The St. Lawrence River and the five Great Lakes constitute the greatest inland waterway in the world. From the Atlantic Ocean, it extends 3700 kilometers (2300 miles) into the very heart of North America, forming a vital commercial shipping route. A major obstacle, called Niagara Falls prevents ships from sailing between Lakes Erie and Ontario. The solution: the Welland Canal, by-passing the Falls and lifting vessels over the Niagara Escarpment.
The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System oversees ship transit. Be sure to time your visit to catch a downbound or upbound vessel at locks 4,5,6 and 7 of the Welland Canal. Check the Seaway Schedule.
For map and vessel details, visit Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway.
Niagara’s Welland Canals
Canal communities, interesting facts and downloadable maps here.
History of Welland Canals
First Welland Canal
In 1824, the badly-needed first Welland Canal was built. The fourth and present Canal was completed in 1932. The Canal attracts thousands who view, with wonder, the great barrier that traps the water and lifts huge ships to higher levels and on to the Great Lakes. Although there are other Flight Locks in the world, Thorold’s locks are unique in that they lift ships higher, over a shorter distance.
Welland Canal #2 (1845 – 1886)
Deterioration of the wooden locks and the increasing size of ships on the Great Lakes led to calls for a bigger and better canal. The government purchased the Welland Canal Company’s assets and proceeded with plans for a Second Welland Canal. Construction began in 1841 and was complete by 1845. There were 27 locks, made of cut stone. The Second Canal followed essentially the same route as the First, and it remained a feature of downtown Thorold until it was filled in during the 1960’s.
Welland Canal #3 (1887 – 1931)
The Third Welland Canal followed the same line as the earlier canals in the southern part of the Peninsula, but north of Allanburg the route was quite different. It by-passed downtown Thorold to the east, following the valley of the Ten Mile Creek down the Escarpment and continuing in a broad arc to Port Dalhousie. It had 26 stone locks, extensive remains of which can still be seen east of the present canal. One of these, Lock 24 in Thorold, was the target of an unsuccessful bombing attack by Irish-American Fenian sympathizers in 1900. While the first two canals were lined by mills of various kinds, the banks of the Third Canal were kept free of industry by deliberate government policy.
Welland Canal #4 (1932 – Present)
Construction of the Fourth Canal (the Ship Canal) began in 1914, but because of delays due to World War I and other factors it was not opened until 1932. The number of locks, now built in concrete, was reduced to eight; no fewer than four of these, including the world-famous Flight Locks, are in Thorold. The Canal adopted a direct north-south route over the Escarpment, following the valley of the Ten Mile Creek all the way to a new Lake Ontario outlet at Port Weller. New industries associated with the Canal led to the creation of the community of Thorold South in the 1920’s. In 1973 a by-pass was excavated around the City of Welland. This was to be the first phase of a Fifth Welland Canal, which would cross the Escarpment in one super-lock, but plans for further development have been shelved.
Did you know?
The Welland Canal is open for shipping late March – Christmas Week. It runs 24 hours a day. January – March it is drained and closed for maintenance.