The Welland Canal marked its 175th anniversary on Tuesday, with events celebrating the engineering achievements that created the waterway and the economic impact of the transportation link.
The canal in use today is actually the fourth Welland Canal, and opened in 1932, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Tuesday was William Hamilton Merritt Day, an annual celebration of the canal's founder and the day in 1829 when the first up-bound vessels passed through the original canal.
The anniversary events included a re-enactment in St. Catharines, Ont., of the first vessels to pass through the waterway, as well as the turning of the sod for the first canal. Another ceremony honored workers who died during construction of the canals.
The canal since its beginnings has helped the flow of traffic between the Great Lakes and opened up the Midwest to economic expansion, said Ed O'Connor, president of the Welland Canals Foundation, which organizes the annual canal celebration.
Almost two centuries later, the canal has remained relevant and competitive by upgrading its capability and technology. It continues to be an important route for shipping steel, coal and other cargo, he said.
"The (St. Lawrence) Seaway has taken steps to maintain and continually improve it," O'Connor said.
The canal might be able to attract more traffic for "short sea shipping," to help reduce traffic tie-ups at the border, O'Connor said. There might also be opportunities to connect canal shipments with truck or rail shippers, also to create more efficiency at the border, he said.
The Welland Canal in use today is about 27 miles long, and operates with seven lift locks, along with a regulating lock located at Port Colborne, Ont. Ships from more than 50 nations pass through the canal, according to the foundation.
Traffic on the canal in 2003 decreased slightly from the year before, according to the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., which runs the canal.
But this year, traffic has increased. Through the end of September, the total number of transits on the canal was up 12 percent from the same period the year before, according to the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. Total cargo increased about 8.5 percent over the same nine-month span.
"It's a good season for us," said Sylvie Moncion, a Seaway Management spokeswoman.
Last winter, the canal underwent a $13 million (Canadian) maintenance program, and started a six-year, $40 million (Canadian) program to convert its mechanical lock equipment to hydraulic drives.