Introducing Welland Canal Area
Built between 1914 and 1932, the historic Welland Canal, running from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, functions as a shipping bypass around Niagara Falls. Part of the St Lawrence Seaway, allowing shipping between the industrial heart of North America and the Atlantic Ocean, eight locks along the 42km-long canal overcome the difference of about 100m in the lakes' water levels.
On Lake Ontario, understated St Catharines is the major town of the Niagara fruit- and wine-producing district. Remnants of the first three canals (built in 1829, 1845 and 1887) are visible at various points around town, while the Welland Canals Pkwy traces the canal along the city's eastern edge – seeing massive container ships floating along above road level is a disconcerting experience!
Before it shifted east to Port Weller, the original Welland Canal opened into Lake Ontario at Lakeside Park in Port Dalhousie (pronounced Dal-oo-zey). This rustic harbor area is a blend of old and new, with a reconstructed wooden lock and an 1835 lighthouse alongside bars, restaurants and ice-cream parlors. Hikers and cyclists can stretch out along the 45km Merritt Trail, an established track along the Welland Canal from Port Dalhousie to Port Colborne.
For a more up-to-date look at the canal, the Welland Canals Centre at Lock 3, just outside St Catharines, has a viewing platform close enough to almost touch the building-sized ships as they wait for water levels to rise or fall. You can check the ships' schedules on the website and plan your visit accordingly. Also here is the St Catharines Museum, with displays on town history and canal construction, plus a lacrosse hall of fame.
There's not much on offer in the town of Welland other than its collection of murals, depicting historic, agricultural and canal scenes. Most appear along Main St E, but our favorite adorns the Sears building at 800 Niagara St N – a powerful evocation of indigenous, white and black history on the Niagara Peninsula.
Port Colborne, where Lake Erie empties into the canal, contains the 420m Lock 8 – one of the longest in the world. Check it out at Lock 8 Park, south of Main St. Also here is Port Colborne Visitors Information Booth. The quiet, good-looking town has a canal-side boardwalk and shops and restaurants along West St – good for an afternoon stroll or evening meal.