- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

A day trip to Welland and its murals is perfectly complemented by a drive along the Welland Canal and a stop at

at least one of its observation platforms.

It’s hard to imagine how difficult it was to transport goods by water before the first canal opened 175 years ago, in 1829. To avoid the rapids and falls of the Niagara River, cargo had to be unloaded from ships and portaged much of the way between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

The canal not only connected the two Great Lakes, but also tied them to the St. Lawrence Seaway, a network of rivers, lakes and canals that provides uninterrupted navigation from Lake Superior to the Atlantic and the world beyond. It created jobs, industries and cities along its route.

It takes a large ship about 11 to 13 hours to traverse the 27 miles of the modern canal, completed in 1932. Most of that time is spent maneuvering ships into and through eight locks that use gravity and water power to change the water level.

The first seven, which cover slightly less than a fourth of the route, lift or lower a ship a total of 326 feet, an average of 46.6 feet per lock.

Almost 3,400 “lakers,” specially designed for the Great Lakes, and oceangoing vessels traveled the canal in 2001 — and remember that although it operates round the clock in season, the canal is closed part of the winter for maintenance and because of ice.

Information centers with observation decks at three of the locks — 3, 7 and 8 — give visitors a close-up look at the operation of the locks and the ships going through them. Indoors, the centers offer more information on the canal itself and the ships using it on a given day.

The day we stopped at Lock 3 in St. Catharines, we watched the 730-foot Canadian Progress, heading empty to Ohio, lifted for its trip south — “up” — to Lake Erie. Not long after it, the 590.5-foot Ziemia Cieszynska from Poland, also empty, was lowered on its way north — “down” — to Lake Ontario en route to Montreal.

It takes about 10 minutes for a lock to fill or release the necessary amount of water.

The Welland Canals Centre at Lock 3 (www.lock3.com) is connected to the St. Catharines Museum, which includes the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame. St. Catharines, which the museum calls “the city the canals built” is the largest city in the Niagara region, with a population of more than 129,000 and a metropolitan area of 377,000.

Of most interest to Americans probably are a historical timeline, which includes the War of 1812 between America and Britain, and “The Freedom Seekers,” a small exhibit about American blacks who found refuge in the region.

Harriet Tubman lived in St. Catharines for 10 years, making it her base as she led hundreds of slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Tubman met John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame in St. Catharines, and Frederick Douglass spoke there shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Locks 4, 5, 6 and 7 are located within quick succession of each other in the city of Thorold, which sits atop the Niagara Escarpment. This is “where the ships climb the mountain,” as a fold-out brochure on the canal puts it.

The first three of those locks are “twinned flight” locks, meaning it is possible for two ships traveling in opposite directions to go through any one of them at the same time — or for six ships to be in the locks simultaneously.

Lock 7 is the control lock for the entire canal, and from its observation deck, visitors can see the skyline of Niagara Falls in the distance.

Lock 8 in the city of Port Colborne is the “regulating lock,” adjusting the canal’s water level before ships enter or leave Lake Erie. It is one of the longest locks in the world — 1,380 feet, the length of four football fields.

Port Dalhousie, slightly west of Lock 1 on Lake Ontario, and Port Colborne, on Lake Erie, are beach towns that attract visitors for their own recreational opportunities.

Welland Canals Parkway along the length of the canal is still being developed, but an interim signed driving route fills in for the parts that are not yet completed.

It and a series of linked recreation trails also still in development are part of a 100-mile Greater Niagara Circle Route, more of a square with “corners” at Niagara Falls (southeast), Niagara-on-the-Lake (northeast), Port Weller in St. Catharines (northwest) and Port Colborne (southwest).

• • •

Information about the canal can be found at www.wellandcanal.com.

For information on cities along the canal, check www.stcatharines.ca, www.thoroldtourism.com, www.tourismwelland.com and www.portcolborne.com.

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