Welland Canal: Wikis


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A ship transits the Welland Canal in St. Catharines, with the Homer Lift Bridge and Garden City Skyway in background.
The Welland Canal connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie through a series of eight locks, allowing ships to avoid the 51 meter high Niagara Falls.

The Welland Canal is a ship canal in Canada that runs 42 km (27.0 miles) from Port Colborne, Ontario on Lake Erie to Port Weller, Ontario on Lake Ontario. As part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the canal allows ships to traverse the Niagara Escarpment and avoid Niagara Falls.

Approximately 40,000,000 tonnes of cargo are carried through the Welland Canal annually by over 3,000 ocean and lake vessels. The canal was a major factor in the growth of the city of Montreal. The original canal and its successors allowed goods from such Great Lakes ports as Detroit, Cleveland, Windsor, and other heavily industrialized areas of the United States and Ontario to be shipped to the port of Montreal, where they were reloaded onto ocean-going vessels for international shipping.

The completion of the Welland Canal made the Trent-Severn Waterway, linking Lake Ontario with Lake Huron, all but obsolete as a commercial traffic route for Great Lakes navigation.

The canal's Lake Erie (southern) terminus, at Port Colborne, is 99.5 m (326.5 feet) higher in elevation than the Lake Ontario (northern) terminus at Port Weller. The canal comprises eight lift locks, each 24.4 m (80 ft) wide by 233.5 m (766 ft) long. Due to the Garden City Skyway, the maximum ship height allowed is 35.5 m (116.5 ft). All other crossings are movable bridges (lift or Bascule) or tunnels. The maximum permissible vessel length is 225.5 m (740 ft). It takes ships an average of 11 hours to traverse the canal's length.



A lock of the second Welland Canal

Prior to the building of the canal, traffic between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie used a portage road between Chippawa and Queenston, both points on the Niagara River above and below Niagara Falls, respectively.


First Welland Canal

The Welland Canal Company was incorporated in 1824 by William Hamilton Merritt, in part to provide a regular flow of water for his mills. Construction began at Allanburg on November 30, at a point now marked as such on the west end of Bridge #11 (formerly Highway 20). It opened for a trial run on November 30, 1829 (exactly 5 years, to the day, after the 1824 sod turning). After a short ceremony at Lock One, in Port Dalhousie, the schooner Anne & Jane (also called "Annie & Jane" in some texts[citation needed]) made the first transit, upbound to Buffalo, N.Y.; with Merritt a passenger on her decks. The first canal ran from Port Dalhousie on Lake Ontario south along Twelve Mile Creek to St. Catharines. From there it took a winding route up the Niagara Escarpment through Merritton to Thorold, where it continued south via Allanburg to Port Robinson on the Welland River. Ships went east (downstream) on the Welland River to Chippawa, at the south (upper) end of the old portage road, where they would make a sharp right turn into the Niagara river, upbound towards lake Erie. Originally, the section between Allanburg and Port Robinson was to have been carried under a tunnel, however, sandy soil conditions made that unfeasible and a deep open cut was used instead.

A southern extension from Port Robinson opened in 1833. This extension followed the Welland River south to Welland (known then as the settlement of Aqueduct, for the wooden aqueduct that carried the canal over the Welland River at that point), and then split to run south to Port Colborne on Lake Erie. A feeder canal ran southwest from Welland to another point on Lake Erie, just west of Rock Point. With the opening of the extension, the canal stretched 44 km (27 mi) between the two lakes, with 40 wooden locks. The minimum lock size was 33.5 m by 6.7 m (110 ft by 22 ft), with a minimum canal depth of 2.4 m (8 ft).

Abandoned locks of the third canal
Aerial photo of Port Dalhousie from the third canal era. 3rd canal lock at left, 2nd canal lock at right. Note 3rd canal towpath at upper left and Muir brother's ship yard centre right.

For more information on the First Welland Canal you can access the web site http://www.portmemories.com

Second Welland Canal

In 1839 the government of Upper Canada approved the purchase of shares in the canal company in response to the company's continuing financial problems in the face of the continental financial panic of 1837. The buyout was completed in 1841, and work began to deepen the canal and to reduce the number of locks to 27, each 45.7 m (150 ft) by 8.1 m (26.5 ft). By 1848, a 2.7 m (9 ft) deep path was completed, not only through the Welland Canal but also the rest of the way to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Competition came in 1854 with the opening of the Erie and Ontario Railway, running parallel to the original portage road. In 1859, the Welland Railway opened, parallel to the canal and with the same endpoints. But this railway was affiliated with the canal, and was actually used to help transfer cargoes from the lake ships, which were too large for the small canal locks, to the other end of the canal (The remnants of this railway are today owned by the Trillium RR). Smaller ships called "canallers" also took a part of these loads. Due to this problem, it was soon apparent that the canal would have to be enlarged again.

