Canal Towns

Each day, after travelling through the canals, we arrive at some small town and have a few hours to poke around and learn what we can. On the Oswego Canal, towns almost seem to be competing for canal traffic business. They build some washrooms, some electrical outlets and water taps along the canal wall to entice boaters to overnight there in the hopes of selling a few more dinners at local restaurants.

A little town along the Oswego called Phoenix stands out in particular. There, the town dock has been upgraded by an organization of young kids that seem to be part of a daycare program. Apparently they raised the money needed to install a large deck with lovely tables, a swath of flags for colour, and some beverage service. When you arrive during lunch hour, one of these “bridge house brats” will present you with the menus for all the town restaurants. You pick out what you’d like and they order, pick up and deliver it to your dockside table.

Dockside table service in Phoenix, courtesy of the Bridge House Brats! (Image stolen from their website.)

But in the Erie Canal, the efforts are not quite as great. There does seem to be much less traffic in this canal, so perhaps not enough boats come by to warrant the outlay. There are a few town docks here and there, but they are more a byproduct of the town’s riverside park, and not quite so well appointed as docks throughout Oswego. One night we stayed at a lock with power, water and, for washrooms, there was an Italian restaurant which also collected the town’s $1/foot charge. At another town, washrooms turned out to be a lonely little johnny-on-the-spot which neither of us went near. Tonight, it’s another town dock, with rents collected by the restaurateur again. Power and water seem to be the infrastructure that most of these docks boast about, but we don’t need either. We would prefer a nice, clean shower room.

Canajoharie is home of one of the few remaining street-mounted traffic lights.

Last night, the town we stayed in offered a choice of 5 different Italian restaurants and the usual fast food places. Today’s town offered 4 restaurants, again all Italian, for some reason. But all of them are closed on Mondays. So, we ended up eating at the local hole-in-the-wall bar, where we met some very nice people and enjoyed some excellent wings.

Herk’s – The only place to eat in Amsterdam on a Monday. Great wings! Nice People!

Everywhere we’ve travelled, the people we’ve met are warm and generous. No one has ever walked by without saying hello, and most are ready to engage in a long, give-and-take conversation. At a little bar in Little Sodus Bay, I happened to mention to someone that I was keeping my eye out for a scrap of 2×6 wood to use as a fender board. Later, after returning to our boat, he arrived with a 10′ board, brand new, and would not take any money from us! In most places, people have taken a great interest in our plans, and shared with us their ups and downs, told us of their loved ones, and their (generally) good fortunes. They ask us if we are retired (it’s complicated) and they tell us about their own retirement strategies.

It’s great to hear of their successes, and, as guests, probably best not to dwell too much on what has gone on in these towns. There are many abandoned homes and many more empty retail windows. In Amsterdam, there’s a very large mall in the center of town that is completely empty of stores. Some of the shops are now occupied by medical clinics but most are empty. It looks and feels like something from a David Lynch film. The town used to be the capital of carpeting manufacturing, but that was a long time ago. Each of these towns seems to be in decline. But each has character and great people.

Almost everyone we’ve met so far has shared with us, their great gratitude for their own blessings. They got through the years of struggle and worry, found a way to stay gainfully employed and have found some financial security. We wish them all the very best!


  1. What a lovely story Thom, Your finding so many nice people says something important about you and Kath too.
    What goes around etc. I have to tell you, in case you didn’t hear it yet…The new young Blue Jays are playing very exciting baseball, Tonight they decimated the Texas Rangers 19 – 4. On the weekend they split the 4 game series with the front runnng NY Yankees.., Also Nineteen year old Canadian woman, Bianca Andresscu, won the woman’s Rogers Cup…first woman to do so in 50 years. Her opponent..Serena Williams. Sorry that you are missing all this excitement. Ha ha
    It is interesting to hear about the small communities along the canal. You mentioned about all the Italian Restaurants…Upstate NY has a high Italian population.
    Keeping you both in my thoughts and asking the Universal Power to keep you safe.


  2. You mean you went to Amsterdam and you didn’t even find a bike shop?! 😉
    I love following your adventures. Thanks for sharing.
    Happy sailing, Diane


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