HERITAGE LIVES: Our National Monument

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By Terry Hughes

It is hard to believe that in nearly 40 years some ten thousand of us would learn to swim at the Cross Street Pool and that it would feature swimming competitions that entertained us as well as being a summertime meeting place before going downtown to a show or frequenting a restaurant. But important as it was for us, the real importance of this structure was as part of the Second and Third Welland Canals serving as an aqueduct.

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This early photo shows the structure opened at both ends that carried the ships of the day over the Welland River. Construction started in 1846 with Scottish stone masons and Irish labourers cutting and shaping large pieces of limestone weighing some two tons in many cases. It is estimated that between 18,000 and 22,000 cut stone blocks were used to build it. When completed in 1851, it measured 315 ft. long, 45 ft. wide and handled vessels with a draft of 9 ft. and featured four arches allowing the river to flow underneath it. By controlling the depth of the canal, vessels with a 10 ft. draft could pass through it.

The photographer is pointing his camera north from the old wooden Main Street Bridge. The east bank shows a small wooden structure over a sluice way just before reaching the aqueduct. This spot would allow a location for a power site for milling in later years. Some of you may remember the Maple Leaf Mill that occupied this spot until it burned down in the 1950’s.

The wooden bridge in the photo acted as part of the tow path on which horses or mules pulled sailing vessels or barges until the coming of steam operated tugs. Some of us will remember using a similar structure to cross here on our way to the pool and seeing two large pipes used by the mill below. What we all try to forget was the human waste that emptied into that depression that was once part of the river from the buildings on the west side of Main Street. Until the 1950’s the river was an open sewer for human waste coming from the city for over one hundred years.

Below the bridge is a wooden fender preventing any boat or vessel from going over the edge of the canal into the river. In the 1950’s this was a popular spot to dive into the canal. Save for one building, there are no structures to be seen in the background.

On the opposite side of the canal there seems to be some activity along what would be the river. Construction of a third aqueduct seems to be underway with the multiplicity of derricks seen nearby.

In recent years a number of attempts have been made to save this structure from the hands of progress. It is the only structure of its kind in Canada. Having had some discussions with our MP Vance Badawey, he is supportive of an idea that was supported by the Liberal government in 1984 of completing this site as a national monument. So far a list of prominent Wellanders also agrees with this designation. Let’s let the present government finish the job!

Next Column: The corner of Burgar Street and East Main Street.

(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)


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