Welland Canal

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Welland Canal
Welland canal and skyway.JPG
A ship transits the Welland Canal in St. Catharines, with the Homer Lift Bridge and Garden City Skyway in background.
Length27 miles (43 km)
Maximum boat length740 ft 0 in (225.6 m)
Maximum boat beam78 ft 0 in (23.8 m)
Navigation authoritySaint Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation
Original ownerWelland Canal Company
Principal engineerHiram Tibbetts
Construction began1824
Date completed1830
Date extended1833
Date restored1932
Start pointLake Ontario at Port Weller
End pointLake Erie at Port Colborne
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Welland Canal
Welland canal and skyway.JPG
A ship transits the Welland Canal in St. Catharines, with the Homer Lift Bridge and Garden City Skyway in background.
Length27 miles (43 km)
Maximum boat length740 ft 0 in (225.6 m)
Maximum boat beam78 ft 0 in (23.8 m)
Navigation authoritySaint Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation
Original ownerWelland Canal Company
Principal engineerHiram Tibbetts
Construction began1824
Date completed1830
Date extended1833
Date restored1932
Start pointLake Ontario at Port Weller
End pointLake Erie at Port Colborne
Welland Canals
Lake Ontario
Port Weller
Port Dalhousie
Lock #13.1
Lock #25.9
 Queen Elizabeth Way - Garden City Skyway
Lock #310.2
Locks #4-612.6
Merritton Tunnel
Lock #713.9
Thorold Tunnel
Deep Cut
Port Robinson
Welland Recreational Waterway
Welland River to Niagara River
Main Street bridge - Main Street Tunnel
CPR bridge
Feeder Canal to Grand River
Townline Tunnel
Lock #8 at Port Colborne39.3
Lake Erie43.5

The Welland Canal is a ship canal in Ontario, Canada, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Traversing the Niagara Peninsula from Port Weller to Port Colborne, the canal forms a key section of the St. Lawrence Seaway, enabling ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment and bypass Niagara Falls.

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

By providing a relatively short and direct connection to Lake Erie, the Welland Canal eclipsed other, narrower canals in the region as a commercial traffic route for Great Lakes navigation, such as the Trent-Severn Waterway and, significantly, the Erie Canal, which linked the Atlantic and Lake Erie via New York City and Buffalo, New York.

The southern, Lake Erie terminus of the canal is 99.5 metres (326.5 feet) higher than the northern terminus on Lake Ontario. The canal includes eight 24.4 metre (80 foot)-wide ship locks.[1] Seven of the locks (Locks 1–7, the 'Lift locks') are 233.5 metres (766 feet) long and raise (or lower) passing ships by between 43 (13.01 m) and 49 feet (14.94 m) each. The southernmost lock, (Lock 8 – the 'Guard' or 'Control' lock) is 349.9 m (1,148 feet) in length.[2] The Garden City Skyway passes over the canal, restricting the maximum height of the masts of the ships allowed on this canal to 35.5 metres (116.5 feet). All other highway or railroad crossings of the Welland Canal are either movable bridges (of the vertical lift or bascule bridge types) or subterranean tunnels. The maximum permissible length of a ship in this canal is 225.5 metres (740 feet). It takes ships an average of about eleven hours to traverse the entire length of the Welland Canal.


Before the digging of the Welland Canal, shipping traffic between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie used a portage road between Chippawa, Ontario, and Queenston, Ontario, both of which are located on the Niagara River—above and below Niagara Falls, respectively.

First Welland Canal[edit]

Main article: First Welland Canal

The Welland Canal Company was incorporated by the Province of Upper Canada, in 1824, after a petition by nine "freeholders of the District of Niagara". One of the petitioners was William Hamilton Merritt, who was in part looking to provide a regular flow of water for his watermills. The construction began at Allanburg, Ontario, on November 30, at a point now marked as such on the west end of Bridge No. 11 (formerly Highway 20). This canal opened for a trial run on November 30, 1829 (exactly five years, to the day, after the ground-breaking in 1824). 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 as a passenger on her deck. The first canal ran from Port Dalhousie, Ontario on Lake Ontario south along Twelve Mile Creek to St. Catharines. From there it took a winding route up the Niagara Escarpment through Merritton, Ontario to Thorold, where it continued south via Allanburg to Port Robinson, Ontario 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 made a sharp right turn into the Niagara River, upstream towards Lake Erie. Originally, the section between Allanburg and Port Robinson was planned to be carried in a subterranean tunnel. However, the sandy soil in this part of Ontario made a tunnel infeasible, and a deep open-cut canal was dug instead.

