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First Welland Canal Ground Breaking Cairn
The First Welland Canal Ground Breaking Cairn, located where Hwy 20 crosses the Welland Canal at the Allanburg lift bridge, gets noticed by a lot of people. It marks the location where digging started on the First Welland Canal on Nov 30, 1824.
Why would a cairn commemorating the building of the First Welland Canal be located so far inland? Construction of the canal started here because of the topography of the area. To minimize the cost of digging, the route of the First Welland Canal followed existing creeks and streams as much as possible. That strategy worked well from Lake Ontario to this location, but from this point southwards, significant excavation was required to allow further progress. Just south of the monument a ridge measuring some 20m high blocked access to the Welland River 3 km to the south.
Digging a channel through the ridge using shovels, horses and wagons was arguably the greatest challenge to builders, and none of this was lost on William Hamilton Merritt, founder of the Canal and of the Welland Canal Company that built it. On Nov 30, 1824, Merritt made a speech to nearly 200 people gathered at this location, and the first shovel of earth was removed from the ground. Digging in this area, known simply as the "Deep Cut", continued for the next 4 years until the canal started operation in 1829.
Just behind the monument, the Welland Canal Parkway Trail can be used to walk a short distance south where both the ridge and the channel which passes through it can be seen.
From Hwy 406
Exit Hwy 406 at Hwy 20. Proceed east along Hwy 20 for approximately 1 km until reaching the Allanburg bridge crossing of the Welland Canal. A small park and monument should be visible on the right (south) side of the road.
Text and photographs on this page were graciously contributed by Matthew Jantz.