Earlier this year I completed the second major historical photographic project on the Confederation of Canada and the events and places that lead up to the joining of four British Provinces in British North America into the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Over the course of that project, I came across many events and locations that inspired me to try and tell the deeper story. Of course, I couldn’t tell every story so instead, I selected two that I felt I couldn’t tell the whole story due to the timeline for the project ending in 1867. One of these is the railroad through Ontario the other is the Welland Canal. It is the Canal that this project will be focused on; I will cover the whole history from pre-historic times to the modern era.

Lock Six of the 2nd Canal, a quick snap during my ten hour trip to capture most the images for the project. I will be revisiting the area on Saturday to get somethings I missed.

Yes, you read that right, pre-historic. I will be taking you back to the origins behind the Welland Canal (being Niagara Falls) and the early concepts behind a military canal in the days following the American Revolutionary War. Into the Anglo-American War of 1812 and the inspiration for William Hamilton Merritt to construct the first canal. And from there we travel through history in a roughly chronological manner through the 19th Century and into the 20th and 21st. In most cases, I’ll stick to a linear progression, but in some cases, I might jump around a bit. But this project isn’t just about the canals themselves (first through fourth) as that would be pretty boring and fairly short. I’ll also explore the industries that grew out of the canal, the communities along the banks or have grown up further because of the presence. I’ll also talk on the human cost of the construction.

Project:1867 - The Rideau Canal - Jones Falls Locks
While interesting, the Rideau Canal proved a far too static canal to base a large project on, even though I love this shot of the Jones Falls Lock.
Mamiya m645 – Mamiya-Sekor C 150mm 1:3.5 N – Ilford HP5+ @ ASA-200 – Pyrocat-HD (1+1+100) 9:00 @ 20C

But why the Welland Canal? In Ontario, we have three historical canals. The most obvious being the Rideau Canal, the least being the Trent-Severin. The Welland occupies the middle spot, but again why the Welland? Well, the Trent-Severan, to be honest, isn’t too interesting, sure there are some interesting parts of it, but it is also a long and hard to follow. The Rideau, while interesting, is a static canal. Built as a military channel it never changed from its construction into today. In fact, the Rideau looks and operates the same way it did in the 1830s. The Welland Canal, however, is a character in its own right. It has grown, evolved, and changed over time not only to match the shipping technology of the day but also the technology available to operate the locks. And it also changed the face of the area it ran through. Photographically, I captured all the main images I needed for the whole project in a single day at the end of June. Starting in Port Weller and ending in Port Colborne taking a total of ten hours from leaving home to returning. Thankfully the traffic was light and being a weekday allowed for a faster pace. I shot using Kodak Tri-X and developed in Kodak D-76 using my Minolta Maxxum 9. Now, I am reusing a handful of images from other trips and my 1867 project where I could not spare the route to grab those shots.

The 4th Canal - Lock One
While I had my doubts, I knew it was going to be a good day when I caught a ship transiting the canal out into Lake Ontario as my first shot of the project.
Minolta Maxxum 9 – Minolta Maxxum AF 28mm 1:2.8 – Kodak Tri-X 400 @ ASA-400 – Kodak D-76 (1+1) 9:45 @ 20C

The overall final goal for the project in addition to these blog posts is to create a photo book with a separate narrative and a little cleaner flow needed for a book rather than separate articles published online. I hope to get the book ready for the Christmas season. Thankfully I have written a majority of the blog posts, a good 80% of the work is done on those posts. The idea is that I can use these blog posts as a foundation for the text in the book and edit and build the flow from there, which I have also started the work for. That about covers the introduction for the project, stay tuned next week as we travel from nearly 12,000 years in the past to the early 19th Century.


  1. I am looking forward to reading all about this marvel of innovation from yesteryear till today. I live in Welland by choice a short walk from the bridges and canal on Main Street East. From my window I see the bridge lit up at night. I enjoy history and in my capacity as a volunteer at the museum, I am privy to articles and artifacts for this area. Thank you for writing this piece. I can only imagine what a challenge it was.

    1. Author

      Good Morning! Yes, the old bridge and channel through downtown Welland is a beautiful sight! In fact, I have that scene planned out to be the cover on the book! I plan on going back there on Saturday to use a 4×5 camera to capture a better version of that scene for the cover! While difficult, there are plenty of book resources out there and some online. In fact, I’ve come across a few online resources from the Welland Museum that I have used.

  2. Having spent much of my childhood exploring the old canal behind the old GM Ontario Street plant, I look forward to what I expect will be a very interesting project!

    1. Author

      That’s one area I do want to explore but on a day dedicated to just that!

  3. Alex, my name is Norman Seymour, formerly from NOntario, I now reside in NOTL.
    After reading Taylor & Styran’s book, This Colossal Project, which documents the construction of the 4th Canal, i set out to tell the stories of the Engineers & the Companies that designed and built the canal.
    This has not been completed as I’ve recently moved on to another project but extensive research has been done.
    Would be more than happy to share this with you if you thought it might be helpful in this undertaking. .

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