If you haven’t lived in Thorold long and/or you’re not over 50, it’s quite possible you don’t know that, on August 25, 1974 (that’s right, already 41 years this August for those who do remember it) the Bethlehem Steel ore carrier Steelton struck Welland Canal Bridge 12 in Port Robinson and stopping Welland Canal traffic for 15 days. The Seaway elected not to replace the bridge, physically dividing Port Robinson into Port Robinson East and Port Robinson West.
Instead, they agreed to a somewhat-less-than-halfway measure and, for reasons unknown by me, decided that 40 years would be a long enough time to provide even this bit.
During the ice-free months, they would pay for a walk-on ferry to get folks from one side of the village to the other and a van was later added to take them around the long way – down to Allanburg at Highway 20 (Regional Rd. 20), across the bridge and back up the other side (it was stopped several years back). Then, because they cut off the west side from fire services, they also threw in an old garage to be used as another station, the former Station #4 (now on Hwy. 20).
For the longest time, mostly the only ones who were aware of the ferry service were the residents of Port Robinson and those who happened up that way. But that would begin to change with the construction of the Greater Niagara Circle Route during the Nineties and into the “Aughts” and the ferry would be discovered as a way for local and tourism cyclists cut the loop in half or just to cross over to get a snack at Savona’s or a meal and beverage at Stevie Nic’s.
The ferry has become a necessity, and not only for Thorold and Canal tourism, a transportation system that carries around 5500 passengers per year. With improved ramps, better signage and some publicity to let people know that it’s there (the entrances a little obscure), it will carry even more. As part of a safe cycling route across the middle of the Niagara Peninsula, those who promote active and alternative forms of transportation, the ferry should be supported by all levels of government.
But the time has come for the Seaway to wave good-bye to its social responsibilities. Their 40 years ends at the close of March, 2016 and the City says it can’t come up with the $85,000 per year to keep the ferry going. They’ve asked the Region to take it over and that decision has yet to be made, so everyone can but await the outcome.
So this may be the last year to discover the ferry christened Bridge-It. Whether you live in Thorold or outside, take the short ride across the Welland Canal on the Port Robinson Ferry. You’ll get why it’s popular with visiting cyclists and locals.
Hopefully, there’s a way to solve this dilemma. If not, at least you’ll be able to say, “I remember that at one time we used to be able to get across the Canal on Bridge-It: just another memory of what used to be in Thorold.