Ocean-going ships that have curved hulls to withstand ocean conditions.With deeper drafts, they often only carry a partial load when sailing the Great Lakes. They make up approx. 20% of Canal Traffic.


Vertical-hull ships restricted to the Great Lakes. Because they  avoid salt water, their lifespan is much longer than  salties: up to 50 years or more.  Lakers make up approximately 65% of Canal Traffic.


The Welland Canal closes in winter, usually  between January and March depending on ice conditions.  The Captain of the first ship through the canal each Spring is  honoured with a Top Hat ceremony.


It takes 9.4 million litres of water  to fill a lock. No pumps are needed, it's all done thanks to gravity.


Niagara’s Welland Canal


  • Construction begins on the Erie Canal, from Albany to Buffalo, which would give New York City direct access to Lake Erie and the promising markets of the Midwest. Because of the Erie Canal, powerful Montréal merchants and their counterparts in Upper Canada (today, Ontario) feared losing out on western trade. The British Navy, which lost naval superiority on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, was concerned about further strategic disadvantage.


  • William Hamilton Merritt, a mill owner in St. Catharines, first proposes a canal from Twelve Mile Creek to the Welland River, which would bypass Niagara Falls.


  • Merritt begins raising private funds for a survey of his proposed route.


  • The Welland Canal Company is formed and George Keefer of Thorold is appointed its first president. Sod is turned for the canal on November 30 at Allanburg.


  • Construction begins on the Canal, dug by hand with only the assistance of horse-drawn carts. 39 locks are crafted of hand-hewn timbers.


  • Inadequate water supply and engineering difficulties forces construction of a Feeder Canal from Port Robinson to the Grand River.


  • The Welland Canal opened on November 30. The schooners R.H. Broughton and Annie and Jane reach Lake Erie in two days, pulled along by teams of workhorses.


  • Work is completed on an extension of canal from Welland to Port Colborne, adding an extra lock.


  • The Province of Upper Canada turns all loans made to the financially-troubled company into stock and takes control of Welland Canal Company.


  • Second Welland Canal is constructed.


  • Third Welland Canal is constructed.


  • Fourth Welland Canal is constructed, with project stalled during First World War.


  • By-pass of City of Welland is constructed.


  • 150th Anniversary of the commencement of construction of the First Welland Canal.

Present Day

  • The Canal is operated by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

what to do


Not sure where to begin when planning your visit to Niagara’s Welland Canal? Let us help!

There are countless experiences that will make your trip a memorable one.

Click on each community to learn all about what to see and do from the Welland Canals Centre at Lock 3, to the St. Catharines and Welland Museum, Merritt Island, Port Dalhousie’s historical waterfront, festival and events, public beaches, cycling shopping, wine routes and so much more!
  1. Welland

  2. Thorold

  3. Port Colborne

  4. St. Catharines


Welland, the namesake of the canals, is centrally located geographically in the Niagara Region. Through its downtown, visitors will be able to note the active by-pass of the 3rd canal and tunnel as well as have access to the revitalized decommissioned section of the canal, now often referred to as the “flatwater”.

With a bold move which was the start of the now Welland Canals, the “ditch”, of William Merritt who initially desired a new water supply for his grist mill operation and then evolving to include a ship route, the channel was dug deep enough for boats to travel into the Welland River and on to Lake Erie via the Niagara River. The challenges met along the initial route brought the Grand River solution which fed the required level of water into the Canal. An aqueduct would be used to cross the Welland River which is still in evidence in the downtown area of Welland and from which visitors will cross over to access Merritt Island, the little known gem of park in the peninsula.

It was 1833 when the schooner Matilda, the first ship to travel through the Canal sailed through the centre of a shantytown later to be known as Welland. In 1973 the construction of the By-pass brought an end to 140 years of commercial shipping through our downtown and so began a new legacy.

The canal caters both to the competitor and recreationist. The canal and the Flat Water center includes the competitive component hosting international, national, regional and local water events from Pan Am to local regattas. Home of the Dragon Boat Championships from 2015 through 2024, there is much to see and enjoy. The recreational aspect takes up the balance of the stretch of water shouldered by the greater Niagara Cycle path as well as park land. You can rent canoes and kayaks to enjoy a serene journey through our water way, or join in our annual triathlon.

Welland, is a mecca for photographers with its Flatwater, Merritt Island, Bridge #13, cycle paths along historical buildings. For photography enthusiasts the subjects are varied, from wildlife and water sports to historical structures.

top 10 things to do

William Merritt initially dug a ditch to provide a new water supply for his grist mill operation, which evolved to include a ship route. This channel was deep enough for boats travelling into the Welland River and on to Lake Erie via the Niagara River. The initial route was challenging to navigate and so a second route was planned and would diverge at Port Robinson. When tragedy struck as the banks caved in at Port Robinson, a third route was sought out. The Grand River solution was timely and a channel was dug that would feed the required level of water into the Canal. An aqueduct would be used to cross the Welland River which is still in evidence today. Lake Erie water was let in to the Welland Canal through the Feeder in November of 1829.

