A wide group of organisations are planning to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the re-opening of the Union Canal. A weekend of events has been organised, including a flotilla of boats that will travel the length of the canal over the weekend. They should be arriving in Wester Hailes around 10AM on Saturday 25th September so remember to look out for them then. The Wester Hailes section was not officially open until the following year, 2001 but that doesn’t mean we can’t join in with this round of celebrations!
The Union Canal was officially opened in 1823 although the original idea of a canal linking Edinburgh to Falkirk was first suggested in 1793. The new canal joined Edinburgh to the Forth and Clyde Canal, linking Edinburgh to Glasgow, thus “uniting” the two cities. The Union Canal is known as a contour canal as it makes its way to Falkirk without any locks, using tunnels and viaducts instead. When it was first built it was 31.5 miles long and could take boats of up to 69 feet long.
Unfortunately, despite its initial success, the canal became a victim of history for of course, the railway was to become the more popular and faster way of transporting goods. In 1842 the Edinburgh & Glasgow railway opened and the canal’s demise was sealed. Its use steadily declined although commercial traffic continued until 1933. The Union Canal was officially closed in 1965. When plans for housing in Wester Hailes were considered, it was felt that the safest option was to infill the section of canal that went through the area.
However, a growing body of support for restoring the Union Canal along with the Forth and Clyde Canal began to pick up pace. The Millennium Link project included funding from the European Union and the Millennium Commission and cost £84 million. It faced considerable structural challenges including the 1.7 kilometres of new waterway that had to be dug at Wester Hailes. The work started in late 1998 and included dredging, the renovation of old locks, repairing banks and improving the towpath. The last project to be completed was the new Wheel at Falkirk that was built to transport the boats from the level of one canal to the other.
These pictures are taken from 2001 when the Wester Hailes section was opened from Calders to Kingsnowe. Ribbons were cut at both ends to mark the occasion and a huge crowd turned out to celebrate.