One summer morning when I was six, my dad called up the stairs, “Margie, get dressed quickly and come with us to the canal to see the first ship go through.”
I hurried with my clothes, all the while wondering what this was all about. Dad didn’t sound too excited, but his voice said “Hurry.”
My sister, Mary, and I were in the back seat of our old 1928 Chevy as we bumped along the mile to the Welland Ship Canal that had been just recently completed. We crossed the new double-cantilevered bridge at Homer, now called Bridge Four, turned left at the Service Road and finally found a place to park amid the many cars around Lock Three. The biggest ship I had ever seen filled the space inside the lock. Men were running around on either side of the lock with ropes thrown from the ship to tie it to the stomach posts. The ship seemed so close to our side but dad said that there was enough room for it to go down without scraping the cement sides of the lock.
I watched in wonder as the ship started to move—not forward nor backward, but downward.
I looked left to see where it would go or could go, but down was the only way possible. How could it possibly get to the water level way down there? It was a funny feeling to be beside this huge ship that was moving downward. Soon the round windows of the lower level were even with our eyes, and then some letters.
I asked mother what the words said on the side of the ship.
“That is the name of the ship. It is called the ‘Lemoyne’ and is the first ship to travel the whole length of the canal. You are watching history being made today, Margie.”
I did not really know what history meant but I loved seeing this huge boat. I was also a bit worried about how this ship could get out of the box of water.
Soon the Lemoyne letters disappeared downward and what a thrill it now was to see through a long row of windows. People were just a few feet away in the ship’s dining room, and they were eating their breakfast, raising their coffee cups in salute and returning our waves. Everyone on shore waved.
In a very few minutes the Lemoyne slipped still farther down over the edge of the wall. We had to lean over the edge to see well. Dad hung onto the straps of my overalls so I could see down into the water box. Mary was 14 and too grown up to be so obvious but I didn’t care. This was big stuff for a six-year- old.
Still down, down! Soon all we could see was the smoke stack and all the flags. Then the water noises stopped.
“Dad, what’s happening now?” I asked.
“Shh! Just watch that big end wall. It’s going to move.”
Really, I thought. Walls don’t move. But sure enough, a little space showed up right up and down the centre. Then wider and wider—and I could see that it was a huge double door, just like a double gate that opened wide for the ship to leave it for the lower water level. With two toots of its horn, the Lemoyne sailed calmly and beautifully along its way to Lock Two, then to Lock One en route to Toronto.
When I returned to the car that day, my little self somehow knew that I had stored a memory that would always be there in a corner of my mind. I take it out once in a while to look at it again, and wonder at the gifts mankind has given for the easier workings of the world. August 6, 1932. It was a very special day. ◆
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