2nd Canal Mountain Locks Walking Tour
Welcome to Mountain Locks Park! You are about to embark on a journey through one of St. Catharines' most important Cultural Heritage Landscapes in which there are remnants that have survived from the Historic Welland Canals. Your tour combines nature, history, and a sense of discovery. Unknown to many, this was a major Historic transportation corridor, forerunner to railways, highways, and high voltage power lines. Throughout the tour you will encounter remnants from various structures that are of great heritage value. While these remains are of significance the importance of this transportation corridor lies in the technological evolution from the First through to the Second, Third, and Fourth (present day) Welland Canals. This vital resource has played a significant role in the economic development of the Province of Ontario and Canada for over 150 years. It has contributed immensely to the economic growth and integration of Southern Ontario communities and has played a similar role for American states bordering the lower lakes.
One of the most significant obstacles that hindered canal designers and engineers was the dilemma of how to get vessels up and over the Niagara Escarpment and across the peninsula to Lake Erie. In total there were four successive construction projects that attempted to contend with this problem. The First Welland Canal (1829 -1841) was comprised of forty wooden locks that were laboriously dug by hand. It was large enough to accommodate a sloop or small schooner. By 1841 however, the wooden locks had started to deteriorate and needed to be replaced with a new set of stone locks. In addition, the Canal quickly became obsolete as the nature of shipping changed and vessels became larger. Steamboats and propeller driven ships became common. Although the route of the Second Welland Canal was similar to the First, more advanced attempts were made to climb the 200 ft. of the 300 ft. high Escarpment. In this location the Second Canal overcame a major portion of the climb from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.
The set of Locks you are about to behold were also hand dug with the assistance of some dredges. The Mountain Locks (locks 15 - 21) are a tightly grouped series of locks of the Second Welland Canal that alone overcame an astounding 85 ft. of the Niagara Escarpment. This is where the peak of the Second Canal occurs and is the area in which canal builders' efforts and achievements can be seen most dramatically.
As technology progressed however, there was a need to accommodate larger ships and steamboats. This led to the construction of the Third Welland Canal. The Second Canal remained in operation after the opening of the Third Welland Canal in 1887 until approximately 1915 in order to service local mills using the water as a source of power and as a transportation facility. Much of the park was drained and filled in 1961 leaving only the stone locks as a reminder of the former navigational route.
Unlike a walking tour of city streets in our heritage districts, you will be relying more on artifacts, marked and unmarked trails and your visual senses. A series of white markers (Bruce Trail) will guide you a majority of the way up the Escarpment, while a stone chip path guides you back down. Be careful to pay close attention to the guide so that some obscure points of interest are not overlooked. Because the area is isolated it is advisable that persons touring the park do so in groups of two or more. The tour takes approximately 1 1/2 - 2 hours and is deemed to be moderately difficult. Parking is available along Bradley Street. The numbers on the map correspond to the following features. Enjoy your tour!
Comparison of the Welland Canals.
- 'TRAPPER' LEO MONUMENT
- Before starting your tour you might be interested in visiting the monument dedicated to Len 'Trapper' Leo (1914 - 1982) located north of point of interest 1. The plaque was donated by the community and was erected in recognition of 'Trapper' Leo's contributions to the Town of Merritton and the City of St. Catharines as a Reeve and Alderman and as a Trustee for the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. Trapping Muskrats along the Welland Canal, popular in the 1940's, earned him his nickname 'Trapper'.
- 1. LOCK 15
- You are currently standing on top of lock 15 of the Second Welland Canal which is the first in a series of seven you will encounter on this tour. Constructed of stone, this lock (and the following six) was 150 ft. long and 265 ft. wide. Although this lock is now filled in, try and imagine that at one time it had a minimum of 10 ft. of water over the sill or floor to accommodate the boats that used it. The gates of the Second Canal were constructed of wood with iron hinges. Upon abandonment, a cement Bridge was built across the lock for Glendale Avenue (originally called Boyle Road, remnants still visible).
- *Enter the woods to the south east via the opening in the trees and begin following the white markers of the Bruce Trail to the:
- 2. FORMER MERRITTON MILLS / INDEPENDENT RUBBER COMPANY
- With the construction of the Welland Canals came industry. To your left is an abandoned industrial complex, one of many that located along the canal. The land this building was constructed on was part of a Crown Grant given to George Ball in 1796. The former building on the site was constructed in 1857 as "Beaver Cotton Mills". The first of its kind in Canada, it produced yarn, batting and wadding, The original structure was destroyed in a fire in 1881 and was rebuilt as it is in 1882-1883. The mill closed in 1906 as a result of the abandonment of the Second Canal. From 1912-1919 however, the structure was taken over as the Independent Rubber Company.
