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The Welland Canal opened its navigation season Friday, even though winter-like weather crashed the party.

The 27-mile-long canal links Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which extends to Montreal. The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. said cargo shipments on the Seaway this year are expected to exceed 40 million metric tons, which would be an increase over last year’s total of 38.9 million.

Winter-like spring conditions did not disrupt travel for ships on Lake Erie where it meets the canal, said Andrew Bogora, a spokesman for the SLSMC, “I’m told we’ve had a number of vessels transit that stretch [on Friday] without any problems,” he said.

The fanfare surrounding the occasion went on, as well, in St. Catharines, Ont. A top hat is presented to the captain of the first vessel to pass through the Welland Canal each year; the indoor ceremony takes place next to Lock 3 of the eight-lock waterway, home of the Welland Canals Centre and St. Catharines Museum.

This year, the honor was bestowed on John Carlson, captain of the MV Cuyahoga, part of Lower Lakes Towing’s fleet. The Cuyahoga was loaded with pelletized blast furnace slag from ArcelorMittal Dofasco in Hamilton, Ont., bound for Cleveland, Ohio, and final delivery to Essroc Cement in Middlebranch, Ohio, where it will be used to create cement-like material used in concrete mix, the SLSMC said.

In Quebec, the SLSMC highlighted the transit of Canada Steamship Lines’ Baie St. Paul, through the St. Lambert Lock. The ship is the first of a series of vessels being built specifically for use in the Seaway and is 15 percent more fuel efficient than Canada Steamship Lines’ previous class of ships, the SLSMC said.

The acting administrator of the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., Craig Middlebrook, echoed the positive outlook for Seaway shipments this year. “The resurgence of manufacturing in North America is fueling demand for both traditional and new Seaway cargoes, having positive implications for Great Lakes shipping,” Middlebrook said in a statement.

Total cargo shipped on the Welland Canal section of the Seaway has increased in each of the past four years. Still, the total for 2012 was below 2008’s.

This is the 55th navigation season for the Seaway. The original Welland Canal opened in 1829. The Seaway’s season typically runs through the end of December.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com