On this day in 1829, the first ship moved through the Welland Canal in the Niagara Peninsula, ushering in a new age in North American shipping. Connecting Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, the Welland Canal allowed for shipping to move successively through the Great Lakes and into the St. Lawrence River, and from there, to the Atlantic Ocean.
The waterways of North America have long functioned as natural highways, being used as transportation routes by the First Nations. With the rise of important American Great Lakes cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, there was a demand for moving goods from the Great Lakes out into the Atlantic and over to Europe. An artificial waterway was necessary to connect Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, as the Niagara River, which naturally connects the two lakes, is impeded by the Niagara Falls. This natural barrier prevents any shipping from moving through (at least in one piece).
The first ground was broken for the Welland Canal in Allanburg, Ontario (in today’s Thorold, Ontario) on November 30th, 1824. Five years later to the day, the Welland Canal was completed on November 30, 1829 and shipping could now move from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario through the Niagara Peninsula, extending from Allanburg to Port Robinson. Over the years, the Welland Canal would be expanded to allow for larger ships to move through and taking different routes through the Niagara Peninsula.
The Welland Canal was a tremendous boon to both Lower and Upper Canadas. Due to the amount of shipping now moving through the Great Lakes and into the St. Lawrence River, the cities of Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City rose in economic and political prominence. The Welland Canal rivalled the Erie Canal for Great Lakes shipping traffic. While the Erie Canal connected the Great Lakes to New York City, America’s burgeoning port city, via the Hudson River, the Welland Canal was far wider than the Erie Canal, allowing larger ships to move through. To this day, the Welland Canal remains an important infrastructure to the economy of the Great Lakes, almost two hundred years when work on it first began.