In 1833, an extension of the Canal from Welland to Port Colborne was completed. The schooner Matilda was the first ship to make its way through the centre of a shantytown (now known as Welland). The 1973 By-pass brought an end to 140 years of commercial shipping through our downtown and so began a new legacy. The flatwater is now a world known venue of excellence for regattas and home of the Dragon Boat Championships through 2024.

Whether you are cycling, walking or driving into Welland you will enjoy a nature walk on Merritt Island or a leisurely stroll of downtown as you stop to rest, eat and shop. Stay for the evening and enjoy seasonal concerts on the waterfront stage and the nightly lighting of Welland Bridge 13.

getting here

City of Welland

60 East Main Street
Welland, ON L3B 3X4


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Welcome to the rhythm of Thorold-the small city that lives to the beat of its own rhythm–a little bluesy and a lot friendly. Steeped in the history of the Welland Canal, the City of Thorold sits 350 ft. above sea level at the top of the Niagara Escarpment "Where Ships Climb the Mountain". A picturesque view of Locks 4,5,6 & 7 awaits you. Coordinate your stop at our Lock 7 Viewing Centre with theSeaway Schedule so you can catch a vessel as it passes the viewing deck.

Thorold’s historical downtown will surprise you with many newly restored buildings with freshly painted facades adding quaint heritage flair. The results are stunning! The beautification of Front Street is helping to rejuvenate the community and destination stores have set the trend. From old favourites to new trend-­?setting boutiques we invite you to shop, eat or browse at your leisure and let yourself be inspired!

Take part in the rhythm of Thorold and enjoy a variety of live events. You’ll enjoy theatre by talented members of the Thorold Community Theatre,historic Beaverdams Park is host to the sounds of Canada’s oldest community ensemble, the fifty-­piece Thorold Reed Concert Band and every fall, experience the energy of the Canal Bank Shuffle, a blues celebration that swings into town and takes the city by storm making Thorold a true Blues destination.

Summertime family traditions start here. For an affordable and fun night out, relive your childhood at Can-­View Drive In. Fall is the perfect time to take a family trip to Howells Family Pumpkin Farm for a hayride or a visit to the Haunted Spook Barn. Good times are in store for motorsport enthusiasts at Merritville Speedway –another summertime favourite.

Outdoor enthusiasts will be happy to explore Thorold’s conservation areas for hiking and wildlife watching. Short Hills Provincial Park also offers stunning scenery of the Niagara Escarpment with its equestrian and mountain bike trails. For golf lovers, Brock and Fox Run are two golf courses situated within city limits.

Thorold is rich in buildings of cultural and historic value. Over 50 designated properties are located within the city and surrounding rural communities. Many heritage buildings like Welland Mills are beautifully restored. Significant historic sites such as DeCou House connect us to our past.

The City of Thorold is a bicycle friendly community. From the Welland Canal Parkway Trail you can ride 8km through our tree-­lined streets as you make your way to Historic Downtown. Several bicycle racks are installed for your bike parking convenience.

top 10 things to do

On November 30, 1824, approximately 200 people gathered near the Allanburg bridge in Thorold to witness the sod-turning for the construction of the Welland Canal. The fourth version of the canal provides you with an opportunity to watch the phenomenon of a ship climbing a mountain, just south of the place where it all began.

Vessels pass through Lock 7 and then sail north into the Twin Flight Locks (Locks 4, 5 and 6). This is the most complex part of the Welland Canal System and it is truly where the magic happens! This is where the ships climb the mountain because this set of locks function like giant steps in a large flight of stairs. The Twin Flight Locks either raise or lower a ship three times the height of a regular lock as this is where the Niagara Escarpment falls. The Twin Flight Locks also allow for two-way traffic so upbound and downbound ships can travel at the same time. The water levels always have to be correct so the vessels can traverse the escarpment smoothly. The height of the lift of the Flight Locks and Lock 7 combined is 57 metres or 187 feet. It truly is an engineering masterpiece!

Visit Thorold’s Lock 7 Viewing Complex and Museum at 50 Chapel Street South, Thorold to watch ships as they sail over the Niagara Escarpment or climb the mountain. Listen to the roar of 23 million gallons of water pour into the lock and simply be amazed!

