Welland Canal

Welland Canal

The history and current state of the Welland Canal, one of the largest Canal's in the world.

Despite the trials and challenges of natural geography, human ingenuity often has a way of overcoming or removing those obstacles. For a region as heavily invested in sea freight as Ontario and the Great Lakes area, Niagara Falls, the high altitude of the escarpment and the general nature of the rapid and rocky Niagara River rules it out as a shipping route.

So what was the best way to get goods from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie? Simple – just go another way.

Constructing the Welland Canal

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The Welland Canal is the keystone of a major engineering achievement of the 19th century that still stands today as an amazing man-made wonder. It’s a waterway running between the two Great Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and even lifts massive freight ships up and over the Niagara Escarpment cliff face.

By using a sequence of ‘lock’ chambers sealed off and filled with water flowing downstream from Lake Erie, the ships can be ‘raised’ gradually as they progress southward, or lowered through draining the chambers as they travel north to Lake Ontario. If the chambers were placed next to each other it would look like climbing a massive slight of water-steps. Ships up to 225.5 metres (740 feet) long and 23.7 metres (78 feet) wide can traverse the canal in this way.

Ship enthusiasts often congregate at Thorold, halfway between Niagara and St Catharines  to watch the vessels progress through the ‘Flight Locks’ that raise and lower ships nearly 50 metres. There’s also an observation deck over the last lock at Port Colborne, near the shore of Lake Erie.

Of course, not everyone is interested in freight ships, and the Welland Canal has a bonus to offer. One of the original channels, no longer used by freight since the 1970s, is now branded as the Welland Recreational Waterway. It’s become a recreational hotspot – anyone can rent a boat or canoe to travel the waterway, or watch the races that take place regularly during the warmer months (generally May to November). The channels here are even used for major international events such as the Pan Am Games.

Whatever your fancy, the canal has been an indispensable part of the region’s development since 1829, and still remains one of the most impressive feats of engineering in either Canada or the US.

The Marriott on the Falls is located a short 15 minute drive from the Welland Canal and is a favourite out of town location for many tourists.

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