Episode 10: Welland Vale

October 14th, 2010Posted by admin

There’s no monument to Welland Vale. The small valley on Twelve Mile Creek near Downtown St. Catharines is a spot that the public widely ignores but its absolutely essential to the history of the Niagara Region. This is the birthplace of the Welland Canal system.

Welland Vale is the original site of William Hamilton Merritt’s grist mill. The operation was powered from the waters of Twelve Mile Creek, which ultimately proved unreliable. Between 1824 and 1829 Merritt dammed the river to provide a steady flow of water to the mill, in the process creating the first lock of the first canal. That lock, which would eventually be named Lock 3, sat next to the dam. This created an essential route between Twelve Mile Creek and the Welland River, and by extension between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

Ships passing through would have had to navigate the narrow, winding original path of Twelve Mile Creek, passing directly by Merritt’s mills. While the entrepreneur was certainly content with the captive audience and shore-side advertising the route ultimately proved too difficult (and limiting for larger ships) and a replacement canal was commissioned.

The first canal was in operation from 1825 through 1845, when the second went into operation. Construction on the second Welland Canal started in 1842. Engineers dug a straight channel northeast around the first canal, in the process cutting off Merritt’ property and creating a man-made island. What remained of the first canal became a weir, an overflow channel fed off the new section.

This new lock, which would be named Lock 2 of the second canal, required a towpath on the southwest side so that boats could be pulled through. To allow for the towpath several floating bridges were constructed along the length of the channel, spanning wherever the two canals intersected. This second canal was in operation through 1915.

Today the southwest wall of Lock 2 can still be seen in Welland Vale. The bridge from Welland Vale Rd crosses it. The original path of the first canal still exists as a narrow swampy stream that meanders next to the rushing waters of Twelve Mile Creek. As it’s a mere 5 minute walk from downtown St. Catharines, it’s certainly an easy site to visit.

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