Erie: The Canal That Made America

Erie: The Canal That Made America

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 8:00pm - 9:00pm

This hour-long documentary celebrates the bicentennial of the start of construction of the Erie Canal.

Narrated by David Muir, ABC “World News Tonight” anchor, Erie: The Canal That Made America airs Tuesday, September 12 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV. It depicts how a young nation broke through with its first national public works project – America’s greatest – by succeeding in constructing a supposedly impossible-to-build, 363 mile man-made waterway to America’s heartland. Once the waters of the Great Lakes were wed with the Atlantic Ocean, the canal helped create what America now knows as the Empire State and propelled New York City into the role of America’s leading port and economic hub.

The documentary features many Rochester-area canal communities, including Brockport, Spencerport, Pittsford, Fairport and Macedon. It focuses on Rochester’s Erie Canal aqueduct; now the Broad Street Bridge. Rochester-area canal experts in the documentary include: Tom Grasso and Craig Williams of Canal Society of New York State, Mark Stefik of Xerox PARC, Greg Marshall of Visit Rochester, Patrick Stenshorn with the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and Peter Wiles of Mid-Lakes Navigation. 

Erie: The Canal That Made America is a defining story of immigration. Europeans poured their lives into digging and developing homes, businesses and communities along “Clinton’s Ditch.” It is the story of the political gambit taken to drive the waterway across the region south of the Adirondack Mountains and into the Great Lakes. A canal was first proposed by George Washington in the 1790s. But it took New York to make it happen.

The documentary follows the system’s routes that became invaluable supply chains for the Union Army during the Civil War. Slaves fleeing the south found safe paths to freedom in Canada along the canals. Safe houses were kept. African Americans settled in canal towns.

The canal became the place to see people like Amelia Bloomer, editor of the first newspaper for women and a women’s rights movement pioneer. Suffragists such as Harriet Stanton Blanch also raised awareness about women’s rights from the deck of packet boats that traveled a Canal Boat campaign for the rights of women.