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 avoid Niagara
Falls by traversing the Niagara Escarpment.
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.
Approximately 40,000,000 tonnes
is carried through the Welland Canal annually by over 3,000 ocean
and lake vessels. It was a major factor in the growth of the
city of Montreal.
original canal and its successors allowed goods from Detroit,
Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio and other heavily industrialized areas of the
States and Ontario to be
shipped to the port of Montreal
where they were reloaded onto ocean-going vessels for international
completion of the Welland Canal made the Trent-Severn Waterway (which links
Ontario with Lake
Huron) all but obsolete as a commercial traffic route for
Great Lakes navigation.
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.
canal comprises eight lift lock
, 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
All other crossings are movable bridges
) 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.
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.
A lock of the second Welland
First Welland Canal
The Welland Canal Company
incorporated in 1824 by William
, in part to provide a regular flow of water
for his mill
. Construction began at
Allanburg on November 30, at a
point now marked as such on the west end of Bridge #11 (formerly
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 ) made the first transit, upbound
N.Y.; with Merritt a passenger on her decks.
canal ran from Port Dalhousie on Lake Ontario south along Twelve Mile Creek to
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
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.
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
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
Second Welland Canal
In 1839 the government of Upper Canada
approved the purchase of share
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
Competition came in 1854 with the opening of the Erie and Ontario Railway
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
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
In this configuration, there are eight
locks, seven at the Niagara
and the eighth, a guard
, 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)
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
, which was planned to by-pass most of the existing
canal to the east and to cross the Niagara Escarpment in one large
. 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
The Von Papen Plot
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
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
Von Papen remained under indictment on these charges until he
in 1932, at which time the charges were
August 25, 1974, the
northbound ore-carrier Steelton struck Bridge 12 in Port
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.
August 11, 2001, the
lake freighter Windoc collided with Bridge 11 in Allanburg,
Ontario, closing vessel traffic on the Welland Canal for
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
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."
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
Facts and figures
Lock 3 Observation Centre of the
current Welland Canal (facing North).
Lock 7 Observation Centre
- 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:
- Average transit time between the lakes: 11 hours
- Length of canal: 43.5 km
Increasing lock size
List of locks and crossings
Locks and crossings are numbered from north to south.
Old alignment prior to Welland
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.
- "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.