Folks who visit the Welland Canal corridor in southern Ontario find the area positively addictive; often returning year after year to get their fix. For example, Jim McVay of Canton, Ohio has visited the region each summer for the last 40 years. “After a full day of sightseeing, it is time to pull up a chair on the lawn at the Inn at Lock 7 (in Thorold, Ontario) and watch ships from around the world proceed through the lock,” said McVay. “On a soft summer evening, we have been known to stay out there after midnight. It’s always a thrill to see where the ships are from and to imagine where they are going.”
I contacted over a dozen other people who regularly visit the region and each echoed MCvay’s comments. For example, Tom and Carol Heagerty of Conneaut Ohio have visited the Welland Canal area at least twice a year for the last 35 to 40 years.
For Tom, the area brings back many memories; his father was a captain on a lake freighter and he made many trips on his father’s ships. The Welland Canal corridor is possibly one of the most unique attractions you’ll find in the Lake Erie region. The 27 mile shipping route, which connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, allows ships, including “lakers,” which sail the Great Lakes, and “salties,” ocean going vessels which hail from all over the world, to proceed inland around Niagara Falls to the other Great Lakes.
However, the Welland Canal is not merely a shipping route, but a tourist attraction that draws travelers from all over the world, as well as locals who are fascinated with the canal and ships.
The present canal was constructed in 1932; it’s the fourth Welland Canal built since 1829. Terry Dow, who operates the Lock 7 Viewing Complex in Thorold, calls the freighters “Quiet giants of the waterways.” She explained that while the freighters are massive, they are very quiet as they travel through the four communities located along the canal. Dow gets about 15,000 visitors a year to the complex, including a lot of walkers and cyclists who are using the Greater Niagara Circle Route Trail.
My daughter and I recently took a day trip along the canal and discovered hidden treasurers in each community along the canal. After traveling about 45 minutes from our home in the Buffalo area, we began our journey in Port Colborne’s Lock 8 Park, where we were lucky enough to see a ship entering the 1,380 foot lock; one of the longest canal locks in the world.
After watching the ship for a bit, we headed to Port Colborne’s historic West Street, which has numerous shops and restaurants. We took a break from shopping for lunch at the Canalside Pub & Eatery, where we could view the canal from our table. We actually saw the same ship pass by that we observed earlier at Lock 8 Park.
It takes a ship a good 8-10 hours to pass through the entire canal. Port Colborne also has a Historical and Marine Museum which features several historic buildings, including Anabella’s Tea Room, which serves an afternoon tea June-September.
A few miles north of Port Colborne is the city of Welland, which is located right on the canal. One of the most striking features of Welland is the over 2 dozen murals depicting scenes from Welland’s past which are painted on buildings throughout the downtown area.
Welland is also known as the “Rose City.” Their annual Rose Festival will be held June (dates) in Chippewa Park, which has one of the finest rose gardens in Ontario. The festival focuses on Welland’s history and culture. Events include a parade, musical entertainment, arts and crafts, sporting events and of course, a rose show.
The next city along the canal, Thorold, referred to as “the place where ships climb the mountain,” is the most unique site along the canal. It is here that ships must pass through a set of three twinned locks, which allow them to climb (or descend) the Niagara Escarpment, the same ridge of rock that Niagara Falls flows over.
The Lock 7 Viewing Complex is a good spot to watch the ships. Be sure to visit the legendary “kissing rock” located by the complex. Sailor Charles Snelgrove started the tradition of kissing the ladies he met in port at the rock before he set sail. Soon other sailors were bringing their ladies to the rock; it was considered bad luck to leave Lock 7 without visiting kissing rock. Even actor Richard Gere, who was filming a movie in the area, took advantage of the legend by planting a kiss on Terry Dow, operator of the Lock 7 Viewing Complex.
The Inn at Lock 7, just down the street from the viewing complex, is the only inn in the region where one can view the ships as they pass through the canal. This 24 guest room motel, which operates more like a B & B, is run by Patricia Szoldra and Ed Kuiper.
Many of their guest’s are regulars, returning year after year. “We started going to what was then called the Lock Seven Motel at least 35 years ago,” said Enid Dunmire from Butler, PA. Enid’s brother has discovered the place and told her it was a great place to stay. “We went to Thorold and met Mr. and Mrs. Kuiper (Ed’s parents) and we learned all about the workings of the canal from Mr. Kuiper, who had emigrated from Holland.
Mr. Kuiper had bought a simple, rather barren motel and started single-handedly to improve it. We watched over the years as he enclosed open stairways, installed new bathrooms and helped Mrs. Kuiper serve guests a large breakfast.” Dunmire added, “We became twice a year regulars, taking our college-aged daughter and handicapped son and kept careful track of all the ships we saw. Now many years later, our three college-aged grandchildren look forward to our family visit in October and Ed and Patti have become good friends.” The Dunmires also visit the Inn in April.
Patricia Szoldra mentioned that in addition to visitors from New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, she gets some international visitors. “A gentleman from Norway, who served as a communications officer on a ship, e-mailed me and said he had seen the inn along the canal when he was on the ship. He came to stay five years in a row and loved to sit and watch the ships.” She added that in addition to people who come specifically to watch the ships, they also get guests who like the inn’s central location in the Niagara wine region and it’s close proximity to Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shaw Festival.
The last city along the canal is St. Catharines, home to the Welland Canals Center at Lock 3, considered the best place to view the ships on the canal. An elevated viewing platform gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the ships as they enter and exit the lock. This complex also has two museums, the St. Catharines Museum, which focuses on local and canal history and the Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum.
If you go
Port Colborne City Hall (888-767-8386; www.city.portcolborne.on.ca ) 66 Charlotte St., Port Colborne.
Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum (905-834-7604) 280 King Street, Port Colborne.
Tourism of Welland Niagara (905-735-8696; www.tourismwelland.com ) 800 Niagara St. N., Welland.
Welland Rose Festival (905-732-7673; www.wellandrosefestival.on.ca )
Lock 7 Viewing Complex (905-680-9477, 1-888-680-9477; www.thoroldtourism.ca ) 50 Chapel St. S., Thorold.
Inn at Lock 7 (905-227-6177, 1-877-465-6257: www.innatlock7.com ) 24 Chapel St., S. Thorold.
Welland Canals Centre, (905-984-8880, 800-30505134: www.stcatharineslock3museum.ca ) 1932 Welland Canals Parkway, St. Catharines. Open daily 9-5, April-December. The St. Catharines Museum is open year-round (weekends only in winter).
St. Catharines Tourism (905-984-9882, 800-305-5134; www.stcatharines.ca ) 50 Church St., St. Catharines.
A good reference guide to driving along the canal is The Drivers Guide to the Welland Canal by Colin Duquemin, available at the gift shop at the W