|Locks 14, 15, 16 of the Third Welland Canal - Welland Canal Parklands
Whenever I meet someone interested in the Old Welland Canals they usually refer to this stretch of the 3rd Welland Canal on the east side of St. Catharines and Thorold. It covers a big area and is filled with countless landmarks making it a great place to just hike around and explore.
Despite it's popularity, it's a difficult place to find a name for. An official topographical map produced by the Natural Resources Canada identified it as a park and labeled it the Welland Canal Parklands (WCP). It's a good name so I'll stick with it. Keep in mind, however, that the land is owned by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.
With the arrival of the Empire Loyalists in the 1780's and 90's Welland Canal Parklands was, like the rest of the niagara region, surveyed and given to the settlers. Originally, there were also two regional roads, one from St. Davids in the east and another following 10 mile creek from the north that crossed paths here before both continued up the escarpment.
Development in the area stayed limited to the original settlers and a small wooded church, located south of where the two roads met. When the Welland Canal was built 1 km to the west in the 1820's, the town of Thorold developed around the canal making WCP the outskirts of town.
Despite the shift in community focus, the old church's location did have some longevity. In 1802 land had been set aside for a cemetery and new church to be built there. Both called St. Peter's, the cemetery became Thorold's cemetery and St. Peter's church built in 1832, served as Thorold's local Anglican church.
In 1853 a railway running east-west was built through the heart of Welland Canal Parklands by the Great Western Railway. The line, still in use today, was bought by Grand Trunk Railway in 1882 which became part of CNR in 1923. The following map shows what Welland Canal Parklands looked like in 1872 just before the 3rd Welland Canal was built.
Things changed with the building of the Third Welland Canal in the 1870s. Designers looking for a more direct route to Lake Erie wanted to take advantage of the gradual climb of the escarpment east of Thorold and decided to build the canal there. To deal with problems crossing the canal, designers decided to build tunnels for both St. Davids Rd and the Great Western Railway.
It's this train tunnel thats commonly called the "Blue Ghost Tunnel" today. The tunnel was built to give trains access past the canal without obstruction but ironically it was only used for a few years. When a second train line was needed a few years later a bridge needed to be built and traffic switched to the large iron swing bridge still in use today. Since that time the tunnel has seen little use except as a local curiosity.
St. Peter's church faired rather poorly at this point. Already far from town and now on the other side of the new canal, a decision was made to build a new church - St Johns Anglican in Thorold. The cemetery itself in a reportedly poor state was allowed to stay, although new burials started being done at the new Lakeview Cemetery just up the hill from St. Peter's. The following map shows the area in 1916.
It was the Fourth Welland canal that made the last and biggest impact on the area. Built in 1913 - 1932, the fourth canal followed a route along the edge of Thorold and when finished effectively isolated this entire section of the Third Welland Canal from either St. Catharines or Thorold.
Instead of building weirs or ponds beside the locks, engineers also flooded large areas of land beside the canal. The largest of these reservoirs flooded locks 20, 21, and 22 as well as the Intersection of St Davids and Homer Roads. Parts of the third Welland canal were also used to handle overflow water. A gate house at the top of the escarpment currently allows water into the reservoir while a second one allows water out and into the channel of the third welland canal between locks 18 and 19 where water then flows back into the new canal downstream near locks 11 and 12.
It was at this point that St Peter's Cemetery also came to an end because most of the cemetery was located in the reservoir area. Sadly it was also here that the builders of the Canal and the Canadian Government did something that would not be acceptable today. Instead of paying for the bodies to be moved, friends and relatives were given several years to move loved ones before the area was flooded. Current belief is that most of the graves were never moved, leaving many of Thorold's first settlers in an unmarked and partially flooded graveyard.
This has been the state of the area since the 1930's. WCP is mostly undeveloped and over the years only become more isolated and neglected. It should be noted however that if a 5th Welland Canal is ever built plans are to have it come through the area, which is perhaps the main reason the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation keeps property rights of the area.
The Welland Canal Parklands covers a long distance; 2 to 3 miles depending on how far you feel the area extends. To be thorough I'll look at the entire 3 miles. As you may have already guessed there's a lot to cover so I'll also split the site up into four distinct areas. Use the map below to help navigate.
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