Signs of Spring... or lessons in patience?

Yup, it's March 21. You know what that means... it's officially springtime, right?

We've been eagerly anticipating the sight of a robin or two, scouring the ground for signs of little bits of green starting to pop up and scanning the trees to see if the buds are starting to swell. The feeling of joy when the last of the white patches of snow on the lawn finally disappears. The "official" change of outerwear from a winter coat to a raincoat, winter boots to rubber boots and exchanging mittens, scarf and a winter hat for an umbrella. Mm hmm... spring is on it's way!!

Well, in Niagara Region, March 21 has another significant meaning... if you're a local you know exactly what I mean when I say "the bridges are open" and you get that same sinking feeling that I do when I first hear those words. For those of you who aren't local, let me explain...

"The Welland Canal is one of the world's greatest man made wonders. Although not as well known as the ancient Egyptian pyramids or as famous as its neighbouring natural wonder Niagara Falls, the Welland Canal can be best described as simply amazing.

The Welland Canal is important because of its ability to move ships full of cargo up and down the Niagara Escarpment and therefore contribute to the economic growth and development of Canada and the United States. Approximately 40,000,000 metric tonnes of cargo is carried through the Welland Canal annually by over 3,000 ocean and lake vessels. What makes the Welland Canal fascinating is how it moves these ships up and down the escarpment. The canal utilizes its most abundant resource - water, combined with the Earth's gravity to lift and lower ships in a watertight chamber called a lock. It is an example of brilliant, yet simple innovative engineering.

The transportation of goods is not the Welland Canal's only purpose. The canal's founding father William Hamilton Merritt originally conceived the idea for a canal as a way of providing a consistent source of water for the area's local mills. Today that purpose still holds true with the canal's water being a major resource for industry in Niagara, serving steel mills, ship builders, paper mills and automobile parts manufactures.

The canal also serves the people of Niagara indirectly, by providing water for their everyday use. The canal water is even used to generate electricity at a small local power plant. One of the most overlooked benefits of the Welland Canal is the recreational pleasure it provides to all who visit and use its connecting lakes, waterways and surrounding trails. The canal area is full of activity with people ship gazing, fishing, hiking and boating all summer long."

Ugh... boring!! And, while it may all be true, the Welland Canal is also a source of frustration for many, many drivers. Most of the time, if you want to go somewhere, you know approximately how long it takes to get there and so you leave home to get to where ever you're going. Not so with the Welland Canal in the way. You never know when you'll be "caught at the bridge". So there are now 2 options, you leave, the time you normally would, and just hope the bridge isn't up, or you leave 20 minutes before you have to "just in case" and arrive everywhere early - unless the bridge IS up, then you'll be on-time (or late if there's another boat coming).

Some drivers, instead of just waiting it out, try to "bridge hop" and quickly turn around and speed their way to the next bridge. This method may or may not allow you to cross over quickly because that bridge may also be up. I am not always one of those "bridge hopping" drivers, but that may be because I've often encountered 3 bridges up in a row which means I've not only wasted that time, but also the gas

Yup, the only time this isn't a factor is from December 21 to March 21 when the Welland Canal is closed.

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