Stay in Thorold and experience a city that lives to the beat of its own rhythm – a little bluesy and a lot friendly. From fine boutiques to eateries, Thorold’s historical downtown will surprise you with newly restored buildings adding quaint heritage flair to Front Street. Colourful new facades, renovated storefronts and bike-friendly amenities for visitors looking for a unique Old Town shopping experience will find the casual and friendly beat a welcome change.

getting here

City of Thorold
3540 Schmon Parkway
P.O. Box 1044
Thorold, ON L2V 4A7

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Port Colborne

The City of Port Colborne is where the Welland Canal joins with Lake Erie. The canal, which passes through the heart of the city, has been a driver of growth in the community. Today, the Welland Canal continues to play an important role in Port Colborne, serving as a multi-modal transportation hub. It is also a focus of many tourism attractions in the city.

The history of Port Colborne is closely entwined with that of the Welland Canal. Port Colborne was established as a settlement when the Welland Canal was extended from Port Robinson to Lake Erie in 1833. From grain terminals and flour mills to a steel mill and metal refinery, the Welland Canal’s presence running through the middle of the community has shaped the local economy.

Even to this day, some of Port Colborne’s major businesses rely on the canal for the movement of cargos to and from the City. Business has evolved to now include ship repair shops and ship wrecking yard. Port Colborne is the only location along the Wellanright next to modern ships. The Clarence Street Lift Bridge is one of three remaining lift bridges operating on the Welland Canal. Next to the bridge are walls of the old guard locks from the second and third Welland Canals, as well as the abutments of a swing bridge that once crossed the canal.

Downtown Port Colborne, located on the west side of the canal near the Clarence Street Lift Bridge, is home to the Port Colborne Historical & Marine Museum and Heritage Village which celebrated and documents the history of the Port Colborne area and its marine industry. Historic West Street boasts some of the finest shops and restaurants in southern Niagara, and the Port Promenade is an excellent place to watch ships pass through the Welland Canal and into Lake Erie.

Lock 8 Gateway Park with an elevated viewing platform, flower gardens, fountains, picnic pavilion and washrooms, is a popular location to watch ships as they pass through the southernmost lock on the Welland Canal. The park also includes the uniquely designed “Algoport” Skate and Bike Park, which has been styled to resemble a freight ship. Lock 8 is the second longest canal lock in the world at 421 metres in length. The jack-knife bridges at both ends rise as ships pass through the lock. The Port Colborne Visitor Information Centre is located adjacent to the park at the corner of Main Street West and Mellanby Avenue.

Port Colborne celebrated its marine heritage with the annual Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival. Held during the civic holiday long-weekend in August, this is your opportunity to view and tour ships, cruise Lake Erie or the Welland Canal on a tall ship, and join the festivities held throughout town including an exciting concert series.

Port Colborne also offers a large marina, several public beaches, Vale Health & Wellness Centre which includes two arenas and a pool, and dozens of kilometers of paved recreational trails. Two 18-hole golf courses are within the immediate vicinity of Port Colborne, along with many parks and conservation areas for relaxation and hiking.

top 10 things to do

Port Colborne and the Welland Canal share a closely entwined history with one another. Port Colborne was established as a settlement when the Welland Canal was extended from Port Robinson to Lake Erie in 1833. The presence of the canal through the middle of the community has shaped the local economy. To this day, some of Port Colborne's major businesses rely on the canal for cargo movement.

Port Colborne is the only location along the Welland Canal to follow the original canal route. Visitors can see remnants of earlier canals right next to modern ships or check out the Clarence Street Lift Bridge, one of the three remaining lift bridges operating on the Welland Canal. View walls of the old guard locks from the second and third Welland Canals and abutments of a swing bridge that once crossed the canal.

The Port Promenade (along the side of the Welland Canal) is an excellent place to watch ships pass into Lake Erie, or visit Lock 8 Gateway Park to see ships from an elevated viewing platform as they pass through the southernmost lock on the Welland Canal and the second longest canal lock in the world! The Lock 8 Gateway Park also features a uniquely designed "Algoport" Skate and Bike Park which has been styled to resemble a freight ship.


getting here

Port Colborne Visitor Information Centre
Humberstone Hall
76 Main Street West
Port Colborne, ON L3K 3V2


Port Colborne Economic Development, Tourism and Marketing
City Hall
66 Charlotte Street
Port Colborne, ON L3K 3C8

St. Catharines

From authentic wine and culinary experiences, to unique festivals and cultural events including live music, theatre and sporting events, historical sites and a thriving downtown St. Catharines is at the heart of it all.

As you explore the Garden City be sure to include a visit to the Welland Canal Lock 3 Museum and experience the Great Lake ships travelling through the world-renowned Welland Canal and learn all about the rich community. The Welland Canals Centre's elevated observation platform lets visitors see ships from around the world as they navigate Lock 3 on their way through the St. Lawrence Seaway System. See the ships climb the mountain from this observation platform which is always free to use.

