st catharines ontario

Visiting Historical St. Catharines: Top 3 Must Do Things

If you’re like me, you enjoy a little history from time to time. It’s fascinating to see how far we’ve come, as a nation, in so little time. After all, Canada is only 150 years young, but every corner of this country has something interesting to reveal about our history.

Take St. Catharines, for example. Only 111 kilometres from Toronto and yet it’s like a different world. You can experience different aspects of our history, all in one place, from memories of the abolitionist movement to the simple joys of an antique carousel. It’s all there!

Here are three of my favourite stops:

The Last Stop On The Underground Railroad

For hundreds of slaves fleeing slavery in the US during the 1820s, St. Catharines represented the final stop in a long and dangerous journey. The Underground Railroad and Niagara’s Freedom Trail was a network of safe houses coordinated by local people who were in favour of abolition.

One of the the most famous woman in the abolitionist movement, Harriet Tubman, lived nearby as did her brothers and many others that Harriet helped to free. The exact spot of the end of the railroad in St. Catharines is the British Methodist Episcopal Church, Salem Chapel. Originally, it was known as Bethel Chapel, it was a small church constructed by and for freedom seekers.

After Tubman’s arrival in 1851, with eleven others, Harriet worked tirelessly from the Bethel Chapel for the next seven years to bring more slaves over to freedom. It was decided in 1853 that a larger church was necessary to accommodate the new arrivals, many of whom chose to lay down roots in the area and join the church. Built in 1855, the Salem Chapel was considered to be THE hub for the abolitionist movement.

The British Methodist Episcopal Church, Salem Chapel was designated a national historic site in 1999 and there are several monuments and markers displayed in honour of Harriet Tubman’s efforts. This part of our country’s history is something we should all be proud of and it’s humbling to stand in a place where so much happened that was vital to the lives of so many.

Lock History And The Welland Canals

St. Catharines has a long and distinguished history in the annals of shipping and transportation in Canada. The Welland Canal, which connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario passes right through St. Catharines, with four of its locks within the city itself. Whether or not you’re a ‘boat geek’, the history of the Canal being built and the impact it had on shipping in this country is captivating!

The first version of the canal opened in 1829 and ran from Port Dalhousie to St. Catharines and on to the Welland River. Unfortunately, wood was used to build the locks along the route and they deteriorated quickly, necessitating the building of a second, deeper canal, built with stone. This second route reduced the number of locks from 40 to 27, and the deeper path all the way to the St. Lawrence Seaway permitted heavier and larger shipping traffic.

The third canal had an interesting feature in that a tunnel was built under Lock 18 for the Grand Trunk Railway, which facilitated train travel through the area, but the canal itself was still not deep or wide enough for modern shipping needs. As the shipping technology changed and grew larger, so the canal had to grow as well!

Finally, the fourth canal was built and it is the one that stands today. Completed in 1932, with final dredging in 1935, the officially titled “Welland Ship Canal” was ready for business. There is a fifth canal planned for completion around 2030, 200 years after the first full season of the first canal opened.

Today, at any point along the canal, you can watch enormous cargo ships as well as hundreds of smaller vessels float by on their way to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, heading out towards the ocean. Watching the locks operate is a sight to behold and a great lesson in the laws of physics, with epic displacements of water, and feats of engineering.

An Antique 1898 Carousel Ride At 1898 Prices

Five cents is all it takes to ride the carousel at Lakeside Park. This beautiful antique, originally carved between 1898 and 1905, includes sixty-eight animals, each hand carved and carefully restored and preserved by the ‘Friends of the Carousel’ historical group. Just as an interesting aside, the horses still have real horsehair tails, a fact that will thrill any equine lover in your family!

Kids big and small are fascinated with this glorious antique carousel, one of only 350 that remain in operation in North America. It’s the kind of attraction that everyone can enjoy!

Regardless of what you see and do in St. Catharines, a visit is definitely something you should put on your list for the summer!


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