A southern extension from Port Robinson opened in 1833, with the founding of Port Colborne. 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 Provincial Park. 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).

Deterioration of the wood used in the 40 locks and the increasing size of ships led to demand for the Second Welland Canal, which used cut stone locks, within just a few years.[3]

Second Welland Canal[edit]

In 1839 the government of Upper Canada approved the purchase of shares in the private canal company in response to the company's continuing financial problems in the face of the continental financial panic of 1837. The public 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[edit]

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 (current) Welland Canal[edit]

Construction on the current 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. This canal is officially known now as the Welland Ship Canal.

Fifth (proposed but uncompleted) Welland Canal[edit]

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 mi) 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.[citation needed]


The Welland Canal connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie through a series of eight locks, allowing ships to bypass the Niagara Falls, 51-meters high.
A ship in Lock 3 of the Welland Canal in St. Catharines, just south of the Homer Lift Bridge and Garden City Skyway
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 brothers' ship yard centre right.
A lock of the second Welland Canal
Abandoned locks of the third canal
MS Isa lifted in Lock 7
Lock 3 Observation Centre of the current Welland Canal (facing North).
Lock 7 Observation Centre (Thorold).

On June 20, 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 No. 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 No. 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)[4] were knocked into the water, drowning in the surge.

On August 25, 1974, the northbound ore-carrier Steelton struck Bridge 12 in Port Robinson. 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, 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."[5][6]


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 9, 1841[7] at Lock No. 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][8]), when an explosive charge destroyed 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.

On April 21, 1900 about 6:30 in the evening,[9] a dynamite charge was set off against the hinges of Lock No. 24 of the Third Welland Canal (just to the east of Lock No. 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)[10] were tried at the Welland Courthouse and found guilty, receiving life sentences at Kingston Penitentiary. The "star witness" at the trial was a 16 year old Thorold girl named Euphemia Constable, who caught a good look at the bombers before being knocked unconscious by the blast. While waiting to testify, the girl received death threats, but, they turned out to be a hoax[citation needed]. As for the prisoners, Nolan lost his sanity while incarcerated, John Walsh was eventually released while Luke Dillon remained in custody until July 12, 1914[11]

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.[12] 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[edit]

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

Facts and figures[edit]

Current canal[edit]

Increasing lock size[edit]

CanalFirst (1829)Second (1848)Third (1887)Fourth (1932)
Width (metres)
Length (metres)33.545.782.3261.8
Depth (metres)

List of locks and crossings[edit]

Locks and crossings are numbered from north to south.