Third Welland Canal

In 1887, a new shorter alignment was completed between St. Catharines and Port Dalhousie. One of the most interesting features of this third Welland Canal, was the Merritton Tunnel on the Grand Trunk Railway line that ran under the canal at Lock 18. Another tunnel, nearby, carried the canal over a sunken section of the St David's Road. The new route had a minimum depth of 4.3 m (14 ft) with 26 stone locks, each 82.3 m (270 ft) long by 13.7 m (45 ft) wide. Even so, the canal was still too small for many boats.

Fourth (present) Welland Canal

(Officially known as the Welland Ship Canal)

Construction on the present canal began in 1913 and was completed in 1932. The route was again changed north of St. Catharines, now running directly north to Port Weller. In this configuration, there are eight locks, seven at the Niagara Escarpment and the eighth, a guard lock, at Port Colborne to adjust with the varying water depth in Lake Erie. The depth was now 7.6 m (25 ft), with locks 233.5 m (766 ft) long by 24.4 m (80 ft) wide.

Fifth (proposed but uncompleted) Welland Canal

MS Isa lifted in Lock 7

In the 1950s, with the building of the present St. Lawrence Seaway, a standard depth of 8.2 m (27 ft) was adopted. The 13.4-kilometre (8.3 mile) long Welland By-pass, built between 1967 and 1972, opened for the 1973 shipping season, providing a new and shorter alignment between Port Robinson and Port Colborne and by-passing downtown Welland. All three crossings of the new alignment — one an aqueduct for the Welland River — were built as tunnels. Around the same time, the Thorold Tunnel was built at Thorold and several bridges were removed. These projects were to be tied into a proposed new canal, titled the Fifth Welland Canal, which was planned to by-pass most of the existing canal to the east and to cross the Niagara Escarpment in one large superlock. While land for the project was expropriated and the design finalized, the project never got past the initial construction stages and has since been shelved. The present (4th) canal is scheduled to be replaced by 2030, almost exactly 100 years after it first opened, and 200 years since the first full shipping season, in 1830, of the original canal.

Accidents and the Welland Canals

On June 20th, 1912, the government survey steamer "La Canadienne" lost control due to mechanical problems in the engine room and smashed into the upstream gates of Lock #22 of the 3rd Welland Canal, forcing them open by six inches. The resulting surge of water flooded downstream, cresting the upstream gates of Lock #21 where 5 boys were fishing. One boy ran to safety, one of the boys, David Boucke was saved by a government surveyor Hugh McGuire. But the remaining three, Willie Wallace Tifney (age 5), Willie Tacke (age 5) and Leonard Bretwick (age 4)[1] were knocked into the water, drowning in the surge.

On August 25, 1974, the northbound ore-carrier Steelton struck Bridge 12 in Port Robinson, Ontario. The bridge was rising and the impact knocked the bridge over, destroying it. No one was killed. The bridge has not been replaced and the inhabitants of Port Robinson have been served by a ferry for many years. The Welland Public Library archive has images of the aftermath.

On August 11, 2001, the lake freighter Windoc collided with Bridge 11 in Allanburg, Ontario, closing vessel traffic on the Welland Canal for two days. The accident destroyed the ship's wheelhouse and funnel (chimney), ignited a large fire on board, and caused minor damage to the vertical lift bridge. The accident and portions of its aftermath were captured on amateur video. The vessel was a total loss, but there were no reported injuries, and no pollution to the waterway. The damage to the bridge was focused on the centre of the vertical-lift span. It was repaired over a number of weeks and reopened to vehicular traffic on November 16, 2001. The Marine Investigation Report concluded, "it is likely that the [vertical lift bridge] operator's performance was impaired while the bridge span was lowered onto the Windoc."[2]

Sabotage and the Welland Canals

The Welland Canal has been the focus of plots on a number of occasions throughout its existence. However, only two have ever been carried out. The earliest and potentially most devastating attack occurred on September 9th, 1841[3] at Lock #37 (Allanburg) of the first Welland Canal (43°04′41″N 79°12′36″W / 43.07796°N 79.20991°W / 43.07796; -79.20991 [approximately 180m north of today's Allanburg bridge][4]), a dynamite charge destroying one of the lock gates. However, a catastrophic flood was prevented when a guard gate located upstream of the lock closed into place preventing the upstream waters from careening down the route of the Canal and causing further damage and possible injury or loss of life. It was suspected that Benjamin Lett was responsible for the explosion.

