Gifts for travelers – my most-used items over the years

Sacsayhuaman from a distance in Peru. Photo and rights by E. Jurus

Even though travel abroad seems really far away these days, there are always daydreams and wishes. People ask my hubby and I all the time about our next trip, and my answer is always the same: when the pandemic settles down enough that the main adventure is at the destination, not getting there or back home. We love unpredictability, but not from the governments 😉

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for gift ideas for an adventure traveler for some future journey, here are a few things that my hubby and I have found really useful over the years:

  1. A lighted magnifying mirror. I’ve used it on every safari we’ve been on, trying to insert contact lenses in the pre-dawn hours in a dark tent; on every single other trip since I bought it, because hotel bathroom lighting is never good enough to apply some basic facial care, or get a fallen eyelash out of your eye; and daily at home. This is the exact mirror I have — it’s lightweight, has an unbreakable mirror (so far, in 14 years of ownership), and doesn’t drain the batteries (I typically replace them maybe once a year).
  2. A cordless flat iron. If you have hair that looks ridiculous when you get out of bed, this item is invaluable for looking presentable when your lodging has no electricity — like some safari camps. The one I have holds enough charge for a week’s worth of quick hair-fixing, assuming I don’t loan it out to all the people who usually ask me to borrow it. I’m not sure my brand is still made, but I found quite a few different other offerings on Amazon.
  3. A good day-pack. The one I have is called the “Healthy Back Bag“. What makes it so great are the myriad pockets both inside and out that hold an amazing number of essential items. On our first safari in 2007, post-9/11 anxiety was still high and airlines were only allowing a single carry-on item per person. I managed to stuff my HBB with all my travel documents, a small leather journal, several pens, all my medications, my camera with spare batteries and memory cards, travel-sized toiletries for the 1 & 1/2 days of travel just to get to Botswana, and a paperback book to read while flying — all neatly organized. When we were on the safari, I carried everything I needed for the day’s game drives and a bottle of water. The bag is incredibly durable, comfortable to carry and even has a slash-resistant strap. In between trips, I take use it when I’m out hiking.
  4. A synthetic base layer, aka undershirt. Even in Africa, the temperature variation from dawn to dusk can be significant, so a good base layer will help you feel comfortable in a variety of places. I bought mine at a local outdoor outfitter; a good fit is essential.
  5. A good pair of hiking shoes. Hard to buy for someone else, so you might need to do this as a gift certificate.
  6. Packing cubes/pouches. When you’re on an adventure with limited facilities, keeping your toiletries, underwear, medications and other such items organized and easy to find is invaluable.
  7. DK Travel Guides. I love poring through these detailed and beautifully illustrated guides when I’m planning a trip, or just need a little mental escape. If you’re planning your own itinerary, their information will help you whittle down your must-see list.
  8. Stocking stuffers: a) Spare camera batteries. I always carry three — one in my camera, and two fully-charged spares. At night I take out the one I’ve been using all day and charge it up. b) Spare camera memory cards.

Things we have but don’t really use:

a) Binoculars. They’re heavy to carry when you’re trying to travel light, and if I want to zoom in on something I use my camera.

b) Bug shirt. Yes, there were a lot of insects in the Amazon jungle, but they weren’t biting us. I use it more here at home on summer hikes in the humid and mosquito/tick-filled woods.

c) Money belt — we’ve never used them. They look silly and are blindingly obvious to thieves when you’re trying to retrieve your cash.

If you have a real traveler on your gift list, I hope my top picks give you some inspiration.

Cheers,

Erica

430 million years of history into cement

Buried under more than 50 wineries, 10 golf courses, a college and a university, shopping malls, an outlet mall, and around 447,000 residents lie rocks that predate the dinosaurs by almost 350 million years. Standing on top of the Niagara Escarpment and looking out over the Queenston Quarry, it’s impossible to imagine what this land looked like so long ago.

More recent than that, but even harder to picture as the wind blew clouds fiercely across the sky, from 23,000 to 12,000 years ago the land we were standing on was covered in a glacial sheet of ice between 1 to 3 miles thick. That was the last of three successive glaciers that changed the shape of everything in southern Ontario.

