Along the Champlain Canal

by Tom Larsen

As mentioned previously, this is our sixth year through the Champlain Canal. We’ve met many people and visited many communities through the years, but the Champlain Canal is something unique. The boats the Lois is patterned after were created specifically for the original Champlain Canal. Seeing the remnants of the original canal along the modern one bring a deep connection to the history we are talking to people about.

The Growler
Greg Betit, Terry Glasier, and Dale Henry take the dory Growler past the Lois to the Roger’s Island encampment in 2011 (photo: Tom Larsen)
Fort Edward Survey Map
Fort Edward, 1830s

Fort Edward is a place that history really reaches out. The French and Indian War site of the old Fort Edward is right next to where we dock at the Yacht Basin, with Rogers Island located right across the river. Right down the road is the feeder canal for the old Champlain. Right up the river is the remains of a dam designed to raise the pool for industrial manufacturing.

Fort Edward is also the home of the Anvil, a restaurant that has been built in the old town blacksmith shop. Neil Orsini, the proprietor, is a huge history buff, and invited the crew to dinner there after we were finished interpreting to the public.

An egret in front of the fall foliage on the Champlain Canal
An egret in front of the fall foliage on the Champlain Canal (photo: Tom Larsen)

Traversing the canal in the fall is always a treat. While the weather is often a bit questionable, the days it isn’t are truly memorable. The colors of the leaves pop against the sky, and moving through it at a sedate five knots gives time to enjoy it fully.

For our arrival in Whitehall, I was on the helm. Due to the restrictions of the lock we were going to go through when leaving Whitehall, we were going to dock starboard side to the wall. This meant we were going to have to spin 180 degrees during the approach. Maneuvers like this remind me how talented the crew of the Lois McClure is. It’s all well and good to have a plan ready, but it still needs to happen. Having a large number of capable and talented individuals to help you carry out an idea makes things look easy.

Whitehall is the first or last part of the New York Canal System that one encounters coming south from Lake Champlain. Historically, it was a massive industrial town. Shipping flowed through it, with canal boats moving non-stop, hauling a wide variety of cargoes. There were side industries as well – the lighters (small boats that would have cargo offloaded from a canal boat into them and follow the canal boat through the system to the Hudson, allowing a much larger cargo load to be carried), the mule teams, the crane services for rigging and de-rigging the sailing canal boats. While today, Whitehall is not as focused on the canal, it is really neat to walk through the town and see the remnants of the canal era still present in the buildings.

Dinner at Whitehall
Dinner at Whitehall (photo: Tom Larsen)

The community of Whitehall always welcomes us with open arms. This year, as in some years past, they treated us to a pot-luck dinner. The spread laid out before us when we arrived was impressive. So many choices, all of them looking delicious. It took me three plates before I couldn’t eat another thing, and I still didn’t manage to get one of everything! The dinner was an informal affair, and there was lots of great discussions had.

One thing that is said on the Lois often is that we are not just retelling history, we’re making history. The Champlain Canal is a big part of the history of the Lois. It feels like home.

Special Thanks to:

Tom Larsen
First Mate

2 thoughts on “Along the Champlain Canal”

  1. Tom, all your log entries have been interesting, but something about this one made it stand out. Maybe it was the mental image of you loading up the third plate that brought back good memories of time on the Lois. Fair winds and Happy New Year. Jeff

  2. Pingback: Captain’s Log, Part 8 | Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

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