Hiking the Welland Canal, Part 7: The Welland Ship Canal from Lock 3 to Lock 7

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Map © OpenStreetMap contributors

106. Today’s hike takes us 4.0 km one way along the Welland Canals Parkway Trail from the St. Catharines Museum at Lock 3 to the Viewing Centre at Lock 7 in Thorold. If you have two cars, there’s a large free P at Lock 3 and a small free P at Lock 7. Hiking south, you’ll scale the height of the Niagara Escarpment (just as the ships do), though this ascent is well-paved and not demanding if you are reasonably fit. One caveat: this trail is popular with cyclists, who do not always warn pedestrians when approaching rapidly from behind.

During the shipping season, you are almost certain to see vessels along this densely locked section of the Canal. If you want to make sure in advance that there’ll be ships to be seen, you can check out the current position of vessels in the Canal on various websites, such as the one provided by Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway System.

107. Let’s begin with a short visit to the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre at Lock 3. This museum is free to enter (donations welcome) and is open from at least 9:00 am to 5:00 pm seven days a week most of the year. The gift shop has an excellent selection of literature about the Welland Canal.

108. In the Museum: this aerial photograph, looking south, probably taken around the opening of the Fourth (Ship) Canal, gives an excellent overview of the section of the Canal that we’re hiking today. In the foreground is Lock 3, today’s start point, with its bypass weir at its left. Beyond that, the Third Canal cuts diagonally across the Ship Canal. (The section of the Third Canal at right has now been entirely filled in.) Then comes Bridge 5 at Glendale Avenue. In the distance the three giant steps of the twin flight Locks 4, 5, and 6 climb most of the height of the Niagara Escarpment. The Canal’s final step over the Escarpment, Lock 7 at Thorold, today’s end point, is just visible in the far distance.

109. In the Museum: a scale model of (from left to right, looking north) the Museum itself with the blue roof, a vessel entering Lock 3, and the lock’s bypass weir.

110. The Museum displays numerous curiosities, including this unintentionally amusing historical poster.

But the main interest for the visitor is outside …

111. … namely, the viewing area at Lock 3, your best chance anywhere along the Canal to get up close to vessels. This is Harvest Spirit (built 2012 in Turkey; 152 meters long), a shallow-draft general cargo vessel owned by McKeil Marine of Burlington. She has four holds, in which she might be carrying steel coils from her home port of Hamilton, iron ore, grain, soybeans, or canola seed.

112. Harvest Spirit, now free of Lock 3, heads north towards Lake Ontario through raised Bridge 4, the double-leaved bascule bridge at Homer. She’ll then go under the fixed span of Bridge 4A, the Garden City Skyway, carrying the six lanes of the QEW.

113. Signs indicating sailing distances in nautical miles from Lock 3.

114. The viewing platform at Lock 3 gives you an elevated perspective on the ships in the lock. This is southbound Algoma Buffalo, a self-discharging bulk carrier 194 metres long built in 1978 in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. It was bought by Algoma Central Corporation in 2017 and currently flies the Canadian flag. The vessel has five holds with a total cargo capacity of 21,088 cubic metres.

115. After Algoma Buffalo has entered lock 3, the massive northern gates close …

116. … and crew members kill time as they wait for the lock to fill.

117. Top: Algoma Buffalo just having entered Lock 3.
Bottom: Less than twenty minutes later, Lock 3 has filled, and Algoma Buffalo is ready to depart.

118. Algoma Buffalo heads south towards Bridge 5 (the Glendale Avenue vertical lift bridge in Merritton), which has already been raised to its full height to let the vessel pass.

119. A sheave (grooved wheel) originally from Bridge 10 in Thorold (a vertical lift bridge removed in 1998), and currently reposing in the grounds of the Museum. It’s 4 metres in diameter and weighs 10.9 tonnes, the same size and weight as those sheaves on top of the piers of Bridge 5 in #118 above.

120. Now the bulk carrier CSL Welland arrives at Lock 3, sporting a giant mural on its accommodation block that celebrates the Canada Summer Games held in the Niagara Region in August 2022. Entitled “The Runners,” it depicts four athletes in the differing styles of four young artists. CSL Welland is a 226 metre self-discharging bulk carrier built in China in 2014, flying the Canadian flag, and likely carrying grain or ore.

121. Now we’ve left the Museum and are continuing south down the Welland Canals Parkway Trail. This is a close-up of the deck of the lowered Bridge 5. This bridge was opened in 1928, and is one of only three remaining vertical lift bridges on the Ship Canal.

122. Algoma Sault Ste Marie passes us, approaching raised Bridge 5 from the south. The towers of Bridge 5 are 50.3 metres high, giving vessels a clearance of 36.6 metres when fully raised.

123. Construction work and the nature of the terrain make it difficult to get good shots of the twin flight locks 4, 5, and 6. Top: northbound Algoma Sault Ste Marie is emerging from eastern Lock 4. One raised leaf of bascule Bridge 6 carrries the CN rail lines that cross the Canal at the northern end of Lock 4. The Niagara Escarpment towers behind. Middle and bottom: the massive remote controlled vacuum pads of the MoorMaster system that hold a ship firmly against one side of the lock while it empties or fills.

124. Historical murals line the Welland Canals Parkway Trail as we enter Thorold.

The Cannon Ball Bicycle: “If you complain about your Customers trading out of town, set them an example by presenting your Boy or your Girl at Christmas time with a Bicycle made at Thorold, and not one made in some American city where they do not even know that Thorold exists, only when they make a few dollars by shipping a bicycle here.” Advertisement for M.E. Jones, Front Street, Thorold.

125. A view of Lock 6 looking north, at the top of the twin flight locks. These locks are so called because they form a continuous flight of three giant steps with no horizontal stretch of Canal between them, and they are twinned, so that a ship upbound to Lake Erie and a ship downbound to Lake Ontario can pass through simultaneously. Together the three flight locks have a combined length of 1,250 metres, over which distance they raise or lower vessels 42.6 metres. It takes a ship about 90 minutes to transit the whole flight.

126. Top: The steep section of Trail up the slope of the Escarpment doesn’t offer great views of the Canal, or of anything else for that matter. Bottom: But closer to Lock 7 there’s a small motel, ideal for honeymooning boat nerds, that overlooks the Canal.

127. In Lock 7 and waiting for it to empty, the 73 tonne twin-screw tug Wilf Seymour (built 1961; rebuilt 2005) is fitted into the stern of the tank barge Alouette Spirit (built 1969 in Port Arthur, Texas; rebuilt 2005). The two vessels form a single ATB (articulated tug/barge) unit 133 metres long. Alouette Spirit has a retractable roof for weather-sensitive cargo; she can hold up to 10,500 tonnes of dry or liquid bulk cargo.

128. There’s not a lot to see at the little Viewing Centre at Lock 7.
However, Noah behind the information desk was very pleased to chat with me about the Canal in Thorold.

Part 8 coming soon.