Ice of a mile thick would exert 150 tons per square foot of pressure — it’s been estimated that the weight of the Late Wisconsin Glacier pushed the land 200 feet downward. When a glacier retreats the land begins to push back up, and in the Niagara basin it created the 11th and 13th largest lakes in the world: Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. We took visiting friends from Australia to the beach along Lake Ontario, and they asked if they were looking at the sea, not a lake.

At 445 million years ago, the entire area was a sea — the Michigan sea. tropical, and full of small creatures that, when they died, deposited enough calcium carbonate shells to form thick layers of sediment that slowly turned into layers and layers of limestone. It was this very limestone that, over 400 million years later, would become the basis for both a quarry and a cement company in 19th century Queenston, originally named Queen’s Town by the British soldiers occupying the area during the War of 1812, then shortened to Queenstown. The area was actually settled in the 1770s by Loyalist refugees and immigrants from the United States.

The Queenston Quarry was founded in 1837, supplying the stone for many of Ontario’s cities. The Royal Ontario Museum, Queen’s Park and Union Station in Toronto were all built with Queenston stone.

In 1882, ‘Isaac Usher & Sons’ opened a cement operation at the top of the escarpment running past the quarry. They mined a layer of stone with components similar to cement, firing it in huge limestone kilns, Once finished in the kilns, the product was ground into a powder and sold as Red Star cement. It was the first such plant in Ontario. In 1898, the Ushers issued a 33-page pamphlet entitled “Practical Hints on the Use of Queenston Cement” can still be found in libraries as far away as Australia.

Screenshot of brochure cover; the document can be viewed in its entirety on the Canadiana website.

The Ushers closed their doors in 1905, and their kilns and ovens began to disappear under the rich soil and forests of the escarpment. Luckily they didn’t vanish entirely, and partially-restored remnants can still be seen today on a strenuous hike along Queenston Heights.

The trail starts off innocuously flat.

After a while you come across a strange structure poking its head out of the trees. It’s an old metal tower that was apparently used by the Department of National Defence to intercept foreign radio waves during the Cold War.

As we wound our way through the trees, we found two of the pit ovens used to treat the raw limestone.

The remarkable stone structure of the escarpment could be seen in a breathtaking natural amphitheatre about half of the way to the actual kilns.

After that point the trail becomes extremely hilly, and it was treacherous to hike on a fall day after several days of rain had littered the ground under our feet with thousands of wet leaves.

If you want to do this hike, I’d recommend spike-tipped hiking poles at the very least. Even with sturdy treads at the bottom of my hiking boots, I was happy to take the bypass where dirt steps have been added.

It took us a good 45 minutes to reach the kilns.

During excavation of the Third Welland Canal, it was discovered that a layer of natural cement rock underlay the blue dolomite running across much of the Niagara Escarpment. Usher leased the land from the owner of the property in order to build three kilns (later increased to six), 40 feet high by 10 feet in diameter. Two of them can be seen in the photo below.


The kilns were constructed of rubble and lined with fire brick and fire clay.

At the bottom, steel rails formed grates on which firewood and soft coal were layered with the cement rock and soft coal until the kiln was filled. The firewood was then lighted and kept burning as more coal and rock were added from the top. Below you can see remnants of the steel rails in the roof of the bottom opening.

I haven’t so far been able to find a definitive description of the process, but the resulting cement powder was packed in barrels produced at the warehouse. Each barrel held 350 pounds of powder.

The Queenston Cement Works was a going concern for several years, supplying cement for the St. Lawrence/Welland and Sault Ste. Marie Canals. The adhesiveness of Ushers’ cement was so high that in 1932 , during the blasting to remove the old Welland River Aqueduct, which carried the Welland River under the Canal, the stone itself typically broke before the cement bond did.

