was built, the current IJmuiden. The idea for this was not new. Such a route was already suggested in the seventeenth century, when large ships mainly ran aground at the shallow Pampus in the IJ. 

In 1863 work was started by the specially established Amsterdamsche Kanaal Maatschappij. The construction of the North Sea Canal and the construction of the sea lock were major national projects in the nineteenth century. Various photographers and artists were commissioned to record the work. 

The North Sea Canal exhibition shows objects from the first construction period, including unique photos, drawings and the charter signed by King Willem III during the festive opening on 1st November, 1876. The exhibition can be seen from 26th January – Covid19 willing.