What a difference four weeks made in our ongoing exploration of the Welland Canal in all of its iterations. The canal system in use today — version 4 — is shut down every winter when the ice comes in, roughly early January to mid-March. The waters are drained and maintenance work commences. If you’ve wondered what our engineering marvel looks like when it’s not full of water, the photo above shows you. It’s essentially a large dirt ditch, not nearly as glamorous or picturesque as it is during shipping season, when boats large and small use the only marine pathway linking Lakes Ontario and Erie. Below you can see a completely empty lock — this one at the Port Weller bridge and dry docks.
During the winter more of the older Third Canal sections and locks become visible, revealed by low water levels and bare forest surrounds. Two weeks ago, crunching our way through thick snow that was crusty on the surface but getting soft underneath, every other footstep became a wrestling match with the deep pit our boots had sunk into.
Old walls lay exposed, as well as the bottom of parts of the old canal. Geese took the opportunity to stroll across thin layers of ice and snow until they reached patches of swimmable water.
To the right, not visible in the photo above, the walls of old Lock 21 stretched. The footing was so treacherous, though, that I couldn’t get photos of everything. Below, we’re looking at the deteriorating walls of Lock 22; in the water, wood debris suggests part of one of the old lock gates, but I don’t know that with any certainty.
According to the Historic Welland Canals Mapping Project (HWCMP), some of old Lock 22 was repurposed as a water diversion channel for the current Canal, not far from the Thorold Tunnel, where one of the main transportation arteries in Niagara runs crosses the Canal by running underneath it. In early March, the water below the spillway that diverts overflow from the Lock (to the best of my knowledge — details about how the modern canal is filled and emptied have been really difficult to find) was serene under grey skies.
Fast forward just a couple of weeks, after early spring weather finally made an appearance, and the Welland Canal has been filled in advance of its March 24th reopening this year.
The old canal section and its surrounding reservoirs have a new look. In the upper ‘lake’, the ice is breaking up and launching small floes down toward the weir that feeds the spillway.
The geese can swim about freely between the walls of the old canal.
Trails, such as they are in this area, have dried and offer a pleasant walk on a mild spring day. No idea what this interesting yellow framework was once a part of.
Trees are thick along the banks, but today’s adventure was good timing — the lack of leaves allowed a glimpse of old Lock 21’s walls in the distance.
We were also able to get closer to the edge of the cliffs lining Lock 22, where the noise of rushing water filled the air and the green-tinged water started showing signs of froth.
The water grew increasingly rougher as we continued toward the mouth of the spillway.
There’s a side channel that was flowing swiftly over the west wall of the canal, which apparently has deteriorated from the infiltration of roots reaching from the woods through which the canal runs. The water joined the flow from the spillway to create a wildly churning and rushing mass of water that created its own mist.
As we approached the spillway, the ferocity of the released water was stunning. I took a video clip of it, but for some reason it won’t download to my laptop. (If any of my readers have a remedy for getting a Windows computer to recognize an MTS or MP4 file from a Sony Cybershot — not sure which as I can’t even pull up the video file — I’d very much appreciate hearing it! No luck finding a solution online.)
Below you’ll see the actual spillway. The sight was mesmerizing; we could have watched it for hours. The photo gives you a small idea of the power of the flip side of the waters of the Welland Canal — fascinating, and hazardous if you’re not careful.
When the Seaway puts up signs like these, it’s obvious why they mean business. Should you go exploring in the area, please do heed their warnings, so you can enjoy but still stay safe!
All photos by me, and all rights reserved. Also, a heads-up that I’ll be changing this blog to an every-other-week format so that I can devote more time to my new author blog, Roads’ Guide to the Galaxy 🙂 I hope you enjoy both.
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