Unfortunately the Ushers weren’t able to compete with the lower pricing of Portland cement, developed in England earlier that century. Portland’s base materials were lower cost and widely available, and this cement remains in wide usage to this day. Queenston Cement also took 24 hours to dry, as compared to only 6 hours for Portland.

The cement stone was mined not far from the kilns in a system of caves that can still be seen.

When you look in through one of the two openings, you understand how difficult this mining must have been.

The caves are squatter than a person’s height, and the limestone rock bearing down on them is full of cracks. The tunnels are also flooded much of the time.

People have climbed down into them to have a look around, but from the number of cave-ins that have been spotted not far from the entrances, it’s not a stunt I’d recommend.

The Queenston Quarry itself was operated until apparently around 2008; its last owner as such was Lafarge Canada. After that it was bought by a developer, the Queenston Quarry Reclamation Company, who’s transforming the land into a golf course and residences. And so, another piece of Niagara history changes hands and develops a new face.

Ghosts in the Graveyard

spectral soldiers walking on the grounds, clo

Ghosts have been seen in all manner of locations. A cemetery might seem a bit clichéd, if you’re a non-corporeal citizen, but I imagine you wouldn’t have much choice in the matter.

If the cemetery in question has an additional layer of drama, such as Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario, ghost sightings are inevitable.

The natural rise in the landscape where the cemetery lies was part of a 23-acre parcel sold to a young couple in 1799 by the wife’s father, James Forsyth. Forsyth had received a crown land grant of 388 acres along the Niagara River at the Horseshoe Falls and became one of the first ten families to settle into the Niagara Falls area.

The husband, Christopher Buchner, was a United Empire Loyalist, i.e. a loyalist to the British side during the American Revolution. He’d fled to Ontario around 1786, and married Sarah Forsyth, James’ daughter. At some point, Christopher and Sarah decided to set aside some of their land as a burying ground for themselves and neighbouring settlers.

It would soon prove prophetic. Within three years of the happy couple settling on their homestead, the War of 1812 broke out. A dispute over trade issues between the United States and the United Kingdom, it naturally spilled across the easiest access points in and around Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. After the American armies tried to cut off military supply lines at Montreal but failed, in the summer of 1814 they tried again at Niagara Falls, in what would become the infamous Battle of Lundy’s Lane.

This battle took place right on the peaceful, orchard-flanked hill where the Buchners had decided to allow people to lay their loved ones to rest, and it became known as one of the bloodiest battles of the War. Hundreds of soldiers fought at very close quarters;  Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond reported that:  

“Of so determined a Character were [the American] attacks directed against our guns that our Artillery Men were bayonetted by the enemy in the Act of loading, and the muzzles of the Enemy’s Guns were advanced within a few Yards of ours”.

Both sides suffered heavy of casualties, but the British had won a strategic victory.

Today the battlefield lies like a phantom below the green grass of Drummond Hill and the same-named Cemetery. It’s a nationally recognized heritage site, and an interesting stroll as Halloween approaches.

There have been accounts of five spectral soldiers limping around the grounds, clouds of vague ectoplasm, as well as the sounds of boots and shouting. Since the cemetery is cheek-by-jowl with one of the busiest tourist sites in the world, however, noises heard in the vicinity may be coming from the boisterous living.

I visited the cemetery on a chilly day shadowed by dark, heavy clouds with occasional piercings of sunlight. The colonial origins of the place show in numerous tombstones so weathered that it’s impossible to read their entire inscription.

The cemetery is in itself a time capsule of the region — old headstones of early settlers that fractured when they fell over and have been respectfully encased in a stone bed for preservation,

while those still upright have been given steel sleeves to keep them in situ,

One interesting find was the burial place of a survivor on the Underground Railroad.

Burr Plato went on to become a free, prominent citizen in the Niagara Region. One of the most famous residents is Laura Secord, a local heroine who famously walked 20 miles through hilly, tree-studded terrain to warn British forces of an impending attack by American troops.

In 1895 the Canadian Parliament contributed a battle memorial to mark the remains of 22 British soldiers who were buried in the vault below it. The tall monument is flanked by stacks of cannonballs and two large cannons (the provenance of which I haven’t been able to find out).

