One Tank Trip: Exploring the legacy of a historic shipping route

June 26, 2009 at 5:36 pm 1 comment

I never cease to be fascinated by the ocean-going “salties” and lake freighters that pass through the St. Lawrence Seaway. Over the years I’ve had several occasions to observe these gentle giants of the waterways gliding silently through several communities along the New York/Ontario border.

The St. Lawrence Seaway is the 160-mile-long portion of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System. The St. Lawrence portion stretches from Montreal to mid-Lake Ontario along the Welland Canal. The entire system encompasses the St. Lawrence River, the five Great Lakes and two Canadian provinces and measures 2,342 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Duluth, Minn., on Lake Superior.

The system is a vital maritime gateway that moves cargo between North America and international markets, says Vicki Garcia, director of Civil Rights and the Public Information Office for the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.

The Montreal-Lake Ontario section of the system, which consists of seven locks, including the two 2 U. S. Locks in Massena,

N. Y., is celebrating 50 years this year. It officially opened June 26, 1959, with both Queen Elizabeth II and President Eisenhower presiding over the inaugural ceremonies. The Seaway is a model of international cooperation between Canada and the United States.

The idea of locks to bypass the rapids in the St. Lawrence River is not a new idea. As far back as 1680, people were trying to figure out how to make the river navigable. However, it wasn’t until the 1940s when the idea for the seaway took root. A joint U. S. and Canadian group studied the feasibility of creating a deep waterway that would create a major shipping route that would benefit both the United States and Canada. Since the Seaway’s opening, more than 2.4 billion tons of cargo, estimated at $350 billion, have been shipped to and from 50 other nations.

Along the way

The Welland Canal in southern Ontario, offers a close-up look of vessels passing through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System. The 27-mile long canal is not merely a shipping route, but a tourist attraction that draws people from all over the world. My daughter and I recently took a day trip along the Welland Canal, which is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Buffalo. Four communities along the canal—Port Colborne, Welland, Thorold and St. Catharines—feature attractions, shopping and dining.

Of special note is the Inn at Lock Seven in Thorold, which is the only inn in the region where one can view the ships as they pass through the canal. Innkeeper Patricia Szoldra says many of the guests are regulars that return year after year. Just down the street from the inn, the Lock 7 Viewing Complex is a good spot to watch ships. An even larger viewing complex is located at Lock 3 in St. Catharines.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the Eisenhower Locks in Massena; however, I’m sure it’s just as interesting now as it was when I last visited. The visitors center, located off Route 37, has an observation deck where guests can watch freighters as they move through the seaway. To get to the visitors center, one must drive through a tunnel under the seaway. The facility, which is run by the New York State Power Authority, has hands-on exhibits on how the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Hawkins Point Power Plant work.

Celebrations

Events celebrating the seaway’s 50th anniversary start this week. From Tuesday through June 30, several events are planned for communities in Ontario, with celebrations taking place in Cornwall, Niagara and Montreal. There will also be a large celebration in Iroquois, Ont., on Tuesday that will feature the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For a listing of all events, visit the http://seaway50. awardspace.com.

In the United States, celebrations are planned in Massena, July 9 to 12. Activities will include live entertainment, musical performances, a parade and historical displays

Closer to home, the annual Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival will take place in Port Colborne, Ont., on the Welland Canal from July 31 to Aug. 3. This four-day celebration highlights the city’s nautical history and heritage. About 300,000 people visit this festival each summer. Events include historical displays, a classic car show, live entertainment and children’s activities.

Information

Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination. If you are planning a trip to any of the places on the U. S. side mentioned in this article, a great resource is Great Lakes Seaway Trail Journey magazine, which is published by the Seaway Trail Inc., a nonprofit corporation that promotes tourism along the Seaway Trail in New York State and Pennsylvania.

This publication, which is available for free, as well as online, highlights hundreds of communities along the 518-mile long scenic highway, which takes travelers through two states; from West Springfield, Pa., to Rooseveltown, N. Y. Travelers can look for the green and white Seaway Trail signs, which will lead them to many special places that might be overlooked if they traveled on a superhighway.

The Seaway Trail has been selected as one of the America Byways by the U. S. Department of Transportation. Along this trail travelers can find museums, wineries, cultural attractions, farm markets and more.

If you go

Great Lakes Seaway, (315) 764-3208, www.greatlakes-seaway.com . New York Power Authority Frank S. McCullough Jr. Hawkins Point Visitors Center, 21 Hawkins Point Road, Massena; (800) 262-NYPA.

Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival, Port Colborne; (800) 767-8386, (905) 834-1668.

Seaway Trail Inc.: (800) SEAWAY-T, (315) 646-1000, www.seawaytrail.com . Corner of Ray and West Main streets, Sackets Harbor, N. Y. A visitors’ center is located here.

By Christine Smyczynski

The BuffaloNews

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