Port Colborne ready for Top Hat Ceremony to officially open Welland Canal


Published March 17, 2023 at 12:51 pm

Spring will arrive in Port Colborne next Wednesday when the city holds their annual Top Hat Ceremony, which marks the seasonal opening of the Welland Canal.

Some municipalities use what the calendar tells them to mark the First Day of Spring. In Port Colborne, spring is marked very differently.

In a tradition that’s 50 years old, the Top Hat Ceremony, which welcomes both Spring and the captain of the first down-bound vessel as the seasonal Official Opening of the Welland Canal, will take place on Wednesday (March 22).

Mayor Bill Steele, as well as any number of federal, provincial and ocean ministry officials, will be on hand to present a top hat to the captain of that ship at first at an 8 am breakfast and then an 8:30 am official ceremony.

It will all take place at the Lock 8 Gateway Park (163 Mellanby Ave.) with the Port Colborne Fair Trade Committee providing a pancake breakfast with hot chocolate, tea and coffee.

While the captain of the first ship gets a replica top hat embroidered on the inside with a special message and the date, the actual hat used during the ceremony is from the Port Colborne Historical & Marine Museum.

It’s a turn-of-the-century Tress & Co beaver felt fur hat that was anonymously donated to the Museum. This particular hat has been used in the Port Colborne Top Hat Ceremony since 1999. The top hat is stored in an acid-free box at the climate-controlled Captain John W. Sharpe Heritage Resource Centre.

The Top Hat Ceremony was actually created in the early 1970s under then-Mayor John Buscarino and 2023 will mark the St. Lawrence Seaway’s 65th navigation season of the Welland Canal, the only route between the Great Lakes and the seaway.

The present Welland Canal is the fourth Canal to be built and was officially opened August 6, 1932. The first canal was opened in 1833.

Residents are all welcome to attend the Top Hat Ceremony but if it’s too chilly or damp out for some, they can watch the livestream on the city’s Facebook page found HERE or afterwards, they can check it out on the city’s YouTube channel right HERE.

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