I’ve mentioned many times in this blog that I am originally from a small isolated community in the North and the extent of my knowledge … long before the days of internet and the all-knowing Mr Google … was formed through a single TV channel and the narrow view of the world as seen through the 1960s Catholic school system.
My first encounters with the bigger world outside of Northern Ontario created a sense of wonder and endless fascination with things that others might consider mundane.
That brings me to my most recent adventure – a trip to St Catharines and a visit to Lock 3 on the Welland Canal.
For those of you who might not be familiar with it, the Great Lakes / St Lawrence Seaway represents a mighty waterway of freighter traffic to and from the Atlantic Ocean.
The challenge however, is that the Great Lakes don’t all sit at the same elevation. One has to only look at the mighty Niagara Falls at the tip of Lake Erie to understand this point.
A series of locks were developed at various points along the Seaway to move these large freighters up or down the waterway as required. To solve the problem posed by Niagara Falls, a canal needed to be built.
The original Welland Canal was opened in 1829 and has undergone a number of changes over the years. It is 44 km long to bypass Niagara Falls and has a series of 8 locks – all Canadian operated.
I’ve known in theory how locks work and I’ve seen pieces of the canal system through my various travels around Niagara Falls. I had not, however, ever witnessed a freighter actually moving through a lock.
That brings me back to Lock 3 in St Catharines.
I had received a last minute invitation to meet with Torrie from APromptReply. We met for the first time last winter on the American side of Niagara Falls. This time she was proposing we meet on the Canadian side and I suggested Lock 3 in St Catharines – a short distance from the Falls.
Why lock 3? It just happened to work with the logistics I had planned for the day, but I’ve since learned it is not the most famous on the Great Lakes system. Apparently lock 8 is the largest in the world and locks 4/5/6 raise and lower a boat a spectacular 140ft over the Niagara Escarpment.
I sense future field trips might be required to investigate.
However, back at Lock 3, it was one of those beautiful November days we’ve been graced with this autumn and I arrived shortly before Torrie.
I was thrilled to discover there was a freighter already in the lock going downstream and – Holy Poseidon Adventures! – there was another one waiting to go upstream.
I can’t say whether Torrie was as excited watching the mechanics of this engineering marvel as I had suggested it was going to be … it was a bit like watching paint dry.
I had naively assumed that once the boat was in the lock, the flood gates would open dramatically – like the theatre curtain on opening night – to fill the lock with water and the boat would rise quickly to the next level.
We were profoundly disappointed. The reality was lacking in grand spectacle.
The engineers of this process decided that a slow gradual rise in water level would be more appropriate. The key word here is sloooooow.
If Torrie and I had been in charge, the experience would have been very different. Boats might have been damaged in the process, but the tourists gathered around to watch would have had an unforgettable show.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to Torrie for inviting me on this adventure. It was wonderful to meet her and her family again for a bit of sightseeing, shopping, lunch and the amicable conversation of two people fast becoming old friends.
As an aside, I’m offering my availability as a consultant to the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority. I’m sure there are opportunities to add some razzle-dazzle to this experience. Engineering and safety concerns? Pffft.