THE WELLAND CANAL
The Welland Canal

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) into the very heart of North America, forming a vital commercial shipping route.
The only problem, 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.

< LEFT The Federal Kilavana gets stuck at Lock 7 for 27 hours on Dec 23/05. Backs up 24 ships trying to navigate the Welland Canal.
The First Welland Canal: 1829 - 1844

In 1824, mill owner William Hamilton Merritt formed the Welland Canal Company, with George Keefer of Thorold as the first President. Construction began following a sod-turning ceremony at Allanburg on November 30, and in 1829, five years to the day later, the first vessels sailed from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. The original Canal followed the Twelve Mile Creek and Dick's Creek from Port Dalhousie, cut through the heart of Thorold and terminated at Port Robinson on the Welland River. Ships continued down the river to Chippawa, then followed the Niagara River to Lake Erie. In 1833 the Canal was extended south to Gravelly Bay (later Port Colborne).When complete the Canal was 44 kilometres (27 miles) long, and had 40 wooden locks. In 1827, in anticipation of the completion of the Canal, George Keefer had built a mill (since demolished) just back of the Escarpment edge, and it was his initiative that led to the creation of the original village of Thorold.

The Second Welland Canal: 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 1960s.

The Third Welland Canal: 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 11 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.

The Fourth Welland Canal: 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 of 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 1920s. 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.


Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS THE WELLAND CANAL?
The Welland Ship Canal is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, and is used by ships to by-pass the Niagara Falls. These ships carry both cargoes and passengers.

WHEN WAS THE FIRST CANAL BUILT?
The First Welland Canal was started in 1824. It opened in November 1829, with 39 locks and entered the Niagara River above the Falls at Chippawa. It was lengthened in 1833 to Port Colborne, with 40 locks. The First Canal was constructed of wood and has completely disappeared, disintegrated, dismantled, or buried. The present Welland Ship Canal is the fourth to be built and was completed in 1932.

WHAT IS THE LENGTH OF THE CANAL? HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE A SHIP TO GO FROM ONE LAKE TO AN OTHER?
The Canal is 43.13 km., or 26.8 statute miles, or 23.45 nautical miles long. Normally, it takes a ship entering at Port Weller 6-8 hours to reach Lock Seven in Thorold at the top of the Niagara Escarpment, then 3-4 hours more to depart Port Colborne. With little traffic, and no problems in the Flight Locks, the average transit time is 8-12 hours. But with heavy traffic, fog, snow squalls, high winds, etc., it can take 15 or more hours. The captain [or captain and pilot of a foreign ship] must be in command on the bridge of the ship for the complete transit, but, while the ship is being raised or lowered, the captain can grab a quick meal, or lie down on a couch in the wheelhouse.

HOW LARGE IS A LOCK?
All locks, with the exception of Lock Eight at Port Colborne, are 261.8 metres (859 ft.) long, 24.4 metres (80 ft.) wide, and 24.8 metres (81.5 ft.) deep. Lock Eight is the longest lock in the world at 420.6 metres (1380 ft.). But Lock Eight is a regulating lock only; it raises or lowers ships 0.3 - 1.2 metres (1-4 ft.), depending on the fluctuating levels of Lake Erie. Although a lock is 261.8 metres (859 ft.) long, the useable length is only 233.5 metres (766 ft.).

HOW MUCH IS A SHIP RAISED OR LOWERED IN A LOCK?
A ship is raised or lowered 14.2 metres (46.5 ft.). When the ships are "climbing the escarpment" in the Flight Locks (Locks 4,5,6) in Thorold, they're being raised 42.5 metres (139.5 ft.). In all, from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, the ships are being raised 99.5 metres (326.5 ft.). Niagara Falls from crest line to river bottom measures 107 metres (350 ft.) and from crest line to river level 52 metres (170 ft.)

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO RAISE OR LOWER A SHIP IN THE LOCK?
It takes approximately 33 minutes for a freighter to enter a lock, be raised or lowered, then depart. The actual raising or lowering takes 10-12 minutes. Most of the time is spent manoeuvring the ship into position and tying her up. THIS IS CALLED "SPOTTING" A SHIP. Ships smaller than a freighter take a longer time because more water is needed to fill or be emptied from the lock.

WHAT ARE THE "FLIGHT LOCKS"?
The world-famous Flight Locks (Nos. 4/5/6) are in the City of Thorold and enable ships to raise or lower 42.6 metres (139.5 ft.) to overcome the Niagara Escarpment. They are twinned to allow simultaneous passing of two or more ships, and there is no "reach" between them. THEY ARE 54 1/2 ft. HIGHER THAN THE GATUN LOCKS OF THE PANAMA CANAL (26 metres, 85 ft.). Ships go through the Flight Locks on their own power; they are NOT pulled through by little locomotives as on the Panama Canal.

