|Lock 24 - First Welland Canal, Mountian Locks Park
The First Welland Canal was built as a private venture of the Welland Canal Company in 1825-1829. Its purpose was to create an inland waterway that would allow boats to travel from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. Up to that time shipping between the lakes was stopped at Niagara Falls; a natural obstacle that ships had to portage around. Using the canal avoided the costs and delays associated with portaging.
Transit in the canal was limited to ships less than 110 feet in length. Boats were towed through the canal by horses and it took about 3 days to transverse. Once built, the canal proved a vital resource to the country. The canal never proved economically feasible to run, however, and relied heavily on government loans and subsidies during it's 15 years of operation. In 1842-1845 the first canal was rebuilt as the Second Welland Canal.
Building of the canal is largely credited to William Hamilton Merritt, a local mill owner who initially wanted to increase water flow past his mill. It was Merritt's efforts that saw the founding of the Welland Canal Company and who represented the company to outside investors.
The route of the first canal was decided by the Welland Canal Company. After conducting several surveys a route was found that utilized natural waterways as much as possible to reduce costs.
Starting from Lake Ontario, 12-mile creek was taken as far south as the town of St. Catharines. Here Dick's Creek, a tributary of the 12-mile, was taken south toward the escarpment.
On Dick's Creek the canal started a slow climb upward which eventually culminated in a rapid succession of locks that took the canal up the escarpment. From here it continued south to the Deep Cut, the highest section of the canal, before continuing on to the Welland River. The Welland River was then followed to the Niagara River where boats could continue on to Lake Erie.
In 1833 this route was modified. The First Canal incorporated part of the Feeder Canal, a channel built to bring water to the first canal, and extended this channel south directly to Lake Erie. Once complete this route was considered the main channel.
The construction of the first canal was done in a simple and straightforward manner. Along the main route, a channel was dug 24 feet wide at the bottom and 8 feet deep.
To lift and lower boats, 40 wooden locks were built along the route of the first canal. 35 of these were used to lift boats to the top of the escarpment, 4 locks operated adjacent to the deep cut, the highest section of the canal and 1 lock operated at Port Colburne between the Welland Canal and Lake Erie
Each lock was capable of lifting a boat between 6 to 11 feet. Although a few larger locks were initially built, lock dimensions were standardized as follows.
- Length of locks: 110 feet
- Width of locks: 22 feet
- Minimum depth: 8 feet
The lock walls were built with oak beams that alternated between beams running along the wall face and beams running perpendicular to it. The resulting wooden boxes that existed were then filled in with dirt to steady the wall. The gates placed at either end of the locks were held in place by large hinges and were opened and closed by moving huge levers on the gates that extended above the lock walls.
When discussing preservation of the first canal its important to remember that it's route was upgraded to become the Second Canal and it's distinct landscaping incorporated into that of the second canal. The two canals did vary in route a couple of times and it's here that a few clear remnants can still be seen.
- Wellandvale: Contains a 100 yard length channel of the first canal.
- Centennial Park: Contains lock 6 from the first canal.
- Mountain Locks Park: Contains lock 24 and another 100 yard channel.
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