While the upper Great Lakes are still entombed in ice, help is on the way for the winter-weary. Spring, and the official opening of another paddling season, are now only twenty-eight days off.
In a sign of the times, the Welland Canal announced yesterday that it will be open to shipping on March 20 this year, the earliest opening in its 180-year history.
The Welland Canal is, of course, the engineering marvel that connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, forging the last link in the chain of lakes that runs from the St. Lawrence all the way to Chicago. It first opened in 1833, and has been rebuilt several times since, at great risk to the lives of underpaid immigrant labourers contracted to carry out the most dangerous tasks, such as planting explosives for blasting.
The finished product is a sight to behold. To pass through, a freighter must traverse forty-four kilometres of narrow channel and eight locks. In any given year, the Canal hauls up to forty million tonnes of shipping up and down the Niagara Escarpment.
Something to ponder on your next portage.
Read about the early opening of the Canal here.
Welland Canal official site (Be sure to lower the volume if you're at work. The ship's horn on the homepage is deafening).