MunicipalityLock or bridge number CrossingRemarks
St. CatharinesLock 143°13′03″N 79°12′47″W / 43.217484°N 79.212992°W / 43.217484; -79.212992
St. CatharinesBridge 1Lakeshore Road (Regional Road 87)
St. CatharinesBridge 2Church Road (Now Linwell Road)Never installed
St. CatharinesLock 243°11′35″N 79°12′08″W / 43.193131°N 79.202178°W / 43.193131; -79.202178
St. CatharinesBridge 3ACarlton Street (Regional Road 83)Replaced original Bridge 3 (destroyed in accident)
St. CatharinesBridge 4AGarden City Skyway: Queen Elizabeth Way
St. CatharinesBridge 4Queenston Street (Regional Road 81) (former Highway 8)also known as "Homer Lift Bridge"
St. CatharinesLock 343°09′19″N 79°11′35″W / 43.155230°N 79.193058°W / 43.155230; -79.193058
location of Welland Canal Information Centre
St. CatharinesBridge 5Glendale Avenue (Regional Road 89)
St CatharinesBridge 6Great Western Railway (Ontario)
(now Canadian National Railway)
St CatharinesLock 4twinned flight lock
ThoroldLocks 5–643°08′03″N 79°11′31″W / 43.134283°N 79.191899°W / 43.134283; -79.191899
twinned flight locks
ThoroldLock 743°07′24″N 79°11′38″W / 43.123446°N 79.193895°W / 43.123446; -79.193895
southernmost lift over the Niagara Escarpment
ThoroldBridge 7Hoover Streetremoved
ThoroldBridge 8Niagara Central Railway
(now Canadian National Railway)
ThoroldThorold Tunnel, carries Highway 58
ThoroldBridge 9Ormond Streetremoved
ThoroldBridge 10Welland Railway
(now Canadian National Railway)
removed winter 1998
ThoroldBridge 11Canboro Road (Regional Road 20) (former Highway 20)lowered prematurely on Windoc in 2001
ThoroldBridge 12Bridge Street (Regional Road 63)destroyed by the Steelton in 1974
WellandMain Street Tunnel: (Highway 7146)
WellandTownline Tunnel: Highway 58A and Canadian National Railway/Penn Central
Port ColborneBridge 19Main Street (Regional Road 3) Highway 3
Port ColborneLock 842°53′57″N 79°14′46″W / 42.899122°N 79.246166°W / 42.899122; -79.246166
control lock
Port ColborneBridge 19AMellanby Avenue (Regional Road 3A)
Port ColborneBridge 20Buffalo and Lake Huron Railroad
(now Canadian National Railway)
removed winter 1997
Port ColborneBridge 21Clarence Street

Old alignment prior to Welland By-pass relocation[edit]

MunicipalityBridge Number CrossingRemarks
Welland Recreational Waterway branches off from the Welland By-pass at Port Robinson
ThoroldCanadian National Railwaybuilt during the relocation
ThoroldHighway 406built after the relocation
WellandWoodlawn Road (Regional Road 41)built after the relocation
WellandBridge 13East 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)
WellandDivision Street (Regional Road 527)built after the relocation
WellandBridge 14Lincoln Streetrebuilt 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)
WellandBridge 15Canada 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)
WellandBridge 16Ontario Road/Broadway Avenuerebuilt 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)
WellandBridge 17Canada Air-Line Railway (now Canadian National Railway)vertical lift bridge, counterweights still present 42°56′57″N 79°15′00″W / 42.94917°N 79.25000°W / 42.94917; -79.25000 (Welland Canal, Bridge 17)
WellandBridge 18Forks Roadvertical 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. ^ http://www.media-seaway.com/seaway_handbook/welland.pdf St. lawrence Seaways System – Region Guide: Welland Canal Section
  2. ^ http://www.offshoreblue.com/cruising/welland-canal.php Offshore Blue – Cruising the Welland Canal
  3. ^ Chambers, Melanie (26 February 2008). Frommer's Niagara Region. John Wiley & Sons. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-470-15324-6. 
  4. ^ "Three Boys Drowned When Steamer Broke Thru Gates Of Canal". Toronto World. June 21, 1912. 
  5. ^ "Marine Investigation Report #M01C0054: Striking and Subsequent Fire on Board Bridge 11, Welland Canal and Bulk Carrier Windoc, Welland Canal, Allanburg, Ontario, August 11, 2001." Transportation Safety Board of Canada, 2005-07-05. Retrieved on August 15, 2007.
  6. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ilot1LVvioM Destroyed in Seconds: Boat Vs. Bridge
  7. ^ "Canal has been terrorist target: Brock prof". Niagara This Week. February 26, 2010. 
  8. ^ http://wellandcanals.com/forum/index.php?topic=396.0
  9. ^ Clark The Irish relations: trials of an immigrant tradition, p.121
  10. ^ "Dynamite Luke among canal's terrorists". Welland Tribune. February 19, 2010. 
  11. ^ Clark The Irish relations: trials of an immigrant tradition, p.122
  12. ^ "INDICT VON PAPEN AS CANAL PLOTTER". New York Times, pg. 1. April 18, 1916. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°09′20.00″N 79°11′37.50″W / 43.1555556°N 79.1937500°W / 43.1555556; -79.1937500