The New Locks of the Panama Canal- Nothing Like What Our Grandfathers Achieved

This is an image of a portion of the Pacific side locks.  They look like a siv

This is an image of a portion of the new Pacific side locks. Honestly it looks like a sieve.

This is my grandfather, Joshua Austin Reid.  From his Pan Canal work recod "badge" photo, 1919.

This is my grandfather, Joshua Austin Reid. From his Pan Canal work recod “badge” photo, 1919.  He was one of the Jamaican Bosses.

By now most of us, both here in Panama and abroad, have been witness to the shameful images of the shoddy workmanship done on the “completed” new locks of the widened Panama Canal by the GUPC (Grupos Unidos por el Canal), a project valued at 4, 357 million dollars (almost 4 and a half billion dollars). I cannot help but reflect on the incomparable work of our ancestors, the black West Indian workmen, who worked tirelessly under the strict supervision of their American employers to complete the particularly demanding work on the Canal locks just about 101 years ago.

I can tell you from having heard my grandmother’s stories about how my grandfather, Joshua Austin Reid, was one of the supervisors of the meticulous work on the Pedro Miguel Locks and even had a horrifying accident when he fell from one of the scaffolds while finishing up the gate work. He broke his leg and his general health suffered for it from then on. My Aunt Berenice confided to me that my grandfather spent a couple of miserable weeks at home while he recovered from his broken leg and could not rest just thinking about his responsibilities back on the scaffolds. He would probably shudder at the quality of workmanship these new groups of workers are rendering for the new widened Panama Canal. Once the Panama Canal was inaugurated back on August 15, 1914, the overall work was perfect with no serious challenges to the integrity of the completed construction work.

The ACP recently issued this statement:

After the leaks in the work were made public, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) released a statement indicating that they will not accept flawed work.
“The contractor GUPC must give explanations. The work is not finished. The contractor must repair the imperfections and defects that are detected in the test period that we are carrying out to the satisfaction of the ACP. Our technical team is aware of all the details to ensure that the work meets all quality requirements which are included in the contract. the ACP will accept nothing short of perfection.”

“Perfection” is what the Canal Commission delivered to the world back in August of 1914, in large part thanks to the hard work of our West Indian forefathers and the exacting demands they placed on their own bodies and minds.

3 responses to “The New Locks of the Panama Canal- Nothing Like What Our Grandfathers Achieved

  1. “Perfection”


  2. My last name is Bryan because a man by that name came from Barbados to work in the Panama Canal as a carpenter but he had an accident and became disabled which caused him to stop working. I saw him suffer from that until the day he died.I know that he worked hard to build the Canal because all his conversation was about that and when he found that he could not go back to work it affected his mental and emotional feelings.I guess if he was still here to see this mess that they made he would surely be disappointed.


    • Yes Maria, Your grandfather’s story sounds very similar to my grandfather’s story. Today many of the descendants and the universe of people who are enjoying the benefits of the Panama Canal do not realize that our forefathers took their work very seriously and were very exacting on their own abilities to “get the job done” on time and as close to perfection as possible. For this many may call them fools to put so much of themselves into this monumental work but, I respect and honor them greatly.


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