On August 2 1933 was opened the White Sea-Baltic waterway which was named the Stalin White Sea–Baltic Canal.
The construction of the White Sea–Baltic Canal, which connected the White Sea with Lake Onega, was commenced by Joseph Stalin’s initiative in 1931. The canal was built by the forced labor of the White Sea – Baltic corrective labor camp operating on the basis of the Solovki camp.
The construction was conducted in secrecy and was directed by the heads of People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs of the USSR. Due to ruthless exploitation of approximately 280 thousand of GULAG prisoners, mainly kulaks (relatively affluent peasants), who only used hand tools, practically no machines, it became possible to meet record-breaking canal construction deadline. For instance, the Panama Canal’s construction (length 80 km) was completed within 28 years, the Suez Canal (160 km) — within 10 years, and it took only 1 year and 9 months to finish the White Sea - Baltic Canal, 227 km long.
On October 16 1931 simultaneously along the whole length of the future waterway, from Povenets settlement on Lake Onega, to the Soroka settlement (Belomorsk) on the White Sea, were launched rock and earthworks.
From 1931 to 1933 the construction was directed by N. A. Frenkel. It was this man who is considered to come up with an idea of using cheap convicts’ workforce on major national economic construction projects. According to different sources, from 50 to 200 thousand people perished of privations and hard labor.
On August 2 1933 the construction of the White Sea - Baltic waterway was finished, and already in May 1933 first steamships were launched through the new canal, whereas an official inauguration ceremony of the first shipping navigation kicked off on August 30 1933.
Creation of a strong transport route with a complex of sophisticated hydro-engineering constructions (locks, dykes, floodgates, dams and artificial canals) guaranteed an establishment of direct water communication between the Baltic Sea and the North, what enabled to eliminate the need of delivering natural resources of the Kola Peninsula and Karelia to the processing sites via circuitous routes bypassing the Scandinavian Peninsula and provided an opportunity to exploit wood, minerals, ore, fish and other natural wealth of that land.
During the years of the Great Patriotic War the canal being of great strategic importance underwent destruction, its southern part was completely destroyed. After the war the damaged units were restored, and in July 1946 the canal was brought into operation again. In ’50s the work on electrification of its structures and mechanisms was launched.
Today there is a historical and cultural complex “The White Sea – Baltic Canal” operating on the basis of the canal, which represents a system of hydro-engineering structures, houses and administrative buildings, memorial places of forced labor and burial places of perished canal’s builders.
Lit.: Беломорско-Балтийский канал: К 70-летию Беломорско-Балтийского канала [Электронный ресурс] // Национальный архив Республики Карелия. Б. д. URL: http://www.rkna.ru/exhibitions/bbk/; Беломорско-Балтийский канал имени Сталина. История строительства. М., 1934; Беломорский канал [Электронный ресурс] // Водные пути России. 2002. URL: http://map.infoflot.ru/region_europe/sever_zapad/belomorkanal/about/about.htm; Гнетнев К. Беломорский канал [Электронный ресурс] // Администрация Петрозаводского городского округа. 2005-2010. URL: http://www.petrozavodsk-mo.ru/petrozavodsk/gorod/link/wostok/w.htm?id=10204998@cmsArticle; Клейн И. Беломорканал: литература и пропаганда в сталинское время // НЛО. 2005-2011. № 71; То же [Электронный ресурс]. URL: http://magazines.russ.ru/nlo/2005/71/kl14.html; .
From the Presidential library materials: