Start of the Feeder Canal. (Welland)

The Feeder Canal was a 40 km channel dug in 1829 to bring water from the Grand River to the First Welland Canal. It was later enlarged in the 1840's and used as a shipping canal until the early 1900's.

Amazingly, most of the canal still exists today and can be seen if you're willing to drive some long distances to see it. The amount of preservation varies however. Places like Dunville and Welland have filled in small sections, while Wainfleet and Port Maitland decided to go the opposite direction and restored sections to their original condition.



The history of the Feeder Canal started in Nov 1828 when the First Welland Canal was being dug through a high ridge of land at a place called the “Deep Cut”. The plan was to dig the canal deep enough so that water could flow into it from the Welland River. When that plan failed, a new plan was devised to dig a shallower canal and fill the canal with water coming from a higher elevation.

Finding this water was a challenge. The water in the Welland River was approximately 171m (561 feet) above sea level. Lake Erie, directly south of the Deep Cut was a good source of water but it's level was 174m (571 feet). Three meters higher but still and not high enough for what the canal builders needed. The next and best source of water proved to be the Grand River. With a dam built across the Grand River the water level could be raised to 176m (578 feet) above sea level, a full 5m higher than the Welland River.

Finding water was a good start but getting it to the Deep Cut was also a challenge because the water needed to travel all the way to the Deep Cut and still be 5m higher than the Welland River. To do this designers took advantage of higher ground just south of the Welland River and despite being rushed managed to find a route with several benefits.

Starting at the Grand River the canal traveled east curving south for 6 km where the canal’s direction stopped and the canal turned north-east. The canal went this direction for an amazing 20.5 km before taking three progressive turns northward and crossing the Welland River via an aqueduct. Another 8 km. After crossing the Welland River, the canal traveled an additional 5.5 km first north and then curving east where it emptied into the Welland Canal.

The Mysterious "Western Section"


The history of the Feeder Canal wouldn't be complete without this one point of obscure trivia, the mysterious story of the Welland Canal's "Western Section".

The Western Section was an earlier plan to dig a channel connecting the Grand River to the Welland River so that boats could use it to access the Welland Canal. Records show us that workers were hired to dig the channel in 1828 with completion planned for Oct 1828 one month before the Feeder Canal was ever considered.

What's surprising is that the Western Section was never mentioned again, leading to the possibility that the Western Section was simply used to build the Feeder Canal.

If this is true it might explain why the Feeder Canal's direction stopped so abruptly at Stromness, the exact place where the Western Section was intended to connect to Broad Creek and the Grand River. It also explains why the mill raceway in Wainfleet connected directly to the Feeder Canal but also included a channel running parallel and merging with the Feeder Canal far upstream. This could mark the spot where the original Western Section channel started turning north toward the Welland River.

Changes to the Feeder Canal

It was mentioned that the Feeder Canal’s route included several benefits and this can be seen in the changes made to the Feeder Canal after it was completed.


In 1833 it was decided to enlarge part of the Feeder Canal and extend it to Lake Erie giving the Welland Canal a direct route to Lake Erie. The Feeder Canal was still the source of water but it was now considered ending at the extension. The place where the two canals met and the village that formed there quickly became known as "Junction" with the village later being called Junction Village then Helmsport before becoming part of Welland.

In 1842-45 the Second Welland Canal was built and the Feeder Canal enlarged to allow shipping along it’s route. A guard lock was built in Dunnville to control the flow of water into the Feeder. The Junction Lock was installed at Junction in 1845 to control the flow of water exiting the Feeder into the Welland Canal. Lastly, the Feeder Canal was extended to Port Maitland where a lock was built to lower and raise ships to the level of Lake Erie. Together the upgrades made the Feeder Canal a fully functioning branch of the Second Welland Canal.

In 1845-1850 the extension from Junction to Port Colburne was shut down to enlarge and deepen the channel. During this time the Feeder Canal from Junction to Port Maitland becames the route of the Second Welland Canal to Lake Erie.

In 1850 the channel to Port Colborne reopened. Because of the extra time it took to use the Feeder Canal route, the majority of boat traffic returns to using the Port Colborne entrance, making it the main route again.

In 1872-80 the Third Welland Canal was built. During this time the main channel was lowered so that the Welland Canal was now getting its water from Lake Erie. As a consequence the Junction Lock was now needed to raise and lower boats between the Welland Canal and the Feeder. Canal.

The End of the Feeder Canal

It's difficult to find one single date when the Feeder Canal stopped operations but a couple details are generally agreed upon. When the Third Welland Canal started operations in 1881 it had a much bigger and improved channel going directly to Port Colborne so the Feeded Canal was no longer needed as a second route to Lake Erie. The Feeder Canal was still used for local traffic, however. This was more true at Dunnville and Port Maitland where ships could use the Feeder Canal to bypass the dam at Dunnville.

The last recorded shipment on the Feeder that historians can point to was a shipment of wood made in 1908. It's possible that ships still used the Feeder Canal occasionally, but there is no record of people being aavailable to operate the locks at Dunnville, Port Maitland or Junction Lock. After years of low use and maintenance the Feeder Canal eventually became unusable and at some point the Feeder Canal was considered closed down and the locks is taken out of operation.

The Feeder Canal Today

The Feeder Canal hasn't been used for 100 years and a lot has changed. To help make sense of it all we’re going to quickly look at five places of interest on the canal; Welland, Wainfleet, Stromness, Port Maitland, and Dunville.


Welland: Today the Junction Lock is a historical landmark in the south west corner of Welland. The lock is easy to visit and the city of Welland has installed several displays that explain its history and significance. Things were different in the 1800's when the Junction Lock still in operation including the small town across the canal that changed names from "Junction", to "Junction Village" to "Helmsport" over the years. (click to enlarge)
Junction Lock: Now and Then
Wainfleet: Wainfleet prospered as a town but the basic street layout and Feeder Canal hasn't changed much since the it was founded two hundred years ago. Aside from the Feeder, another landmark is the raceway just west of town. The raceway travels northeast approximately 1.75 km where it becomes a tributary of the Welland River. The raceway might be a remnant of the Welland Canal's "Western Section" a channel dug one year before the Feeder. (click to enlarge)
Wainfleet: Now and Then
Stromness: The following map is a recreation of what the Feeder Canal looked like at Stromness in the 1800's. It's based on an existing map of the Mill that once operated there. The turning basing was once center of town so more features may have existed on the east and south sides of the canal. If you're interested a path exists that you can take to walk along one of the original towpaths. (click to enlarge)
Stromness: Now and Then
Port Maitland Lock: It's difficult to find an old map showing what the Port Maitland Lock look like in the 1800's. Fortunately a local volunteer group has been maintaining it so that people can see what the lock looked like when it was in use. The lock is a bit remote but it's easy to see, parking is free and there's an information kiosk for people that are interested. (click to enlarge)
Port Maitland Lock Today
Dunnville: Dunnville filled in the Feeder Canal and used it to extend their existing street system. Mill St. was extended to Main St. and made into "Main St. E.". Bridge St. meanwhile marks the point where a bridge once crossed the Feeder at west end of Dunnville's guard lock. The mills, now cleaned up, existed between Main St. E. and Maple St. right where Hydro St. exists today.(click to enlarge)
Dunnville: Now and Then


Ellsworth, Joan. (1979). A Feasibility Study on the Welland Feeder Canal. Rehabilitate the Old Feeder Canal Association.
Warnick, William. (1991). The Feeder Canal has served many Purposes. The Grand Dispatch.
Duquemin, Colin K. and Glenney, Daniel J. (1981). A Guide to the Grand River Canal (2nd Ed.). St. Catharines Historical Museum.
Styran, Roberta M. and Taylor, Robert R. (2012). This Great National Object: Building The Nineteenth-Century Welland Canals. McGill-Queen's University Press.

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