Welland Canal opening a sure sign of spring

Captain John Croucher of the M.V. Algoma Spirit, the first down bound vessel in the Welland Canal, received the Top Hat at Port Colborne’s official canal opening ceremony Friday

A tradition that traces its roots back to November 27, 1829 when the first ship entered the Welland Canal. For the last 50 years the captain of the first down bound vessel is presented with a beaver felt fur hat. The hat is a turn of the century Tress and Co. from London, England that was donated anonymously. The captain does not keep the hat, but is given a replica top hat to keep.

“The Top hat ceremony gives us an opportunity to recognize the importance of the Welland Canal and just how much it means to us and how many it employs locally in different businesses in the marine industry,” said Jeff Burch MPP

“So when we see those bridges up it is important to remember That while it may be a slight inconvenience in us getting from point A to point B these vessels are carrying cargo and that means business and investment and employment for Port Colborne. It also means spring has finally arrived following a very lousy winter.”

The Top Hat Ceremony kicked off at 8 am with a Fair Trade Breakfast, followed by a mariners blessing for the 2019 shipping season by Pastor Brian Lofthouse. Students from McKay Public School lead the singing of O’Canada.

Jim Bradley Regional Chair, stated that “we tend to take the canal for granted.”

The Welland Canal, which is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway stretches through the Niagara Region. There are actually 5 municipalities along the Welland Canal, Port Colborne, Welland, Thorold, Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines.

Mayor Kevin Gibson of Township of Wainfleet, who attended his first top hat ceremony today
was impressed with the ceremony.

“Two years ago I had some friends visiting from British Columbia. We were walking down in Port Colborne at the south end. The bridge started to go up and they saw it from about a block away and they started running to the canal to see the bridge go up and see the boat go through. We take it for granted here, but people from the other end of the country, who have never seen it before, who ran a block and a half to get there, so they could see the boat go through and the bridge go up,” laughed Mayor Gibson.

Jeff Waszynski, Manager of Canal Services welcomed the 191st year of continuous operation of the Welland Canal.

Waszynski stated, “over the centuries various entrepreneurs and its successive governments have expanded the route to over come some of natures most formidable barriers . We can trace the first efforts of the greater link between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to 1824 when construction of the first generation of the Welland Canal got underway. The modern day St. Lawrence Seaway was completed in 1959 incorporating the Welland Canal, a key part of the waterway.”

Since then ships transiting the seaway locks have carried over 2.9 billion tonnes of cargo valued in excess of over $400 million dollars. The St. Lawrence Seaway serves as the gateway to connecting the heartland of North America to the world.

“Expanding the use of the seaway is a very sustainable way to promote economical growth over a low carbon economy marine transportation is the most energy efficient means of sending cargo that emits the lowest level of greenhouse gases per tonne per mile. Working together we can boost our nations economy trading activity and quality of life in a highly sustainable mix,” said Waszynski.

Mayor Bill Steele of Port Colborne encouraged all that “our top hat ceremony is about our community, within the Niagara Region coming together to welcome the first down bound vessel entering the Welland Canal.”

“Kicking off the shipping season and our commitment to the marine industries as well as our appreciation of the industries contribution to the overall economy. Port Colborne was founded as an important sailing port and then the gateway to navigation when the Welland Canal was built and it dissected our city.,” Steele said. “The Welland Canal is the forefront of Niagara transportation infrastructure. Going forward we want to return Port Colborne an important location on the seaway, where marine related businesses can flourish and young adults can look to the marine business to make their living, as our forefathers did many years ago. Where strong partnerships with those in the marine industry we can continue to create opportunities for marine related development wit in the seaway trade corridor and within our city.”