The next act of sabotage wouldn't occur for nearly 60 years. On April 21st, 1900 about 6:30 in the evening[5], a dynamite charge was set off against the hinges of Lock #24 of the Third Welland Canal (just to the east of Lock #7 of today's Canal (43°07′23″N 79°11′33″W / 43.122976°N 79.192372°W / 43.122976; -79.192372), doing minor damage. This time, the saboteurs were caught in nearby Thorold. John Walsh, John Nolan and the ringleader "Dynamite" Luke Dillon (a member of Clan-na-Gael)[6] were tried at the Welland Courthouse and found guilty, receiving life sentences at Kingston Penitentiary. Nolan lost his insanity while incarcerated, John Walsh was eventually released while Luke Dillon remained in custody until July 12, 1914[7]

The First World War brought with it plots against the Canal and the most notable of them came to be known as "The Von Papen Plot".

In April 1916, a United States federal grand jury issued an indictment against Franz von Papen, then a senior German diplomat, on charges of a plot to blow up the Welland Canal.[8] However, Papen was at the time safely on German soil, having been expelled from the US several months previously for alleged earlier acts of espionage and attempted sabotage.

Von Papen remained under indictment on these charges until he became Chancellor of Germany in 1932, at which time the charges were dropped.

Shipping season

The Welland Canal closes in winter when ice or weather conditions become a hazard to navigation. The shipping season re-opens in spring when the waters are once more safe. In 2007, the season opened on the earliest date ever, March 20, just hours ahead of the vernal equinox.

Facts and figures

Lock 3 Observation Centre of the current Welland Canal (facing North).
Lock 7 Observation Centre (Thorold).

Current canal

  • Maximum vessel length: 225.5 m
  • Maximum draft: 8.2 m
  • Maximum above-water clearance: 35.5 m
  • Elevation change between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie: 99.5 m
  • Average transit time between the lakes: 11 hours
  • Length of canal: 43.5 km

Increasing lock size

First (1829) Second (1848) Third (1887) Fourth (1932)
Locks 40 27 26 8
Width (metres) 6.7 8.1 13.7 24.4
Length (metres) 33.5 45.7 82.3 261.8
Depth (metres) 2.4 2.7 4.3 8.2

List of locks and crossings

Locks and crossings are numbered from north to south.

Municipality Lock or bridge number Crossing Remarks
St. Catharines Lock 1 43°13′03″N 79°12′47″W / 43.217484°N 79.212992°W / 43.217484; -79.212992
St. Catharines Bridge 1 Lakeshore Road (Regional Road 87)
St. Catharines Bridge 2 Church Road (Now Linwell Road) Never installed
St. Catharines Lock 2 43°11′35″N 79°12′08″W / 43.193131°N 79.202178°W / 43.193131; -79.202178
St. Catharines Bridge 3A Carlton Street (Regional Road 83) Replaced original Bridge 3 (destroyed in accident)
St. Catharines Bridge 4A Garden City Skyway: Queen Elizabeth Way
St. Catharines Bridge 4 Queenston Street (Regional Road 81) (former Highway 8) also known as "Homer Lift Bridge"
St. Catharines Lock 3 43°09′19″N 79°11′35″W / 43.155230°N 79.193058°W / 43.155230; -79.193058
location of Welland Canal Information Centre
St. Catharines Bridge 5 Glendale Avenue (Regional Road 89)
Thorold Bridge 6 Great Western Railway (Ontario)
(now Canadian National Railway)
Thorold Locks 4-5-6 43°08′03″N 79°11′31″W / 43.134283°N 79.191899°W / 43.134283; -79.191899
twinned flight locks
Thorold Lock 7 43°07′24″N 79°11′38″W / 43.123446°N 79.193895°W / 43.123446; -79.193895
southernmost lift over the Niagara Escarpment
Thorold Bridge 7 Hoover Street removed
Thorold Bridge 8 Niagara Central Railway
(now Canadian National Railway)
Thorold Thorold Tunnel, carries Highway 58
Thorold Bridge 9 Ormond Street removed
Thorold Bridge 10 Welland Railway
(now Canadian National Railway)
removed winter 1998
Thorold Bridge 11 Canboro Road (Regional Road 20) (former Highway 20) lowered prematurely on Windoc in 2001
Thorold Bridge 12 Bridge Street (Regional Road 63) destroyed by the Steelton in 1974
Welland Main Street Tunnel: (Regional Road 27/Highway 7146)
Welland Townline Tunnel: Highway 58A and Canadian National Railway/Penn Central
Port Colborne Bridge 19 Main Street (Regional Road 3) Highway 3
Port Colborne Lock 8 42°53′57″N 79°14′46″W / 42.899122°N 79.246166°W / 42.899122; -79.246166
control lock
Port Colborne Bridge 19A Mellanby Avenue (Regional Road 3A)
Port Colborne Bridge 20 Buffalo and Lake Huron Railroad
(now Canadian National Railway)
removed winter 1997
Port Colborne Bridge 21 Clarence Street