- *If you look to the right and down the hill you will see:
- 3. SOMETIMES SUNKEN BARGE
- Here lies the remains of an abandoned boat left to rot upon the closing of the canal. After the canal was abandoned, many scows and barges were discarded in the waterway. The one to your right is the only one known although others may be buried or destroyed. If the valley below is not flooded by rain or melted snow at this time, you should have no difficulty seeing the wooden planks that held the structure together. The nickname "sometimes sunken barge" originated as the area filled with water after a heavy rain or melt, giving the ship remnants a "sunken look". The boat is assumed to have been built locally.
- 4. ABANDONED WEIR
- Although dismantled, this cement structure is the remnants of a weir. These structures assisted in channeling water into the canal from nearby bodies of water. Acting as dams with holes, water flowed through to the next level. As the Second Canal closed, this weir helped serve industry which was dependent on waterpower in the 19th Century. Businesses such as the old Merritton Mill relied on this water for electricity.
- *The next point of interest is located approximately 50 feet to the right of the main route. You must follow the white markers to the next fork in the path and veer right to find:
- 5. LOCK 16
- If you look down you will appreciate the size and depth of a lock, although the lock once extended to twice the depth it is now to accommodate the boats that sailed through which were on average 100-140 ft long. The water from the canal flows underground at this point making it difficult to imagine that water once filled to the top of this lock where you are currently standing.
- *Follow the route you took to this point of interest back to the fork in the path and turn right. Directly ahead of you is a:
- 6. WRECKED WEIR
- This mass of stone that lies before you is actually the remains of a weir that served the same purpose as the first weir you encountered. Water once flowed through this area as large boats moved through loaded with cargo to awaiting industry.
- *Climb up the step formation of the weir to continue the tour or follow around the right side of the stones and up the hill to join the path again.
- General Comment
- You are walking along an embankment which has a valley that was once filled with water. Ponds and hydraulic raceways ran along the canal to assist in providing water to the man-made transportation corridor.
- 7. LOCK 17
- This lock is partially destroyed. It originally extended further west (downhill) and was at least double this depth. As you stand in the centre of the lock and gaze upward at the stone walls enclosing you, imagine the lengthy process it took for our forefathers to dig the Canal by hand. Water still runs on the opposite side of this lock but is piped underground in this area.
- *Walk through the lock and you will find a staircase at the other end, follow this to continue the tour which will lead you to the:
- 8. FORMER RIORDON PAPER MILL
- Now an auto body repair shop, this industrial building (off to the right) was built in 1885 by John Riordon, "father of Canadian pulp and paper". He originally settled elsewhere on the Canal in 1867 but moved to this site and had a sulphide plant added. This paper mill produced white paper newsprint and wrapping paper using the sufphide process. It was the second in Canada to use this process and was the first paper mill along the Welland Canal to produce white paper. This feat was accomplished by using spring water instead of water from the Canal. The mill's major customer was the Toronto-based "Globe". An interesting tidbit of information is that this was the first business in Merritton to install electric lights. The plant closed in 1923 and the sufphide tower was demolished in 1975.
- *Follow the main route until you reach another fork in the trail which leads you to:
- 9. LOCK 24
- The lock you see before you is the reconstructed remains of Lock 24 from the First Welland Canal (dates back to 1829). The original lock was excavated in 1987 and then reburied to preserve it. As you approach the lock try to envision the actual width of the First Welland Canal locks which were only slightly smaller than the Second Canal locks. In comparison, this lock was 110 ft. long and 22 ft, wide with a mere 8 ft. depth of water over the sill. The difference between this lock and the ones you have already seen demonstrates the advancement in technology and change of the shipping industry. This lock was built entirely of wood. Sluice gates in the lock lowered and raised ships and balance beams allowed the gates to be pushed open by hand with ease. The earliest locks had to be reconstructed as a result of deterioration and the ground continually pushing in on both sides, narrowing the canal lock. This led to the use of stone locks. The locks and channels from the First Canal served as ponds and weirs for the Second after closing.
- *Follow the path back up to the main route but before continuing the tour, take the time to notice:
- In the distance to the north you have a good view of the Garden City Skyway which crosses over the Fourth (existing) Welland Canal and connects St. Catharines to Niagara-on-the-Lake and beyond.
- 10. WELL-PRESERVED WEIR
- You are looking down on one of the best preserved weirs of the Second Welland Canal. Originally this was an embankment with water on both sides, however it has since been filled in.
- *Look to the north east and take in:
- Because you are standing atop the Escarpment, you have an excellent view of the City of St. Catharines.
- 11. LOCK 19
- To your right is the 19th lock of the Second Welland Canal. Sailing ships dominated canal traffic up until about the mid-1800's when steamboats and propeller-driven boats began to take over. As a result, older vessels relied on horses and mules to pull them through and up the Escarpment. The newer ships relied on steam power rather than animal power to navigate the Second Canal.
