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Tip of the hat as Welland Canal in Ontario opens for season

The Welland Canal welcomed a new navigation season on Thursday with "top hat" ceremonies in Port Colborne, Ont., and St. Catharines, Ont.

The annual events salute the first vessels to pass through the 27-mile waterway, which connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario while bypassing Niagara Falls.

At the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre, captain Chesley Thorne of Algoma Niagara accepted the ceremonial "top hat." The vessel was built in China last year, and then embarked on a two-month voyage to Canada via the Panama Canal. The Niagara, part of St. Catharines-based Algoma Central Corp.'s fleet, made its maiden voyage last November on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

At Port Colborne, the vessel scheduled to be honored with the top hat, the Algoma Enterprise, was delayed picking up cargo and did not arrive for Thursday's ceremony. Another vessel, the Algoma Capt. Henry Jackman, sailed through, but didn't receive the ceremonial hat.

This is the 60th navigation season for the Seaway, a "marine highway" connecting the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

The opening date for the navigation season varies from year to year, and this year's was relatively late. Last year, the canal tied a record for the earliest opening date, March 20.

The past five opening dates for the Welland Canal's navigation season:

  • 2018: March 29
  • 2017: March 20
  • 2016: March 21
  • 2015: April 2
  • 2014: March 28

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