HERITAGE LIVES: Here Comes The U.S. Navy!

USS Macon with Welland’s Main Street Bridge in the background. (Photo by George Shook)

By Terry Hughes

It’s 1959 and after thirty years of opposition by special interest groups in the United States, the St. Lawrence Seaway has finally been completed and opened. In June, Queen Elizabeth II on board the Royal Yacht Britannia joined President Dwight Eisenhower in officially opening the Seaway to lakers and salties to the Great Lakes. This effort would include a huge hydro-electric system for both Ontario and New York State.

Rumours persisted that the United States would send a flotilla of naval vessels to show the flag at American ports. And sure enough, they came stupefying those of us who watched them from the shore of the canal revealing the armament that most of these vessels carried.

USS William Lawe (Supplied photo)

Along with several submarines, many of the vessels were destroyers like the one pictured here, the USS William Lawe, but the most awesome vessel was the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser, the USS Macon.

She brandished nine eight-inch guns mounted in three turrets, twelve five-inch guns mounted in six turrets and a variety of anti-aircraft guns in twin mounts and Regulus missiles capable of carrying atomic warheads. Her dimensions just fit the canals and locks she encountered but needed to reduce her aerials on her masts to fit under the lift bridges.  

Having secured summer jobs at Nickel Beach, our staff could see these vessels sitting on Lake Erie awaiting their turn to move through the canal systems to the Atlantic Ocean. When the Macon was due to pass through Lock 8, the girls on staff were allowed to pile into cars and greet the ship as it entered the lock.

The interaction between our girls and the sailors on board the ship was very interesting. An exchange of coins and sailor hats was followed by a lesson in geography for the American sailors.

“What side of the canal is the United States?” some of them asked. “You have to go 13 miles to the east to get to the U.S.,” replied our girls. “You’re in Ontario.” The sailors yelled back, “What country is that!” 

 Pictured here is the Macon passing under the Main Street Bridge in a photo taken by George Shook from the syphon as she moves downbound to Lake Ontario.                                        

Next Column:  Ghosts of the Welland Recreational Canal Corp. (WRCC).

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

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