WHAT ARE THOSE ROUND YELLOW POSTS THE LINESMEN ARE TYING THE ROPES TO?
They're called "bollards" (pronounced as in "ball"). When a ship is coming up from a lower lock, the linesmen at the edge of the lock (the "coping") throw down yellow polypropylene lines, referred to as "canal lines" or "heaving lines" to which the mates and deckhands on the ship tie the heavy wire cables, or thick ropes, called "hawsers". The linesmen then winch up their lines and the ship's hawsers, throw the loops of the hawsers around the bollards, and remove their yellow heaving lines. When a ship is coming down the canal, and is higher than the lock wall, the mates and deckhands throw to the linesmen, instead, the light lines ("heaving lines") to which their heavy wire cables or thick ropes are attached. (The polypropylene lines are greater in diameter than the heaving lines.).

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WHY DOES THAT TALL YELLOW CRANE GO DOWN, THEN UP AGAIN?
The crane, called an "arrester boom", lowers a 3 1/2 inch (8.75 cm) steel cable, called a "ship arrester", which is capable of holding back up to 40,000 tons of ship and cargo. The cable is lowered to protect the gates from a down bound vessel should it not be able to stop at the right "mark". When the ship in the lock is firmly secured, the ship arrester is raised. The cable is also held in place should an up bound vessel accidentally drift astern when her lines are being released and she's ready to "cast off" and depart. A short blast of the ship's whistle signals "cast off the lines" at a dock or in a lock.

HOW MUCH WATER DOES IT TAKE TO FILL A LOCK? WHERE IS IT PUMPED? WHERE DOES THE WATER GO WHEN THE LOCK EMPTIES?
It takes 94.5 million litres or 21 million Imperial Gallons of water to fill a lock. NO PUMPS OF ANY KIND ARE USED TO Fill OR EMPTY THE LOCKS. It's all done by gravity-flow, from Lake Erie down (north) to Lake Ontario. Beside the gates at either end of the lock are great valves which seaway personnel activate to allow water to flow into or out of the lock. The water comes in from the "reach" above each lock and from the "pondage" beyond which serves as a reservoir. When a lock is being emptied, the water goes into the "reach" below the lock. A small amount of electricity is used to open and close those valves.

WHAT IS THAT OTHER LOCK BESIDE LOCK THREE? IS IT AN OLD CANAL? IS THAT WHERE THE WATER GOES WHEN THIS LOCK IS EMPTIED?
That's cal]ed a "spillway" or "waste weir". The water flowing from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario cannot be stopped; either it goes over the Niagara Falls or through the Canal and the flow has to be regulated. Every lock, except the Flight Locks, has a "reach" above, a "reach" below, a spillway, and a pondage. The Flight Locks have no parallel spillway. The water, which empties out of Lock Seven, goes into a great pondage to the east, where the Third Canal (1881) used to be, and the excess water goes down the channel of that old canal, remnants of which can be seen from the Observation Platform at Lock Three when you look to the southeast.

DO THE BOATS CARRY THEIR OWN WATER TO FILL THE LOCKS?
This question has been asked several times, and far-fetched as it may sound, there is a logical explanation for that seemingly unlikely situation: Visitors at Lock Three (or any of the locks) see a ship with streams of water coming from openings in the bow or stern, or running down the hull from the deck. This is COOLING WATER for the hot metal on deck, or for the various engines, such as the main engine, or smaller engines that are used for electrica1 generators, etc. This water is pumped into the ship through its hull from the canal below.
It is not oily water from the ship's bilge (the lowest part of the ship's interior).
It is not water from the 'heads' (toilets) or from the 'galley' (kitchen).
It is not the water used to clean out the hold when the ship changes cargoes (e.g. from coal to grain.)
On a really hot or sunny day, the ships often come through the Canal with high sprays of water or hoses washing down the decks. THIS IS TO PREVENT "HOGGING." "Hogging" occurs when the metal deck heats up and arches like a hog's back, hence the term. This forces the bow and stem to expand outwards and downwards, while the hull retains the temperature of the surrounding water and doesn't change size. The vessel is then deeper in the water fore and aft, affecting the draft marks at the bow, the stern, and mid-ship. Hosing and spraying the deck with cold water helps to reduce this "hogging."

HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DO THE SHIPS TRANSIT? DO THEY TIE UP FOR THE NIGHT? DOES THE CANAL EVER CLOSE? DOES IT FREEZE IN WINTER?
The Canal operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from late March until Christmas week. By then, the ice is often fairly thick, and sometimes the last ship through has to be escorted by tugs. Once a ship enters the Canal, it continues through, unless it's going into the Dry Dock at Port Weller for repairs. It may a]so stop at the Industrial Docks in Thorold, or the City of Welland, or the fuel docks at Port Colborne. A pleasure craft MUST continue; it can tie up at the Small Boat Dock at either end of the Canal, but nowhere in the Canal itself unless instructed to do so by Seaway personnel. From January until the last week of March, the Canal may be drained anywhere from Lock Seven down to Lock One so that repairs or reconstruction can be carried out. For night transits and dull days, there is variable-intensity lighting along both banks of the Cana1 throughout its whole length.

WHAT IS THE LARGEST SHIP THAT CAN GET INTO A LOCK?
Ships up to a maximum of 225.5 metres (740 ft.) long, and 23.7 metres (78 ft.) wide can now transit the Wetland Canal. That's a tight squeeze! Watch for CSL and ALGOMA ships that are examples of vessels that have been lengthened and widened to meet the new standards.

WHAT KIND OF SHIP IS THAT? WHERE IS IT FROM? WHERE IS IT GOING? WHAT IS IT CARRYING?
The bulletin board in the Information Centre at the Museum Complex will give these details, if available. A framed picture of all the types of ships seen in the Welland Ship Canal is also on display. The main cargoes are grain, coal, iron ore, stone, potash, salt, and fuels.
[When the Information Board says, "Canadian--Grain--Down--St. Lawrence Port", for instance, it usually means that three or four grain carriers are going to Port Cartier or Sept Iles and will "trans-ship" their loads into an ocean freighter which is too large to get through the St. Lawrence Seaway.]

WHAT DOES IT MEAN - THE SHIP'S CARGO IS "BALLAST"?
It means the ship is empty of cargo and is going to other ports throughout the Great Lakes or down the St. Lawrence River. The ballast is water, 10,000 tons more or less, depending on the size of ship and its navigating abilities.

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WHY IS THE SHIP SITTING IN THE LOCK SO LONG?
It could be for several reasons: fog, which could restrict visibility or cause a backup of ships; high winds, which can play havoc with, high-sided vessels in an unloaded condition; the ship taking on supplies, etc. At Lock Three, for instance, the ship may be waiting for the previous up bound vessel to enter Lock Five, and thus have Lock Four ready and open before it departs Lock Three. There are also certain areas in the Canal, on the levels between locks, where it is safer for large vessels to pass. For this reason a freighter may sit in a lock for a period of time, waiting for the right moment to "cast off" to meet an approaching ship.

WHY IS THAT SHIP APPROACHING AT SUCH A CRAZY ANGLE? WILL IT HIT THE LOCK?
That's called "sliding the wall", and it sets the bow of the ship on the right course to "nose into" the narrow lock from out in the broad "reach". Once the bow is safely positioned at the entrance to the lock, the rudder lines up the stern.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GO THROUGH THE CANAL?
Depending on the gross registered tonnage of the ship, whether wholly laden, partially so, or in ballast; the type of cargo in metric tonnes; the number of persons aboard; plus lockage charges the total cost of transiting the Canal can cost anywhere from $19,000 to $38,000 in Canadian dollars per trip. Pleasure craft pay $80.00 ($20.00 per lock) to transit the Welland Canal. Pleasure craft cannot be less than 6 metres or 20 feet in length, or under 1 ton in weight. UPBOUND TO LAKE ERIE, they must have 3 persons aboard, one to be in contact by radio at all times, and two to man the bow and stern lines. Down bound to Lake Ontario, they're required to have two persons only. That's because, up bound, the turbulence in the filling lock is greater.

WHY DON'T SAILBOATS JUST SAIL THROUGH THE CANAL?
At the height of the summer season, some "tall ships" and other fair-sized sail-training vessels transit the Canal. The reason sailboats can't go through under sail: even when there's plenty of wind, a sailing ship cannot steer straight in such confined space. Sailboats also have no braking mechanism and require unrestricted open water to function at all. In Thorold, at the top of the Escarpment (Lock Seven), near Battle of Beaverdams Park, there is "Towpath Street". This is the site of the TOWPATH alongside the Second Welland Canal where horses and mules, led by "tow boys", used to pull sailing ships (with sails furled) through the First and Second Canals.

WHAT CREW DOES A FREIGHTER CARRY?
A straight-deck bulk carrier (like the model of the John A France in the Welland Canals Gallery of the St. Catharines Museum) has a crew of 22; a self-unloading freighter carries 29 persons. Canadian tankers, such as the Enerchems, have a crew of 22; an American tanker (e.g. Saturn, Gemini) has a crew of 18. On average, most freighters have 20-24 crewmembers.

