Locked In

I will start this post off with what seems like just a footnote now: last Wednesday marked 872 days since March 14, 2020. That’s not some random number; it’s the length of the Siege of Leningrad, the inspiration for keeping my Siege Diaries. And yes, I declared my own siege over some months ago, but really it just morphed into the (eyeroll) New Normal.

I marked the occasion the day before in an unusual way: by cruising down the Welland Canal and its series of eight locks in a tall ship. The City of Port Colbourne has an annual festival known as Canal Days to celebrate the international waterway that has one of its two termini there. Toronto-based tall ship the Empire Sandy was hosting harbour cruises during the weekend, but what had intrigued me was the opportunity to actually traverse the canal, either on the Thursday before the festival or on the Tuesday following. We picked the Tuesday.

We did visit the festival itself on the Saturday of the long weekend. The highlight was having a wonderful Edwardian tea (well, lemonade for us) with fresh biscuits and raspberry conserve at a local tea room. We would have liked to have gone out to a lighthouse for a tour, but those apparently required prebooking, and by the time we knew, it was too late.

But we were all in for the cruise on Tuesday. It was not a brutally hot day (in fact, the first few hours were overcast), but it was a long one: the canal, at its fastest, takes at least eight hours to traverse. We had been warned it might be longer depending on canal traffic (it apparently had taken 13 hours on the way in, we later learned). What we didn’t know is that the $120 each we spent on the trip would get us constant food–from the pastries laid out when we boarded at 9:30, to a lunch of sandwiches, to canapes a couple hours later, to a very nice dinner of chicken, salad, a variety of vegetables (including squash that we returned for seconds on), to dessert consisting of your choice of six or seven different cakes (we picked the strawberry shortcake).

The first few hours of the trip were spent on the upper part of the canal. Lock 8 is not terribly exciting–it only drops a few feet, and is more there to maintain a consistent water level into the Welland River from Lake Erie. Much of that upper portion is fairly boring in terms of scenery, floating by Port Colbourne, Welland, and into Thorold, but travelling under the lift bridges (and listening to the sirens go off and watching the machinery) was entertaining. We could also see where the original course of the current canal split off and rejoined the current canal. The old course, which was split off in 1973 by building a bypass, travelled right through the centre of Welland. The current canal is actually the fourth to be built. The first one, finished in 1829, had forty wooden locks; the second one reduced the number to 27 and introduced stone. Both of these canals followed the same route, with the third canal taking a new route. Rather than Port Weller, where the canal now terminates on Lake Ontario, all three of the earlier canals terminated at Port Dalhousie. Apparently, you can still find the old locks around St. Catharines. I found a fascinating map that traces the routes of the three earlier canals here.

The fourth canal, begun in 1913, has just eight locks. When you reach lock 7 heading north, the fun begins. Northbound, ships need to drop nearly 100 metres from the level of Lake Erie, and most of it happens from locks 7 to 1, with the most dramatic drop occurring between locks 7 and 4. Up until entering lock 7, we’d seen no other watercraft, either behind us, ahead of us, or passing us, and so it was not really a surprise that we were able to enter lock 7 immediately. Our small ship was dwarfed by the enormous lock. Once we were securely in the lock, the fun began, and as the water drained away, down we went, with huge cliff walls looming up on both sides, and the guests of an inn overlooking the lock doubtless entertained. (All the images in the next two galleries are in reverse order).

When we exited lock 7, we then entered the dual-flight section of the canal. Through locks 6, 5, and 4, there are two lanes in a section where ships progress through these three locks one after the other. This is, by far, the most dramatic part of the entire canal, taking watercraft up and down the Niagara Escarpment. This is where we also saw, for the first time, other ships headed in the opposite direction.

This Army Corps of Engineers photo shows the whole sequence of lock 7 with the three flight locks.

By the time we went through locks 3, 2, and 1, the excitement had waned a bit, but while these are not as closely spaced as the four Escarpment locks, they do raise or lower ships significantly. We ran into our first delay at lock 2, where an enormous laker (one clearly designed to just fit the canal’s locks) was seemingly halted in lock 2 for 30-45 minutes. We also had a delay at the very end, as it turned out there was a large ship docked in the spot at Port Weller where we were supposed to dock; it had apparently been delayed. But after a little bit of hesitation, we were able to parallel park and disembark.

We also found out that the Empire Sandy, which we’d seen for years on Toronto’s Harbourfront, has a really interesting history. It started out its life as a British Empire ship, serving during WW2 as a deep sea tug, including at D-Day. The current tall ship was constructed starting in 1979 on the incredibly durable hull of that earlier ship.

I definitely have new appreciation for the Welland Canal and its locks, as well as a bit of a desire to perhaps track down some of the old locks in the St. Catharines area.

The delay in writing this post was partially due to a self-imposed deadline. I had started working on a rather massive embroidery project in early July. There is a photo of Dmitri Shostakovich, his wife Nina, and his best friend Ivan Sollertinsky that denizens of the Shostakovich Discord server where I hang out have dubbed “the Trinity.” It’s a black-and-white photo dated to 1932, but it’s been colourized and is incredibly striking. I had opted not to include it in my original series of Shostakovich embroideries, which, save for two images of him with cats, feature only him. I was also aware that if I were to do this one in colour, it would be by far the biggest project I’d undertaken. What I realized when I started, however, was that I wanted to have it complete by August 9, which was the 47th anniversary of Shostakovich’s death in 1975, as a kind of memorial. This was a milestone which I successfully met, putting in the final stitches yesterday morning at 12:30 pm, the time of his death. However, more work was required to turn the piece into a “slip” to be attached to a painted canvas, primarily in finishing off the edges, so the final assembly work was completed just a couple of hours ago. Here are some in-progress photos, followed by the finished work. (I am sometimes reluctant to share in-progress work, because it looks a little odd, but I’m learning to trust the process.) I had to make a few choices on this one that diverged from the colourization based on what I know about the subjects. Shostakovich’s hair was likely a light brown with reddish highlights–it’s described as “coppery.” It reads darker in black and white photography, and he was also on the darkest side of this studio portrait. His eyes were blue-grey, not brown. His wife had dark blond hair, which I’ve represented as an ashy blond/brown. Sollertinsky had greenish eyes. The most aggravating part of the entire piece was Nina’s blouse/dress, which I ripped out at least twice after trying to stitch it without tracing the patterns. It’s clearly an abstract floral design, which I shifted over to blue tones from the colourization’s browns and greys. This puts all three figures into blue-based garments, which provided a nice consistency in colour palette.

With my deadline met, I’ll likely be taking a short break from portrait embroidery. I have several illumination projects to work on, a ceremony to write, and, most importantly, a Laurel elevation garment to embroider. There is also the Richard III Stratford trip this weekend. Fall/winter plans are now dropping into place; I purchased my Detroit Symphony ticket for December 2 on Monday, and am now holding tight for the Carnegie Hall single ticket sales on August 22, where–if the universe is willing–I may be able to book a ticket to see Igor Levit in October. I will certainly also be on pins and needles, hoping that the news that the 7th wave has peaked will mean a little less worry about virus issues, at least for a couple of months.

And, hopefully this weekend I may get to hear the sound of four Merlin engines once again. The overhauled engine just came back late last week and has apparently already been run up. Fingers crossed–I’ve missed the sound of the Lancaster.