Canal Fest provides 8 days of entertainment for local citizens and visitors from throughout Western New York and farther. Attendance is estimated anywhere from 200,000 – 250,000 for the 8 day run. The reason we can only estimate, is that there is no turnstile charge to just walk into the Fest, to see the attractions, to watch the events, to meet old friends. That in itself attracts people to Canal Fest.
The Erie Canal was the first great canal in the United States and helped establish financial and commercial growth throughout the area. It was designed to connect the interior of New York State and eastern markets with the Great Lakes Region and farmers of the heartland. Teams of mules would tie up to boats and barges. Then walk the towpaths along sides of the canal, pulling the loaded vessels through an original water depth of only 4 feet. From our states capital, Albany, on the Hudson River, to the mouth of the mighty Niagara River in Tonawanda, this man made canal extends over 350 miles. To signify the opening of the canal on Oct 26, 1825, a relay system of cannons firing along the banks of the waterway sent the message across the state (taking 1 hour, 21 minutes). The Erie Canal was officially open.
Today, at Canal Fest opening ceremonies, a commemorative cannon is fired, signaling the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda that Canal Fest has officially begun.