Old alignment prior to Welland By-pass relocation

Municipality Bridge Number Crossing Remarks
Welland Recreational Waterway branches off from the Welland By-pass at Port Robinson
Thorold Canadian National Railway built during the relocation
Thorold Highway 406 built after the relocation
Welland Woodlawn Road (Regional Road 41) built after the relocation
Welland Bridge 13 East Main Street/West Main Street (Regional Road 27) vertical lift bridge, counterweights removed 42°59′30″N 79°15′05″W / 42.99167°N 79.25139°W / 42.99167; -79.25139 (Welland Canal, Bridge 13)
Welland Division Street (Regional Road 527) built after the relocation
Welland Bridge 14 Lincoln Street rebuilt as fixed-span after the relocation 42°59′01″N 79°15′16″W / 42.98361°N 79.25444°W / 42.98361; -79.25444 (Welland Canal, Bridge 14)
Welland Bridge 15 Canada Southern Railway (Penn Central) rare Baltimore truss swing bridge [1] 42°58′37″N 79°15′21″W / 42.97694°N 79.25583°W / 42.97694; -79.25583 (Welland Canal, Bridge 15)
Welland Bridge 16 Ontario Road/Broadway Avenue rebuilt as fixed-span after the relocation, the new span located to the north of the original site of Bridge 16 42°58′25″N 79°15′21″W / 42.97361°N 79.25583°W / 42.97361; -79.25583 (Welland Canal, Bridge 16)
cut by western approaches to Townline Tunnel (Highway 58A and Canadian National Railway/Penn Central)
Welland Bridge 17 Canada Air-Line Railway (now Canadian National Railway) vertical lift bridge, counterweights still present 42°56′57″N 79°15′00″W / 42.94917°N 79.25°W / 42.94917; -79.25 (Welland Canal, Bridge 17)
Welland Bridge 18 Forks Road vertical lift bridge, towers and counterweights removed 42°56′50″N 79°14′58″W / 42.94722°N 79.24944°W / 42.94722; -79.24944 (Welland Canal, Bridge 18)
Welland Recreational Waterway merges with the Welland By-pass at Ramey's Bend in Port Colborne

If assigned by the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority. The original bridges across the fourth canal were numbered in order. Numbering was not changed as bridges were removed.


The following illustration depicts the profile of the Welland Canal. The horizontal axis is the length of the canal. The vertical axis is the elevation of the canal segments above mean sea level.

Profile of the Welland Canal from Lake Ontario (left) to Lake Erie (right)


  1. ^ "Three Boys Drowned When Steamer Broke Thru Gates Of Canal". Toronto World. 21 June 1912. 
  2. ^ "Marine Investigation Report #M01C0054: Striking and Subsequent Fire on Board Bridge 11, Welland Canal and Bulk Carrier Windoc, Welland Canal, Allanburg, Ontario, 11 August 2001." Transportation Safety Board of Canada, 2005-07-05. Retrieved on 2007-08-15.
  3. ^ "Canal has been terrorist target: Brock prof". Niagara This Week. 26 February 2010. 
  4. ^ http://wellandcanals.com/forum/index.php?topic=396.0
  5. ^ Clark The Irish relations: trials of an immigrant tradition, p.121
  6. ^ "Dynamite Luke among canal's terrorists". Welland Tribune. 19 February 2010. 
  7. ^ Clark The Irish relations: trials of an immigrant tradition, p.122
  8. ^ "INDICT VON PAPEN AS CANAL PLOTTER". New York Times, pg. 1. 18 April 1916. 

External links

Coordinates: 43°09′20.00″N 79°11′37.50″W / 43.15556°N 79.19375°W / 43.15556; -79.19375


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