There appears to be an entrance to the under-croft that’s shrouded in locks and iron fencing; it’s not a spot I’d like to wander near in the dead of night.

The age of the cemetery gives a certain amount of gravity, and the atmospheric old cairns among the trees supply an inherent eeriness.

One headstone that I came across was surprisingly creepy. The figure at the top, where you might expect to find an angel or a religious statue, is instead something completely encased in a draped shroud — perhaps the deceased on the next stage of their journey?

I can’t report any ghosts, orbs or strange feelings while I was there, or any spectral shapes showing up in my photographs. I wish the area surrounding the site had been better preserved; it’s hard to get a sense of the battle or the time period. Unfortunately Niagara Falls has been subjected to rampant tourism development, so this little remnant of history sits like a ghost town in the middle of the city. May all the people who fought valiantly for their cause find a tranquil rest there. On the other hand, judging by the photo below, this place would make a great film site for a zombie horde 😉

All photos are by me and all rights reserved.

A ghostly hike

I’ve never seen a ghost. I’m not saying they don’t exist, and I’d love to see one (except in my own residence). We love to go on ghost walks pretty much everywhere.

We even requested tickets to the nightly locking-up ceremony at the Tower of London, which is reputedly one of the most haunted places on the planet – given the number of people who went in but never came out. I really wanted to see the ghost of Anne Boleyn, who reportedly runs around carrying her severed head under her arm, but no luck. Not even a glimmer.

Ah well, I keep persevering. When my hiking buddy suggested a look at an abandoned railroad tunnel colloquially known as the Blue Ghost Tunnel, I was in like a dirty shirt.

The official name was the Merritton Tunnel, in honour of William Merritt, the ‘father of the Welland Canal system’. It was built in 1875 as a way to cross the third version of the Welland Canal, the famous transportation canal system by which cargo ships traverse from the St. Lawrence Seaway, through Lake Ontario, and then down to the lower Lake Erie. The tunnel was placed between locks 18 and 19, and spans 713 feet (including stone work capping the ends).

Historic photo of the newly-constructed Merritton Tunnel, source unknown.

It’s astounding to envision hundreds of men excavating the tunnel with picks and shovels. People died during the construction, including a 14-year-old boy, and two employees were killed in 1903 at 7:03 a.m. when two trains, Engine Number 4 and Engine Number 975, had a head-on collision about one-third of a mile from the tunnel’s western entrance. It was reported that both engines in “full steam” at 22 miles per hour, which doesn’t sound like much in modern times, but the two firemen for the trains were gruesomely injured; one died instantly, the other in hospital just a few hours later.

The tunnel received its more colourful name from a young paranormal investigator, Russ (last name undiscoverable) who visited the tunnel several times. He reported intense feelings of fear, dizziness and something like an electrical charge; on one occasion he states that something invisible was barring their access to the tunnel and that he and his group felt their lives would be at risk if they proceeded.

Russ believed he saw a bluish mist at the entrance, which transformed its appearance from a pretty little girl to a dog/wolf to a demon. His compatriots apparently didn’t see it, and photos from the visit are said to be explainable as pictures of Russ’s own breath in the chilly tunnel. From what I could find, Russ planned on selling his story to the movie industry, and perhaps got caught up in his own haunted creation.

Ghost tours are occasionally run at night, which would be an eerie experience indeed, as the tunnel is quite chilly, as well as partially flooded. Water drips constantly from the ceiling and the footing is very uncertain.

My buddy and I visited in broad daylight on a hot summer day. After a long walk down an old factory access road, one looks for an indicator marked on a metal railing.

Then it’s a steep skid down a bush-studded hillside to where the old railway tracks used to run. I wouldn’t want to try this after a good rainfall.

Unfortunately vandals have rather spoiled the entrance with graffiti, and we saw a fair bit of garbage around the entrance.

As soon as you enter the arched tunnel, you can see substantial flooding on the left side — it runs the entire length of the tunnel.

