Welland Canal History
French settlers suggested linking Lake Erie and Lake Ontario via a canal in the early 1700's to overcome the canoe portage around Niagara Falls to the Upper Lakes.
1799 - The Legislature of Upper Canada debated the First Welland Canal billl but nothing comes of it.
1818 - William Hamilton Merritt, son of an Empire Loyalist, and owner of a mill that operated on the banks of the Twelve Mile Creek, one mile from downtown St.Catharines, in Wellandvale, petitioned again to the Legislature of Upper Canada for a canal as this would bring a constant supply of water. His original idea was to just dig a trench of two miles to divert water from the Welland River to the Twelve Mile Creek but was not a feasible idea at the time.
1823 - Suscription for the land lying between the Chippawa River (now the Welland River) and the source of the nearest stream running in to Lake Ontario.
1824 - Welland Canal Company formed in January.
1824 - November of that year, 200 people gathered to see the first shovel of dirt to be dug in Allanburg however construction of the First Welland Canal did not begin until July 1825.
First Welland Canal
-Construction crews were mostly European immigrants who had barely any tools besides picks and shovels. They were paid about half a dollar each day they worked.
The main channel they had to dig was 24 feet wide and 8 feet deep.
The "Deep Cut" was created from Allanburg southwards to the Welland River at Port Robinson. Designed to bring water from the Welland River and to create a navigation to the Niagara River, it required an initail cut 26 feet deep through sandy moraine. Rejecting an expensive tunnel, the canal builders chose to cut stone some two miles long. On November 9,1828 two weeks before the completion of the "Deep Cut", the banks of the cut near Port Robinson collapsed in to the channel, killing an unknown number of workers below. More landslides followed and it became evident that getting water from the Welland River would not be possible. The "Deep Cut" however has been incorporated in to all of the Welland Canals.
In 1828, a new water source was needed to fill the canal with water. A Feeder Canal was built to bring water from the Grand River to the Welland Canal.
The First Welland Canal officially opened for business on November 30,1829 almost five years after construction began.
The course originally went from Port Dalhousie to the Twelve Mile Creek, Wellandvale, and then Dick's Creek to Merriton, Thorold, Allanburg to Port Robinson then up the Niagara River to Lake Erie.
In 1833, the First Welland Canal was extended southwards to Gravelly Bay, now Port Colborne. This new path incorporated part of the Feeder Canal and traversed through Welland (then called the "Aqueduct" after the Feeder) on to Gravelly Bay, on the coast of Lake Erie.
By the time it was all complete, the total cost was eight million dollars.
The First Welland Canal used forty wooden locks which had the capability to lift ships up to 125 tonnes, six to eleven feet. The standard lock size was 110 feet long by 22 feet wide. The lock walls were built with oak beams, then filled in with dirt to steady the wall. The gates placed at either end of the locks were held in place by large hinges and were opened and closed by moving huge levers on the gates that extended above the lock walls.
The operation of the canal was quite physical. Horses and Oxen were used to tow the ships from one lock to another on paths, some of which still exist today. Two to Six double teams were used to tow the ships depending on the weight of the ships. Stables at Port Dalhousie housed some 150 teams of horses for use on the canal. more stables were located at Wellandvale, St.Catharines, Thorold, Allanburg and then after the extension, stables were also built in Port Colborne. It took upwards of two to three days to traverse the entire canal.
The first two ships to traverse the canal, were the schooners "Annie and Jane" and the "R.H. Broughton", which travelled from Port Dalhousie to Buffalo, NY. After the extension to Port Colborne, the schooner "Matilda" headed for Cleveland from Oakville.
Overall, the combined Welland and Feeder Canals stretched twenty-seven miles between the two lakes. Very little of the First Welland Canal remains today, however the majority of the Feeder Canal still remains present.
Second Welland Canal
1841 -- The Government stepped in and bought the Welland Canal with plans to increase its size to allow bigger ships and more goods to flow through it.
The route selected for the Second Canal was practically the same throughout its length as the First Canal. The number of locks was reduced from 40 to 27 by increasing the lift of each lock. The new locks were increased in size to 150 feet in length, 26-1/2 feet in width.
