ADVERTISEMENT

The Welland Canal in Southern Ontario, about a 45-minute drive from the Buffalo area, offers a unique sightseeing experience. One could easily spend the entire day, or longer, exploring the 26-mile shipping route, which was constructed in the early 1800s.

One of the best places to spend a few hours is the city of Welland, located along the canal about half-way through the shipping route. Until 1973, when a bypass channel was built, ships sailed right through downtown Welland. Today, the old section of the original canal is used as a recreational waterway.

Besides watching ships travel the canal, among the more interesting sites in Welland are more than two dozen murals that adorn the downtown area. Some people consider Welland to be one of the largest open-air art galleries in the world.

Back in 1986, the city hired artists from all over Canada to create the murals as a way to beautify and revive the downtown area.

My daughter and I recently took a drive along the Welland Canal and spent a bit of time checking out the murals. Most of these murals are concentrated in the downtown area, especially King Street, East Main Street and Division Street, although a few can be found in the outskirts along Niagara Street.

Those in the downtown area are relatively close to each other; you could park the car and walk if it's a nice day. We chose to drive, although if you do this you do have to watch out for one-way streets. Division Street is one way heading east, East Main Street is one way heading west. We ended up making several loops around the area so we could see all the murals.

We pulled into a parking lot to check out two of the murals. "The Welland Fair" by John Hood, painted on the side of the Welland Tribune building at 228 E. Main St., depicts scenes from Welland Fairs in 1940, 1958 and 1975. On an adjacent building at 212 E. Main St., a mural done by Marsha Charlebois, titled "The Cordage Community," shows employees from the Plymouth Cordage Co. at work and at play. This company, which opened in Welland in 1906, was the first major industry to open a plant in the city.

One of my favorite murals is "The Welland Club," also by John Hood, which shows a popular professional club in the 1920s. The painting shows men in straw hats and people lawn bowling next to the Victorian-style clubhouse. This mural is at the corner of East Main Street and Hellems Avenue.

Since my daughter loves to shop, we headed up Niagara Street North to the Seaway Mall. The mall, which has 120 stores and restaurants, has a nice selection of places to shop, including Sears, the Source, Zellers and Northern Reflections.

There are two huge murals, measuring about 80 feet wide, on the side of the mall. "History of the Niagara Peninsula," on the Sears building, depicts the cultural and economic development of the area. On the front of the mall, "History of the Welland Canal" shows scenes from the construction of the canal.

Need another reason to visit Welland? Check out Illuminaqua, a summer outdoor concert series that takes place at the Merritt Park Amphitheatre on King Street. Performances take place on a floating stage on the Welland Recreational Waterway. Pods of fire, floating on the waterway to illuminate the stage, add to the ambience.

Musical performers scheduled to appear include Don McLean (July 9), Andy Kim (Aug. 6), and Natalie MacMaster (Sept. 3). Tickets for the concerts, which take place rain or shine, are $10 and can be purchased through the Illuminaqua Web site, at the Seaway Mall customer service, or at the gate the night of the concert. A season pass, which includes a seat cushion and wine sampling coupons, is available for $50.

As for the canal itself, visitors can watch its eight lift locks at several points between Port Colborne on Lake Erie and Port Weller on Lake Ontario. From spring to late fall, lake freighters heading to and from the St. Lawrence Seaway use the channel to climb or descend the 327-foot elevation difference between the two Great Lakes.

***

To find out more

Descriptions of the murals and a map are at www.travel- niagara.org/ attractions/mural.html

City of Welland information is at www.welland.ca; Illuminaqua, www.illuminaqua.com

To get to the canal: After crossing the Peace Bridge to Canada, take the QEW to Exit 21 (RR47 Lyons Creek Road). Turn left onto Montrose Road (RR98) and then a slight right on Schisler Road (RR27) to Welland.