Kenneth Ian Hymas

250 Glen Manor Drive West
Toronto, Ontario
M4E 2Y1


Writing for others' interest or amusement has a surprising number of hazards, chiefly that of boring or exasperating the readership. Among the hazards are the tricky subjects of vacations, relatives' experiences and health problems, all of which would appear to need a punch line of some sort to justify themselves.
Added to these situations is the old adage of the sequence in terms of difficulty; starting with people, going on to events and culminating in ideas. With all the aforesaid near-limitations, I'm going to try and outline something of the background to the Panama Canal, about which I knew next to nothing six months ago but have been increasingly concerned
Concerned not in the sense of worrying, but intruiged with the revelations of the many international machinations of trading advantage, old-fashioned imperialism, barely-averted warfare, bribery, fall of governments, triumph over disease ending with engineering determination and skill. The final result was arguably the eighth wonder of the world, now accepted as a vital part of world commerce, reducing global costs of such goods as Japanese cars, Ecuadorian bananas and everything else contained in millions of containers, including Chilean wine.
The idea of a canal was first raised in 1552 by a Spanish priest, which prompted the King of Spain to initiate a survey. Little was done until a "trans-continental" railroad was built and completed in 1855, mostly as a final connection between the eastern states and the newly-discovered gold fields in California. In 1869, Ferdinand de Lesseps, fresh from the completion of the Suez Canal, turned his attention to Panama. Two public company bankruptcies later, major scandals in France and the emergence of the Republic of Panama, the Americans continued the work in 1904, with the completion of the 50 mile long canal in 1914. Improvements including expansions have continued with the QE II transiting in 1975. The largest toll to date has been U$208,000 and the lowest 35 cents, paid by a swimmer in the 'twenties. 14,000 ships transit annually.
The most humanitarian accomplishments however have been the researches culminating into the taming of yellow fever and malaria, both of which threatened to scuttle the project after claiming countless victims. The re-sited railroad and the two sets of six locks now operate safely inside a unique jungle environment - in Panamanian territory.
Such an overview itself overlooks much criminal activity and tragic drama on the international scale, not necessarily at an end, judging by the "revelations" in "The Tailor of Panama" by John le Carre and the ensuing film.
In the self-denying fashion of continuing research etc. etc., Pat and I have returned from an "inspection" trip in February 2002, which was both fascinating and enjoyable. As the focus for the Spanish trade in gold and silver from Peru and Bolivia, there were ruins of cathedrals and warehouses (sacked by both Drake and Morgan) around Panama City and the Atlantic terminals; with 114 banks as newcomers plus a McDonald's! In addition, the dry season practically guaranteed good weather - hot and humid as a plus even by ignoring the beaches!
On a purely modern note, the absence of visible security was alarming in that the locks are surely the States' trade No. 1 installation. However, the 1998 U.S. "invasion" infers super-sensitivity and sincere covert surveillance.
Anyway, the point of all this is that a world-class deal was worked out in Panama, with all the trappings of international intruige, without gunfire; and to all students of significant human behavior - well worth a good read! See McCullogh, David - "The Path Between the Seas", Simon and Schuster 1977
Update, 2011-5-24: For pictures of the Aurora Borealis taken by Ken, click here.