On a fine spring day, awash in cherry blossoms but before all the leaves pop out and make viewing almost impossible, you can follow quite a long section of the second Welland Canal, constructed in the mid-1800s over a number of years. The wooden locks of the first Canal had deteriorated, as you might imagine from their regular soaking in deep water, and the size of ships passing through the Canal had increased. The same essential route was kept, with a change to stone locks, a widening of the channel, and the use of 25 locks to climb/descend the Niagara Escarpment, a rise/drop of 140 feet. It was a remarkable feat of engineering for the time.
From Thorold, Ontario it’s possible to still see reasonably well-preserved remnants of locks 21 to 15 in Mountain Locks Park. There are paths straddling both sides of the Canal, although some are rough dirt paths, sometimes mucky and slippery after rain, winding through thorny thickets; wear hiking boots with good treads. Mid-spring is the best time to do this walk, before the trees are too full and the mosquitoes haven’t appeared. The views of the Canal are unfortunately large obscured by high chain-link fence. While I understand the need to protect people and animals from falling into the old channel, surely there would be a better way to allow history buffs to see more of one of the engineering wonders of the world.
There’s a good view of Lock 21 from a footbridge that straddles it. The photos above provide evidence of how narrow the channel still was in the 1800s, and how shallow; none of the laker ships today would fit either in width or depth. At the end of the lock wall you can still see the lock number chiselled into the stone:
I took the above photo with a zoom lens centered between links of the surrounding fence. When all the leaves have come in on the trees, it would be very difficult to see the numbers on each lock. Below you can see how obstructive the fence is. There’s a huge, unsightly accumulation of garbage along the banks if you were to try to climb the fence to get closer, and the angle of descent is quite steep.
Today’s hike was full of sunshine and cherry blossoms, and many people were out enjoying one of the first nice days we’ve had.
As you follow the Canal’s passage, you can see the stepped bottom. It’s difficult to envision exactly how the lowering/raising of the boats was managed over these short jumps.
At Lock 17, seen above, the water disappears underground, right below this transverse footbridge that I was standing on to take the photo. It trickles its way below the remainder of the park and crosses under Glendale Avenue, a major thoroughfare in southern St. Catharines.
On the other side, the old Canal is dry, and only scraps of wall are left. The path leads down a small hill to the valley that was once the Canal itself.
Graffiti ‘artists’ have defaced the historic walls, although it does make it easier to spot the stone through the tangle of vegetation.
One of the most interesting things in this section is a great look at the Canal wall from where it abruptly stops. You can see how thick the walls were made.
Remaining remnants of the walls can be spotted if you pay close attention.
At a certain point there’s still a channel with water in it, between the two sides of the old lock, so it must be roughly where the ships travelled between locks 16 and 15.
If you can avoid tripping over all the brush on the wooded floor, you may be treated to a lovely carpet of wild violets.
Not much farther along, the wall veers abruptly off at a 90-degree angle, toward an enormous pond.
Apparently this was a large reservoir where the boats turned toward lock 15. Today it’s a quiet place with only a lone Canada goose for company.
From this point it’s best to head toward the paved path through Mountain Locks park to avoid getting mired in mud and swamp. As the path curves around, you can see the curved wall where the Canal turned into Lock 15.
Lock 15 now only displays the top of its walls.
What a sight this must once have been, watching ships literally climb down or up the massive eroded rock outcrop that itself curves from the reaches of Western New York through southern Ontario, all the way above Lakes Huron and Michigan, and more than half way down the western shore of the latter lake.
It’s a worthy hike for anyone who’s interested.
All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights reserved.
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