In 1988, Welland Little Theatre staged the musical, “Up The Canal.” The birth of the original Welland Canal was to be portrayed via historical vignettes. Its catchy theme tune boasted, “The Biggest And Best Little Ditch In The World.” An impressive group of cast and crew hopefuls were dug from all walks of life. Students, teachers, housewives, a dentist, secretaries, retired seniors, sales people and a chorus became part of an ambitious undertaking.
This musical extravaganza was commissioned to a Toronto playwright. He was to explore the vision of William Hamilton Merritt, a driving entrepreneur who developed a waterway that would open shipping between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Today the success of the founding father of the Welland canal is evident in the many historical Niagara landmarks named in his honour.
After numerous numbing rehearsals and with great fanfare, the show was performed on stage at Centennial High School auditorium in Welland for three nights. The promoters were thrilled with a packed house of a thousand ticket holders for each performance. Elementary schools bussed in students to fill auditorium seats for dress rehearsals.
I enjoyed the excitement and challenge of performing in this once in a lifetime presentation. It was my first musical, and it was the first time local history had been revealed to me in such a creative and inspiring way.
I moved back to my home town after twenty-five years. It was good to see how the city had grown and was improving itself. The Rotary Club of Welland Park was steps away from my apartment. A major project of this organization was to establish a fine recreation area along the old canal, where visitors could enjoy a dedicated skateboard area, quiet picnics by the willow trees, paved paths to walk or cycle upon and pastimes like fishing or simply relaxing while taking in the view.
Instead of watching the ships pass through the canal as in old days, visitors to the park today can rent their own water conveyance. So that is just what I did. A writer friend agreed to share my water adventure in a paddle boat. Tame for some perhaps, but I thought it best to start with something we couldn’t fall out of or off for that matter. Canoes, kayaks and paddle boards were also available to us for reasonable rental rates. Friendly staff, eager to assist first time canal adventurers, were more than happy to answer our questions.
What a marvelous way to take in a sunny afternoon! We kicked back in our seats to easily pedal along, laughing when the boat started going in circles, then steadying the rudder. Waterfowl hailed us with squawks of indignation as we passed under the tall girders of the Lincoln Street bridge. A bold squadron of Canada Geese escorted us to the docks when it was time to return.
Now that I have experienced my maiden voyage, it’s time to raise the bar, (or paddle if you prefer.) There’s a board out in those storage racks and it’s calling my name. Before summer ends, I will ship myself up the canal on it, and yes, I will bring a spotter with me, just in case.