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Welland Canal ready to open Monday

A mild winter means ships will start moving through the Welland Canal exceptionally early this year.

The annual “top hat” ceremony, which celebrates the start of the Welland Canal’s navigation season, is set for 10 a.m. Monday at the St. Catharines Museum in St. Catharines, Ont.

The March 21 opening date for the canal is nearly a record. The earliest ever opening was March 20, which was set in 2007 and tied the following year. The canal – which is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway – did not open until April 2 last year, delayed by unfavorable conditions on the Great Lakes.

The keynote speaker at Monday’s ceremony will be Allister Paterson, president of Canada Steamship Lines. The captain of one of the company’s ships, the Thunder Bay, will receive the honorary “top hat” as the first vessel through the waterway this season.

Other speakers will include Betty Sutton, administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.; Terence Bowles, president and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., and Francois Allard, director of marine distribution at K+S Windsor Salt, whose company is supplying the first cargo.