The Welland Canals Centre also provides opportunities to picnic in the park or enjoy the playground with your family. Experience the canal's past and present through a 15-minute video and museum exhibits. The Lockview Lounge on the second floor offers a great view in comfortable surroundings, especially during inclement weather.

top 10 things to do

A town initially formed because of its proximity to the convergence of 12 Mile Creek and Dick’s Creek, now dubbed the “Garden City,” St. Catharines has a little something for everyone. St. Catharines was a nucleus for the creation of the Welland Canal, an engineering masterpiece that attracts visitors from around the world.

Visit Lock 3 to view the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre and the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame. The elevated observation platform at Lock 3 is an ideal place to witness ships maneuvering the lock system. Explore the story of the City of St. Catharines in the Museum’s exhibit galleries, including the Underground Railroad, the four Welland Canals, the First World War, the history of Canada’s oldest sport – Lacrosse and much more.

Downtown St. Catharines is a vibrant hub showcasing an eclectic mix of boutiques, shops and restaurants with menus from around the world as well as Ontario’s longest running farmer’s market. The entertainment scene is rich with intimate live music venues, sporting events and concerts at the Meridian Centre and the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Visit the quaint harbour side village of Port Dalhousie with two historical lighthouses, a beach, charming boutiques, restaurants, the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, and a historic LooCarousel! Summertime brings Canada Day celebrations, car shows, outdoor concerts, the annual Dragon Boat Festival and Ribfest in August. In the fall enjoy the Niagara Wine Festival, or hop over to Niagara’s largest indoor shopping destination, the Pen Centre which encompasses one million square feet of shopping fun.

Whatever the season… It’s all in St. Catharines!

getting here

City of St. Catharines
P.O. Box 3012
50 Church St.
St. Catharines, ON L2R 7C2

905.688.5601 ext. 1731


interesting facts


Swing lift bridges

There are four “swing lift” bridges crossing the Canal – at Lakeshore Road, and Carlton Street in St. Catharines (Locks 1 & 2) and at Main Street and Mellanby Road in Port Colborne (Lock 8).


Swing lift bridges are lifted by a huge counterbalance that swings the bridge out of the way of passing ships.

Vertical Lift Bridges

There are three “vertical lift” bridges crossing the Canal – at Glendale Avenue in St. Catharines, Highway 20 in Allanburg and at Clarence Street in Port Colborne.

The Mechanics

Vertical lift bridges involve weights suspended at either end, dropping to pull up the entire bridge 36.6 metres (120 feet).


Three tunnels pass under the Welland Canal – the Thorold Tunnel and the Main Street and Townline Tunnels in Welland.


Lockage Time

It takes ships about 129 hours to sail from Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic Ocean, including 17 hours of lockage time throughout the Welland Canal and other St. Lawrence Seaway locks.

Bypassing Niagara Escarpement

The Welland Canal allows ships to bypass Niagara Falls and conquer the Niagara Escarpment in order to continue through the Great Lakes system.

Atlantic Ocean

From the Atlantic Ocean, ships can travel 2,000 kilometres (1,300 miles) inland to the edge of the Great Prairies.

Great Lakes

The five Great Lakes comprise the largest and most far-reaching inland waterway in the world.


The Numbers

Ships are raised 100 metres (326 feet) by seven locks within 11 kilometres (7 miles).

Navigating the Welland Canal

3,272 ships – mainly lakers, salties, tugs and barges – navigated the Welland Canal in 2014.


Ships carried over 31,750,000 metric tonnes of cargo in 2014.


Common cargos are grain, iron ore, coal salt, stone, iron and steel.


Tolls for passage vary from $19,000 to $38,000 for a loaded cargo ship or barge, depending on gross tonnage, and cargo type and approximately $1,500 for a small passenger ship.

Pleasure Crafts

Pleasure crafts are allowed passage for $320 one way through all locks.


Four cities

The Welland Canal Corridor is a scenic route through four cities from lake to lake.


Along the way, visitors enjoy viewing platforms, recreational trails and waterways, cycling routes, picnic areas, historical ruins, museums, displays, beaches, restaurants and accommodations.

Lots to do

The cities of St. Catharines, Thorold, Welland and Port Colborne offer vistas, activities, events and opportunities to entertain and fascinate every traveller.

The Corridor

The Corridor forms the western boundary of the Greater Niagara Circle Route Trails System.



Access our official maps, specially designed to help visitors plan their time in Niagara and get the most out of the Welland Canal.

Our selection of maps will help you discover the evolution and history of the Welland, lock points of interest, over 140km of mostly off-road, paved trails suitable for walking cycling or rollerblading plus, the top things to do in each community during your stay.

Download these free Welland Canal maps and guides before you arrive.

getting here