Consisting of 27 locks, they were built with large stone blocks running the length of the lock. At each end the wall face flared outward and disappeared into the surrounding earth. This gave support to the ends of the lock walls and could help steer ships into the lock. The gates at either end of the lock were hinged in place with metal straps bolted to the top of the lock walls. Indentations in the wall face allowed for the gates to be opened and secured against the lock walls without interfering with the movement of ships through the locks. Notches 6" wide and 8" deep were also cut into the lock wall. This feature allowed timbers to be placed across the locks to hold back water when gates needed to be replaced
1842 -- Work started on the Second Welland Canal and completed in 1845. The channel was widened to thirty-sex feet wide and nine feet deep.
There as also a lock added in Welland, called the River Lock, to allow access via the Welland River to the townships of Wellandport and Port Robinson..
1850 -- The canal was once again widened to fifty feet wide and ten feet deep
The Feeder Canal was also widened in between 1842 and 1845 to allow ships to traverse the channel. A lock was added in Dunnville.
The Feeder Canal was also extended via Port Maitland and a lock added to allow access to Lake Erie.
By offering available waterpower and easy transportation to markets the Second Welland Canal also became an industrial corridor between Thorold and St. Catharines. Because of this the canal continued operating after as late as 1915 with factories continuing to use waterpower from the canal for years after that. Today it is mostly used as an open air sewer.
Third Welland Canal
1872 -- Construction begins on the Third Welland Canal. This will enable bigger ships access to the canal to bring more goods.
This time rather than following natural waterways, an overland channel is dug. The channel this time is 100 feet wide and 14 feet deep, at a length of twenty-six miles. This enabled the ships to traverse a straighter and shorter route, making it easier to navigate.
Consisting now of 26 locks, 25 to climb the escarpment and one in Port Colborne. The locks are still made of stone, but in larger size. Lock sizes had now grown to 270 feet long and 45 feet wide, with the depth of 14 feet remaining a constant throughout the canal. The locks could life a ship in between 12 and 16 feet.
Water siphons built directly into the walls of the lock were used to fill and empty the locks. They were built adjacent to the gate and were controlled from the top of the locks. Another innovation on the third canal was the use of wood planking on the bottom of the locks used to prevent damage to ships if they ever hit bottom.
With the completion of the canal, The Feeder Canal is no longer required as a water source, now it is mainly used for ships to bring goods.
1881 -- The Third Welland Canal opened for business.
Fourth Welland Canal
1913 -- Construction begins on a newer canal, as with technology allowing bigger ships, a new canal was needed. Construction carried on during the early phases of World War One.
1916 -- Due to a shortage of men and materials, construction is halted on the canal.
1919 -- With World War One now over, construction resumes on the Fourth Welland Canal.
While all the previous canals entered in through the harbour located in Port Dalhousie, this one entered in through Port Wellar. Due to there being no natural harbour here, an artifical one is built, with embankments reaching over a mile in to Lake Ontario.
The canal channel is now 350 feet wide and 30 feet deep.
Now only consisting of 8 locks (seven to climb the escarpment and one guard lock in Port Colborne), the locks are 766 feet long and 80 feet wide with metal lock gates as opposed to re-enforced wooden ones on previous canals.
These locks take an average of 21,000,000 gallons of water to operate, with an average fill/drain time of ten minutes.
1932 -- The Fourth Welland Canal opens for business. At this time the Third Welland Canal is decommissoned and traffic ceases on the Second and Feeder Canals, making this the only functioning canal.
The average time it takes a ship to traverse this canal is about 8 hours.
Fourth Welland Canal -- Welland By-Pass
1960's -- With canal traffic expanding and on land vehicle and rail traffic also increasing, bridge wait times were causing delays with the transportation of delays, with some trains being up to 30 minutes late for their destination, it was decided that a by pass of Welland's interior needed to be made.
1967 -- June 9 -- construction begins on the Welland By-Pass. 4000 acres of land is expropraited for the project and over the course of the construction, over 50 million cubic meters of material is removed.
Two tunnels, The Main Street Tunnel (opened on May 20, 1972) and the Townline Tunnel (opened on July 13,1972) were built underneath the bypass to allow traffic, both vehicle and rail to continue flowing. These tunnels helped eliminate six bridge crossings.
Construction was completed early 1973, however the official opening ceremony was held July 14, 1973
The first train through the Townline Tunnel happened on January 31, 1973.
The first ship to traverse the By-Pass was the Canadian Coast Guard Cutter, Griffin on March 27, 1973.
With this new by-pass, travel time on the Welland Canal was reduced almost 30 minutes.
Fifth Welland Canal
In the late 1950's plans were drawn up for a new canal, this one consisting of one superlock
-It was to run to the east of the current Welland Canal.
The new canal never came to be and the plans have since been shelved.