There are still remnants of the wooden parts of the tracks, but they’re very worn and really slippery from the pervasive moisture. The footing in general is quite treacherous. There are no lights inside the tunnel, so a good flashlight is essential.

The water along the side wall is at least a foot deep — not something to stumble into in the dark!

There are ceiling supports in several spots to shore up the collapsing roof, and we had to duck under them to move onward.

Supports also run to the walls in a few places; we weren’t sure what they were for. Between those and the water dripping down, however, you’re left with the distinct feeling that you don’t want to linger too long.

The far end of the tunnel is completely flooded, and impassable. It looked several feet deep, with no hint of what might be underfoot in the cold water.

We didn’t experience any feelings of dread or being watched by something. As we returned to the entrance, I took this photo of what looks like mist just inside — not surprising given the chill of the tunnel meeting the heat of the day outside. It does look vaguely bluish, I will admit.

According to records, a total of 107 men were killed during the construction of the tunnel and the canal, so the Blue Ghost Tunnel seems like the kind of place that would be haunted. It would be interesting to see at night, if you’re up for seriously wet and chilly discomfort; if you decide to try it, please do wear hiking shoes with a good tread and be very careful while you’re walking through. All kinds of debris litter the water, and I can only imagine what could be caught by falling into it. And if you experience any kind of haunting there, please do let me know 🙂

All photos by me (unless otherwise specified) and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

Local adventures — Morningstar Mill

I was asked by a friend the other day if I’m itching to travel abroad, and I couldn’t really say that I am. Yes, I definitely miss traveling further afield than the province we live in, but I can wait until the effects of the pandemic have all shaken out.

I’ve been keeping an eye on what’s going on in the industry while my hubby and I did our part to limit the spread by staying local. There have been many tales of attempted trips that haven’t turned out well, purveyors who’ve refused to honour refunds, issues with mixed vaccines that haven’t been recognized by other countries, etc. To be fair, I’ve also read of travelers who’ve had a great time enjoying destinations almost entirely free of other tourists.

Staying closer to home, though, has given us the opportunity to explore parts of Ontario we never bothered with before, and we’ve had a great time doing it. When the time is right and we can travel with more confidence, we’ll start up again, but in the meantime we’re making the best of things in our own neck of the woods.

One of our local sights includes a vintage and unusual grist mill, sawmill and 19th century homestead. My hubby and I have visited many mills powered by classic large water wheels, but Morningstar Mill is one of the rarer type powered entirely by water turbine.

Vertical water wheels, which are still in use today, date as far back as the first century BC; their predecessors go back at least two centuries before that. The Greek philosopher Archimedes described a screw pump in 234 BC that took on his name, but there’s evidence that such a device had been used much sooner in ancient Egypt. Water wheels were used for industrial purposes throughout the ancient world — they may even have been used for sawing slabs of marble.

The earliest turbine mill was constructed by the Romans in Tunisia in the late 3rd/early 4th century AD. It’s harder to find historical samples of turbine mills, so Morningstar Mill offers a look at how this different technology worked.

The original set of mills on the site were built by an early settler of what was then the Province of Upper Canada, which included all of modern-day Southern Ontario and some of Northern Ontario. His name was John DeCou, or John DeCew — the spelling is uncertain, but the latter version survives in local place names to this day. DeCew was a United Empire Loyalist and fought in the War of 1812. After the war he acquired a site on Beaverdams Creek with a waterfall in 1788 and built one of the first saw mills in the area. Later he added a grist mill.

DeCew had stiff competition from William Hamilton Merritt, the catalyst for the construction of the Welland Canal system (the third Canal was covered in a post just a few weeks ago). The Canal diverted water away from DeCew’s mill, and in 1894 he sold it. The new owner, Robert Chappell, who built a new turbine-powered grist mill and renamed it Mountain Mills. After surviving local political shenanigans for a few years, the mill was sold to Wilson Morningstar, who lived on the site with his family and operated the mill until 1933, and it’s his name that remains.

