Sanitary and Ship Canal

Character of the Sanitary and Ship Canal

The Sanitary and Ship Canal is portrayed as a rapacious capitalist who will stop at nothing to make money. Such hubris is what propelled city leaders to undergo this engineering project. They did not consider the environmental impacts of artificially breaching the continental divide that separates the Great Lakes watershed from the Mississippi River watershed. They also did not consider pollution impacts upon marginalized communities who lived near the waterway. They were only motivated by a voracious appetite for capital, much like the opportunistic industrial elite.

  • River
    Industrial operations across from Canalport Park south of Ashland Avenue. August 2020. Photo by Citlalli Trujillo.
From the actor

This project was enticing to me first and foremost because I think it’s a really smart idea! Utilizing narrative monologues delivered through vocal performance to help people learn about the Chicago Area Waterway System is a concept I can definitely get behind. Secondly, I’ve been wanting to do more voiceover work and this was an amazing way to help sharpen my skills, especially since it allowed me to take on a colorful character. It was a lot of fun and I’m thankful for the opportunity!

Ross Compton

To see more of Ross, check out his website at, YouTube and Instagram.

Transcript of recording

I am the Sanitary and Ship Canal. My name ends in “canal” because I just so happen to come from a great lineage of canals. Humble beginnings such as the canals of Amsterdam and Venice to the magnificent marvel that is the Panama Canal.

You could say I aspired to be like them. As you have seen, I have blazed my own trail to transform Chicago from swamp prairie into a boomtown. I make Chicago matter. Not the main stem, not the north branch, and especially not the south branch– the most ungrateful branch of this city. They spout off about my existence as one of irreparable harm as if I have tainted this city with greed and gluttony. That I’m allowed to be a massive public health risk and affect the neighborhoods around me. I say they’re often hyperbolic. Now, I do recognize my work and my position in this river is… intimidating and difficult to embrace. I see you and I hear you. But I must say,  if the south branch chose to embrace their numerous industrial corridors they would realize how important they were instead of going on about human rights violations.

If only the  branches understood their worth. That’s the problem with a lot of the branches–except main stem. Though he may be a milksop, he gets the job done. Presenting the city as pretty and posh. Unlike the stem I have to get my hands dirty to ensure this city runs. You see, I do my own sewage. The ships that sail on me are ships I know. I make it my business to see that every ship and turd flows through me to the Des Plaines. I do not botch my reversal flow as I merge with my business partner, the Cal-Sag Channel. What I am trying to say is I’m fixed like no other branch or channel in this river. I get my hands dirty to make sure this city is held up by my oil drenched hands even if it means picking off a couple of undesirables. I may be capitalist but I’m a staunch believer in Utilitarianism.


Written by Tristen Ortiz
Produced by Anish Tailor
Performed by Ross Compton
Story by Tristen Ortiz and Anish Tailor