The Welland Canal

The Welland Canal is a ship canal located in Ontario, Canada, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The canal enables ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment. There is a total of four canals located in Thorold.

Each year, approximately; 3,000 ships pass through the Welland Canal carrying about 40,000 tons of cargo.

Welland Canal #1

The St. Lawrence River and the five Great Lakes constitute the greatest inland waterway in the world. From the Atlantic Ocean, it extends 3700 kilometers (2300 miles) into the heart of North America, forming a vital commercial shipping route.

Niagara Falls prevents ships from sailing between Lake Erie and Ontario. The solution was to create the Welland Canal, which allows ships to by-pass the Falls by lifting them over the Niagara Escarpment.

In 1824, mill owner, William Hamilton Merrit, formed the Welland Canal Company, alongside George Keefer, of Thorold, who acted as the first President. Construction began after a sod-turning ceremony at Allanburg on November 30, 1829. Five years later, the first vessels sailed from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.

The original canal followed Twelve Mile Creek and Dick's Creek from Port Dalhousie, cutting through the heart of Thorold and finished at Port Robinson on the Welland River. Ships continued down the river to Chippawa, then followed the Niagara River to Lake Erie. In 1833, the canal was extended south to Gravelly Bay (later known as Port Colborne).

When completed, the canal was 44 kilometers (27 miles) long and had 40 wooden locks. In 1827, George Keefer built a mill (since demolished) located on the Escarpment edge, and it was this initiative that led to the creation of the original village of Thorold, ON.

Welland Canal # 2 (1845-1886)

Over time, the wooden locks began to deteriorate and the increasing size of ships on the Great Lakes called for a bigger and better canal. The Government purchased the Welland Canal Company's assets and proceeded with plans for a Second Welland Canal. Construction began in 1841 and was completed by 1845. In total, there were 27 locks made of cut stone. The Second Canal followed the same route as the first and it remained a feature of downtown Thorold until it was filled in during the 1960s. 

Welland Canal # 3 (1887-1931) 

The Third Welland Canal followed the same line as the previous two canals in the southern part of the Niagara Peninsula and north of Allanburg but the route was quite different. The third canal by-passed downtown Thorold to the east, following the valley of Ten Mile Creek, down the Escarpment and continuing in a broad arc to Port Dalhousie. It had 26 stone locks. Many of these remains can still be seen east of the present canal.

Welland Canal # 4 (1932-Present) 

Construction of the Fourth Canal (the Ship Canal) began in 1914. It was opened in 1932 due to delays as a results of World War I. The Canal adopted a direct north-south route over the Escarpment, following the valley of the Ten Mile Creek all the way to a new Lake Ontario outlet at Port Weller. New industries associated with the Canal led to the creation of the community of Thorold South in the 1920s. The number of concrete locks was reduced to eight. Four of the eight locks, including the famous Twin Flight Locks reside in Thorold.


Contact Us

© 2018 The Corporation of the City of Thorold, 3540 Schmon Parkway, PO Box 1044, Thorold ON, L2V 4A7

Hours of Operation: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday

Back to top