The mills and other buildings are now operated as a heritage site that has some excellent volunteer docents. There’s far too much to see to include in this post — for sites like this, you’re far better off visiting in person for a great interactive experience. Take the time to devote at least half a day to get the most out of it.

Caveat: The mill houses all of its original equipment, much of which isn’t safe for children to play with. Please be mindful of what the docents tell you when you visit.

In the photo above you can see the stone grist mill, i.e. flour mill, on the right, and the saw mill in the red building on the left.

The water flows into the site through culverts that run under Decew Road:

Inside the turbine shed you can safely view the turbine itself, a remarkable piece of 19th-century engineering:

On the exteriors you can see quite a bit of the mechanisms that closed a set of gates to collect water into a millpond. A drum and crank inside the mill were then turned by hand to feed the collected water through horizontal and vertical penstocks and into the turbine itself (visible in the photo above). The water flowing through the turbine then powered every piece of equipment in the mills.

The equipment included things like a lathe:

…with some of its original parts stored in a crate underneath.

The grinding stone for milling flour was a French burr stone, made from sections of quartz cemented together. This type of burr stone was used for finer grinding. Morningstar Mill still grinds flour today, although post-pandemic production hasn’t resumed yet. I’d recommend visiting when you can see the grinding in action and take home some stone-ground flour for yourself.

There’s a great deal of early Ontario history housed in these buildings.

One of Morningstar’s original paper flour sacks is framed and on display — a small piece of memorabilia from the days before big grocery store chains and mass-produced foodstuffs.

You can view Decew Falls themselves safely from above the falls.

The 1895 Morningstar family home is currently being refurbished. It has a lovely position atop a small hill overlooking the mills and falls.

It features wonderful gingerbread architecture on the exterior:

A friend of mine is one of the docents and kindly arranged for me to be able to look inside the home. The kitchen contains a classic wood-burning stove with a water-heated oven, and a hand-pump to draw water up from a reservoir below.

The pantry/larder contains a lot of vintage cooking equipment, like the meat grinders in the top left of the photo below, and numerous earthenware crocks for food storage.

You can even see a genuine vintage ice box, the progenitor of our modern refrigerators. Since cold air is heavier than warm air, the block of ice would have been inserted in the top compartment, allowing the chill to sink down and help preserve foodstuffs in the bottom part of the box.

The living/reception areas of the main floor are still being worked on, but I was able to see the spacious rooms and gorgeous woodwork, something that modern houses are sadly lacking.

On the upper floor you can see beautiful examples of early Ontario bedsteads and coverlets.

Imagine laundering clothes using this vintage tub and washboard. I’m unfortunately rather accident-prone, so I imagine plenty of skinned knuckles trying to do this.

When volunteers, including my buddy Terry, were working on restoration of the upper floor, they found the original bathroom, hidden behind walls erected to cover early damage. The volunteers were able to find all of the bathroom fixtures and paneling elsewhere in the house, and using an old photo, reconstruct the bathroom to its former beauty. They did a remarkable job!

In one of the children’s bedrooms, you can see delightful vintage books and toys.

There’s so much more to the site that I couldn’t possibly fit into this post — including the sawmill, for which we ran out of time. I’ll visit it another day and post some photos.

This type of site is a local treasure, a window into a simpler, more arduous but incredibly ingenious past. Places like this are a reminder that our fast-paced, overly technological world that’s buzzing with electronics and noise isn’t the be-all and end-all of life. We can take little breaks from the hubbub and enjoy the quietude of our historical heritage while we wait for the larger world to become safely available again.

I’ll continue to post our local adventures from time to time, and if you begin embarking on your own, I’d love to hear about it!

Stay safe and healthy.

All photos are by me and all rights reserved.

Hidden by time – the old Welland Canal

How much do you know of your area’s history? Probably not as much as you should.

So much of the landscape has changed in the Niagara Region through modernization that we’ve literally lost sight of the centuries of history here. But, like temples in the Central American jungle, remnants of our past peek out of the trees and brush that have overtaken them — we have only to put on bug spray and hiking boots to find them. A knowledgeable guide is a great asset, and my friend Terry has been showing me some of our old treasures on days when the scorching summer heat has abated and the skies aren’t emptying their contents on our heads.

