One-Tank Trip for Oct. 18/14
(c) By Jim Fox
These are the places where you can see ships that pass in the night – and day – too.
Visitors to the Welland Canals Centre at Lock 3 in St. Catharines and Lock 7 in Thorold can view this historic example of engineering – Canada’s version of the Panama Canal.
This is the fourth route of the Welland Canal that first opened in 1829 between Port Weller and Port Colborne.
|The bulk carrier Federal Mackinac just barely squeezes into Lock 3 of the Welland Canal. (Jim Fox photo)|
It allows vessels to avoid both Niagara Falls and the mountainous escarpment so they can pass safely between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.
The centre has an elevated observation platform that lets visitors see ships from around the world squeeze themselves into the lock on their way through the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The season’s still in full swing as ships transit the canal 24 hours a day from April through December until the big freeze-up from January to March when it is drained and closed for maintenance.
A visit provides the opportunity to “discover our community’s history” by visiting the St. Catharines Museum, also located at the centre, said Mayor Brian McMullan.
It also houses the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame with an overview of the top players, a shooting gallery, displays and permanent exhibits.
Along with hockey as one of Canada’s “two official national sports,” lacrosse has its origins dating back hundreds of years.
Visitors can “witness ships travelling through the marvel of the man-made Welland Canal,” McMullan said, as they gather on the platform as ships approach and enter the lock.
|Visitors watch ships passing through Lock 3 of the Welland Canal from an elevated observation platform. (Barbara Fox photo)|
The afternoon of our visit, the 17,077-tonne bulk carrier Federal Mackinac was passing through en route to the upper Great Lakes.
The ship, registered in Majuro in the Marshall Islands between Hawaii and Australia, was so large it barely settled into the lock with little space to spare.
Once the gates were closed and water was allowed in to raise the ship to the level of the canal ahead, it continued on its way.
Federal Mackinac is on its way to Lake Erie after being raised in the Welland Canal. (Jim Fox photo)
It’s easy to know what’s coming and going as ship movements with expected times of arrival are detailed inside the museum and available online including Facebook.
The Lockview Lounge on the second floor of the centre provides a panoramic view of Lock 3 with comfortable seating and is especially popular in inclement weather.
A special exhibit, The War of 1812, is now on display in this space, while the centre also has Merritt’s Mercantile, the museum’s gift shop.
|Maritime artifacts of the Welland Canals are on display at the centre. (Jim Fox photo)|
Outside is Discovery Park with a picnic area and playground filled with interesting artifacts and information about the canal.
The museum and centre can also be a starting and stopping place for walking, biking and rollerblading on the Greater Niagara Circle Route and paved multi-use trail.
Just down the road is the Lock 7 Viewing Complex in Thorold to continue watching the ships climb the mountain over the Twin Flight locks and into the highest and last lift up the canal.
|A sign indicating the distance to world destinations is by the observation platform. (Barbara Fox photo)|
There’s also an outdoor viewing platform and bleachers for a front-row view while inside is the history of the canal, gift shop souvenirs and tasty treats.
It’s also the spot for events including the Mountain Top Ceremony on the canal’s opening day in late March and the Best Decorated Ship contest during the Christmas season.
Need to know
The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre is at 1932 Welland Canals Parkway just off the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) via the Glendale Avenue West exit and follow the signs.
It is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
There is no charge for the canals centre and its observation platform while the museum is by donation, suggested at $4 a person. Details: stcatharines.ca; 1-800-305-5134
Lock 7 at 50 Chapel St. S. in Thorold is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is off the QEW via Highway 406 south and the Pine Street exit. thoroldtourism.ca; 1-888-680-9477
Jim Fox can be reached at email@example.com
For more One-Tank Trips: http://1tanktrips.blogspot.ca