WHY DO THEY PUT UP THE BRIDGE SO EARLY?
The Port Robinson Bridge was struck and destroyed by the M. V. STEELTON, August 25, 1974, and has never been replaced. Bridges usually come off second best in a collision, so they must be up in plenty of time and stay up until the passing ship is well clear. On Saturday, August 11, 2001, at Allanburg, the lift bridge descended prematurely, striking and destroying the wheelhouse of the Paterson Company's WINDOC. In the event of machinery malfunctions or power interruptions on the bridge, a vessel must have enough time to "make a wall" or tie up. A fully-loaded ocean vessel, such as we see on the Great Lakes, travelling at full speed, will require ONE MILE of clear water to come to a stop when her engines are thrown into "full astern" mode! In the extreme case of a complete failure of steering and propulsion, a ship could drift for miles and bump into anything.

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WHAT ARE ALL THOSE NUMBERS ON THE BOW AND STERN OF THE SHIP?
WHAT ARE THOSE PECULIAR-LOOKING SYMBOLS ON THE HULL?
Those are the draft (draught) marks, the Plimsoll lines, and the diagrams that tell you a ship has a "bulbous bow" or a "bow-thruster".
The Canal has a depth of 8.2 metres or 27 ft. throughout, 30 ft. in the locks. With normal lake levels, a ship can carry a cargo to the depth of 26 ft. 3 inches--the 8 m. draft mark on the bow and stem. One inch less of draft equals 125 fewer tonnes of cargo on a typical ship with a capacity of 35,000 metric tonnes.
The Plimsoll lines on the hull at mid ship indicate the depth to which the ship can be loaded under certain conditions (i.e. summer, winter, tropical seas, fresh water lakes, etc.) The bulbous bow offers less resistance to the water as the ship moves forward and also affords more cargo space.
The rudder controls the turning to port (left) or starboard (right) of the vessel, and the propeller controls the speed ahead or astern. The bow-thruster controls the movement of the bow from side to side, especially in tight spaces where it is difficult to manoeuvre. The white vertical markings (labelled "tug") on the sides of the ship indicate the location of internal bulkheads and instruct tugs where it is best to push.

WHAT ARE ALL THOSE FLAGS?
It's easy to recognize the Canadian or American national flag on the sternpost of the ship, or up on the mall mast. The flag at the stern will always be the flag of the country in which the ship is registered, although a different country may own the ship. Also on the main mast, above the wheelhouse, or on the foremast at the bow, will be the "company" or "house flag"--Canada Steamship Lines' tri-colour with maple leaf; Upper Lakes' red pennant with white/black diamond; Algoma Marine's red/black pennant with the black bear inside a circle; Paterson's white pennant with white "P" in a red diamond. The flags with combined diamond and black bear, and the letters SBC or SSU, signify Seaway Bulk Carrier or Seaway Self-Unloader.
The solid red flag that signals "danger" is usual1y on an oil or gasoline tanker.
The navy and white St.Lawrence Seaway flag is a stylized representation of a ship in a lock chamber, and has been presented to vessels for a special reason: the opening of the Seaway at Montreal and the opening at Lock Three of the Welland Ship Canal.
The flag of Ontario bears the Provincial Coat of Arms and three maple leaves branching out from a single stem.
Up beside the "company" flag, on a foreign ship, will be the red/white parti-coloured Pi1ot's flag.
Currently, all foreign and salt-water ships MUST have a pilot take them through the length of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Our Canadian captains are familiar enough with the waters, the hazards, the locks, etc. to take their ships through themselves.
Ocean vessels passing through the Canal will fly the flag of their country of registration and the name of their homeport at the stern. They will also display Canada's flag as a "courtesy".

WHY IS A SHIP CALLED "SHE" EVEN WHEN HER NAME IS GORDON C. LEITCH OR CAPTAIN HENRY JACKMAN OR RT. HON. PAUL J.?
John Jackson, Prof. Emeritus of Brock University, in his book, The Welland Canals, A Comprehensive Guide, quotes E. C. Russell, writing of Customs and Traditions in the Canadian Armed Forces: "The most likely explanation...is the traditional belief of sailors that a ship is very close to being a living entity, endowed with a spirit and a distinct personality, demanding respect, and, given proper consideration, most dependable. And, somehow, through some curious alchemy in the mind of the seamen in the days of sail, often away from the land for months on end, this near-human being took on the beauty and mystique of a woman."

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