Celebrating 200 years of a public works project that had a major impact on the shared histories of Niagara Ontario and Buffalo, New York

A Brief One from Doug Draper, publisher, Niagara At Large

Posted July 4th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

“I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

We haul’d some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal and hay
We know every inch of the way
From Albany to Buffalo.”

  • Lyrics from the song ‘Low Bridge, Everybody Down’, later known as the Erie Canal Song, written by Thomas Allen in the early 1900s and recorded by every musical icon from Pete Seeger to Bruce Springsteen

Two hundred years ago this July 4th, 2017, in Rome, New York – an upstate community just east of Syracuse and west of Utica – dignitaries broke ground for a public works project that would have a major impact on the future and fortunes of Niagara, Ontario, Western New York and many other communities in Canada and the United States.

Along the Erie Canal, Buffalo, N.Y. (No. M 71, Buffalo News Co., Buffalo, N.Y.) — not postally used ; approximately 1908

What began on that Fourth of July day in 1817 was the construction of the Erie Canal – a watercourse stretching hundreds of kilometres between the shores of Lake Erie in Buffalo and the Hudson River in Albany that triggered an unprecedented industrial boom that meant growth and prosperity for many communities, including Buffalo, New York and across the border in Niagara, Ontario.

The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, followed by the opening of the first Welland Canal a few years later (New York State’s canal promoter DeWitt Clinton and Welland Canal promoter William Hamilton Merrett became friends and associates over the two projects), quite literally opened up the vast mineral, agricultural and other resources of the mid-west to the east and, through seaports in New York City and Canada’s Atlatnic coast, to the entire world.

Many New York State communities along the path of the Erie Canal, including Rome, Buffalo and nearby Lockport (where an Erie Canal exhibit centre is located) are hosting events this July to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the canal, and we’ve posted a few links for information on those events below.

Here is also a reminder, for those who may not know, that about a decade ago the Niagara, Ontario community of Thorold and Lockport in Niagara, County, N.Y. entered an official twinning relationship around their canal histories.

Locks still at work along the Erie Canal in Lockport, New York attract large numbers of visitors every year.

A brief excerpt for that twinning, from the City of Thorold’s website, reads as follows –

“The City of Thorold is Twins with sister city Lockport, New York.

This is a friendly community which blends the old with the new.  Lockport, New York is located in the centre of Niagara County  approximately 18 miles east of Niagara Falls, USA.  Lockport’s business community is diverse and prosperous.  There are more than 50 manufacturing firms in Lockport and over 850 retail and commercial establishment in the Town and City of Lockport combined.

Both Cities share a number of common traits including a canal history – Lockport has five ship steps that run through its core – and both served as the home for a period of time to contractor John Brown, a major player in the construction of Niagara Flouring Mills on the Erie Canal.

Brown also served as an employer in the mid-1800’s along the Welland Canal.  He was killed in an accident on his way home from work in 1876 in Thorold.”

Finally, this past Sunday, July 2nd, The Buffalo News published a great article about the histories around both the Erie and Welland Canals, and their founders, DeWitt Clinton and William Hamilton Merrett, written by Buffalo area historian Janet Dorothy Larkin, who will be publishing a book to be titled; “Overcoming Niagara: Canals, Commerce and Tourism in the Niagara-Great Lakes Borderland Region, 1792-1837”, early next year.

Here is an excerpt from that article

“Canada likewise gained from the Erie Canal’s experience. In 1824, when the neighboring province began construction on the Welland Canal between Lakes Ontario and Erie, they turned to the United States for support and encouragement in their undertaking. The canal’s timing was planned around the Erie Canal’s completion as American engineers, laborers, technology, animals and capital would be available to assist in Canada.

“The inspiration behind the Welland Canal was William Hamilton Merritt of St. Catharines, Ontario, who was affectionately dubbed the “DeWitt Clinton” of Canada. Upon news that the Erie Canal was rapidly making its way toward its celebratory completion, Merritt jumped aboard an Erie Canal packet en route to Rochester, Utica and Albany where he consulted with engineers and builders who were eager to come to Canada to work on “Merritt’s Ditch.”

To read the entire article on The Buffalo News web pages, click on  http://buffalonews.com/2017/06/29/viewpoints-erie-canals-bicentennial-remember-canada/ .

For more information on upcoming Erie Canal celebratons, click on – http://www.discovertheeriecanal.com/about-the-bi-centennial/ .

For a link for event information from Erie Canal Village, near Rome, N.Y., click on – http://www.eriecanalvillage.com/ .

For information on Erie Canal-related things to see and do in the Buffalo area, click on – http://www.visitbuffaloniagara.com/business-type/erie-canal/ .

A historic plaque in the Rome, New York area to remember the groundbreaking, 200 years ago this July 4th, 2017, for the Erie Canal.

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater binational Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders


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