The modern-day Welland Canal is such a technical marvel that it’s difficult to envision its origins in the early 19th century. The first version of the Canal was completed in 1829.

In 1824, nine “freeholders of the District of Niagara”, including a man who would become a local notable, William Hamilton Merritt, petitioned the Province of Upper Canada to build a canal to transport boats between the two local Great Lakes, L. Ontario and L. Erie. Merritt owned two mills on the Twelve Mile Creek, a natural waterway running through the current city of St. Catharines. In the summer, the water supply to the mills often ran low, and his original idea was simply to divert some water from the Welland River about 18 miles away to help. That idea was expanded to create a navigable canal to transport goods.

The geography of Niagara threw several wrenches into this plan, but eventually, utilizing as many natural waterways as possible to save costs, the first canal was built, with wooden locks. On November 30, 1829, two schooners made the inaugural journey from Port Dalhousie on L. Ontario to Port Robinson on L. Erie, and the Welland Canal was open for business.

As you’d imagine, the lifespan of wooden locks swimming in water all the time was short. The Second Welland Canal was built along the same route, but replaced the wood with limestone. It had a string of 27 locks, and continued to be used until 1881, when it was replaced by the Third version, shorter and straighter (reducing travel time) as well as wider to make room for the bigger ships coming into use.

The Third Welland Canal featured water siphons built into the walls to fill the locks (and empty them).

Bollards were added along the edges of the canal with which to tie up the ships while they were being lowered or raised.

Bollards are still used today along the modern Fourth Welland Canal, but now ships use them to tie off while they’re waiting outside of the locks. One of the most interesting features of the Third Canal was that in places it ran over top of the landscape, in one place over a sunken section of a road, and in another over a railway tunnel built for the Grand Trunk Railway Line between locks 18 and 19. That tunnel still exists today — it’s called the Blue Ghost Tunnel, as it’s apparently haunted; look for a feature on the tunnel this October!

A hike along sections of the Third Canal is an exercise in patience and fortitude. If you’re not fond of heights, the hike might not be for you, and ticks are prevalent in the bush through which a hiking path has been maintained, so you’ll need long pants tucked well into hiking boots, a bug shirt, and plenty of insect spray (and even then you’ll still need to check yourself for the nasty little critters before you get back into your vehicle to return home). But the hike is a great look at a bygone era when the only previous way to get between the two massive lakes was a hazardous portage.

Today these are some of the extant sections of the Third Canal:

Lock 13, just beyond Glendale Road
Discovering deformed bollards along the thickly-wooded hiking path
The crumbling walls of Lock 14. On the left you can see where the gate was attached and swung open/closed on a curved track
The other end of Lock 14
Most of the canal is shallow now, with a series of small rapids
CN Rail tracks run over an old haulage road
Remnants of an old weir between Locks 17 and 18
Vivid orange ditch-lilies pop out of the brush
An old double-tracked Grand Trunk swing bridge still springs out of the landscape. The apparatus that allowed the bridge to pivot no longer exists.
The old tracks across the bridge are walkable
Rust has coated the metal supports
At the edge of the bridge, you can see the wide flat section on the lower left that is a remnant of one of the reservoirs used to hold back water from the canal.
On the outskirts of Thorold, a spillway releases water from a reservoir for the Fourth Canal
The reservoir itself, looking towards Thorold
Looking down at the low water of the spillway
Some of the remarkable landscape of the Niagara Escarpment
A Pearl Crescent butterfly on the path

To give you some idea of what ship travel would have looked like in the Third Canal’s heyday, this photo was posted on the Historic Welland Canals Mapping Project website. I wasn’t able to find any source or permissions info.

c. 1904, ship at the 17th lock

While we all recover from the pandemic, this is a great time to explore parts of your regional landscape that you never thought you’d have time for. If your area is like ours, there are likely all kinds of interesting things to discover!

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights reserved. E. Jurus