First Welland Canal

First Welland Canal

First Welland Canal

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The Welland Canal has gone through many incarnations in its history. Today, five distinct canal-construction efforts are recognized. The retronym First Welland Canal is applied to the original canal, constructed from 1824 to 1829 and 1831 to 1833.

Pre-canal times

The Great Lakes form an excellent navigation route into the interior of North America. Downstream from Niagara Falls, ships can reach the port city of Montreal without encountering major difficulties. Upstream, the lakes are navigable all the way to the western end of Lake Superior. Early on during the European settlement of North America, lack of other infrastructure made the Great Lakes the premier route to reach the interior of the continent, and later to ship materials and goods from the new frontiers.

The Niagara Falls stood as a mighty barrier. To bypass it, a portage road between Queenston, Ontario and Chippawa was used, but the solution was far from optimal. The cargo had to be unloaded, carried 18 km up the Niagara Escarpment, then loaded onto different ships to continue on its way.

The relatively narrow Niagara Peninsula, situated between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, was a natural match to the idea of bypassing the Falls. Indeed, the idea of a canal across the Peninsula was examined as early as 1799, when a group headed by Robert Hamilton, a Queenston merchant, unsuccessfully petitioned the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. Hamilton's plan called for a canal to be constructed between Fort Erie and,...
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