Centuries of water trafficSaimaa's black gold travels to Europe
Saimaa Lakeland has provided livelihood and excellent routes to our ancestors for thousands of years. Water traffic started to boom in the 16th century, when exports of tar, the black gold of Saimaa, started in order to supply the wooden ship industry in Europe. Wood exports took over shipments of tar as early as in the 18th century, but cargo vessels for transporting wood were not common until late 19th century. At that time, the city of Kuopio led profitable sales of butter to St. Petersburg.
The golden age of steamships
The first steamship in Saimaa Lakeland was the paddle tugboat Ilmarinen in 1833. The opening of the Saimaa Canal in 1856 gave access to the Gulf of Finland. Consequently, there was no longer need to unload ships' cargo in Lappeenranta and take it to the coast overland. Tar-fired steamships were built along the shores of Saimaa Lakeland, and by mid 1920's there were over 200 of them in operation.
A tourist magnet for over 200 years
Saimaa Lakeland's tourist attractions, such as the Olavinlinna castle and Punkaharju eskers have attracted tourists from both Finland and abroad since the 19th century, when ships started to carry passengers and not only cargo. At the turn of the 20th century, the town of Varkaus started to produce ships with recognisable, white ship sides for passenger traffic in Saimaa Lakeland. The Saimaa region has had around 240 passenger ships and nearly as many as a hundred shipping companies for passenger ships.
Long tradition of scheduled service
Regular ship traffic between Savonlinna and Heinävesi started in 1874. At the end of the century, local traffic was lively particularly in the Savonlinna region and on the Punkaharju tourist route. Active ship traffic continued in Saimaa Lakeland in the early decades of the 20th century, until railway and bus traffic started to cut down ship traffic.
Finnish Maritime Administration - History of lock canals