- *As you continue the tour along the main route, you will notice a group of small houses situated to the north. This piece of land is known locally as:
- 12. "GOOSE ISLAND"
- Originally this piece of land was an island that formed as a result of being between the two canals. Rumour has it that the name "Goose Island" originated from the actual shape of the area. Only truly visible from an aerial perspective, the head of a goose can be seen, eyes, beak and all! This origin however is only an assumption and it would be very much appreciated if any person knowing the correct history behind the name would let us know at the City of St. Catharines Planning and Development Department (see address below).
- *At this point in the tour the Bruce Trail markers lead to the left and continue along the stone chip path (Ball Avenue West). Opposite Ball Ave. West is a small bridge that crosses over the set of locks which you will cross to find:
- 13. LOCK 20
- This lock is completely intact, allowing you to obtain an appreciation of the actual size of each lock dug by hand. Many of the settlers that worked on the Second Welland Canal were of Irish descent.
- *As you cross the bridge follow the spur route that leads you east (uphill) to:
- 14. LOCK 21
- Lock 21 is situated very close to the boundary of the City of Thorold. The street to the south is Bradley St. originally called Lock St. as a result of its close proximity to both the First and Second Canals. The name was changed in 1961 after Merritton was amalgamated with St. Catharines (another major event in the history of the City). Locks 21 -16 (as you descend along the path) are referred to as "Neptune's Staircase", the nickname originating from the idea that the locks were much like a staircase taking ships up and over the Niagara Escarpment and Neptune being the Roman God of the Sea. If you look very closely as you approach the west end of the lock you can see the number of the lock engraved in the stone on the opposite side of the structure. This is only visible on Lock 21, 20, and 18.
- 15. CANAL GATEHOUSE / KIMBERLY CLARK
- The building directly in front of you is a gatehouse that was built in 1845 to store spare gates and to monitor traffic along the Canal. The smoke stacks in the distance belong to a paper mill (known as Kimberly Clark) which opened here in 1913 as Interlake Tissue Mills Ltd., and was sold to Kimberly Clark of Canada in 1961. Although bought up for industrial use well beyond the closing of the Second Welland Canal, it is conveniently located adjacent to the rail line, one of the Canal's major competitors that instigated the decline of transporting goods by way of water.
- *To continue the tour, turn around and follow the stone chip path. From here on, your trek is down hill. As you reach Lock 19 (point of interest 11) hike up the embankment to Bradley Street to find the next point of interest:
- 16. LOCK TENDERS HOUSE
- 77 Bradley St. is located between Locks 20 & 19. The land on which this building is located was originally port of a 200 acre Crown Grant in 1796 to Jacob Ball. The structure was built in 1851-52 for the Lock Tenders and their families. One former Canal employee, who lived here in the 1940's, paid a monthly rent of $10.00 plus repairs. The building is designated as a heritage building under the Ontario Heritage Act.
- 17. LOCK 18
- As you follow the path, you are now on the opposite side of the locks that you have already visited. It is now easier for you to imagine the size of the locks as they once were over one hundred years ago.
- 18. LOCK TENDER'S HOUSE
- Ivy covered 135 Bradley St. is the second Lock Tenders' house along the Canal and is situated opposite Lock 17 (point of interest 7). This house was also part of the 200 acre Crown Grant in 1796 to Jacob Ball. An interesting feature of this house was that the backyard was once a stone quarry. Evidently some of the stone used for the Second Welland Canal was quarried at this location. Built in 1851-52, the building is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
- 19. BRADLEY STREET PARK PLAQUE
- This plaque was donated by the Horticultural Society when the land was first established as 'Bradley Street Parkette' in 1971. It has since been re-named 'Mountain Locks Park'.
- 20. MOUNTAIN LOCKS PLAQUE
- Your tour ends here at these limestone boulders on which a plaque, dedicated to the Mountain Locks Park, is mounted. The boulders were transported to the site and situated as they are to symbolize the gates of the locks opening up. With the help of its community partners the St. Catharines Heritage Committee erected these commemorative plaques in 1997.
Printed pamphlets can be obtained from:
|Canal||Number of Locks||Length Between Gates||Width of Lock||Depth of Water Over Sill||Boat Length||Boat Cargo Capacity
|First Welland Canal|
Started in 1824
Opened in 1829
Closed in 1844
|39||110 ft||22 ft||8 ft||100 ft||165 tons
|Second Welland Canal|
Started in 1842
Opened in 1845
Closed in 1866
|27||150 ft||26.5 ft||9 ft||140 ft||750 tons
|Third Welland Canal|
Started in 1875
Opened in 1887
Closed in 1931
|26||270 ft||45 ft||14 ft||225 ft||2,700 tons
|Fourth Welland Canal|
Started in 1913
Opened in 1932
|8||766 ft||80 ft||27 ft||740 ft||32,000 tons
St. Catharines Heritage Committee
c/o Planning and Development Department
City Hall, P.O. Box 3012
Phone: 905-688-5600 ext. 1719