Maritime Center: Anchor of Canal Park

John Shirley, Jr.

Can a free place form a core spot or even the nucleus of a mini-business universe?

Well, of course. The lake and sky with a big wall of hills in the background is all free and is the main reason people come to Duluth or residents go down to Canal Park. You can even park for free if you are really determined.

For all you locals, GOOD NEWS: Soon the Canal Park parking will be free for the slower season.
During the winter season, the stormy, icy waters are still a draw but must be approached with a little more caution.

During these cold months the Maritime Center stands like the last fortress on a dangerous frontier. Safely in the warmth of this citadel you can look down as ships break through blue ice riding on waves rolling through the canal forming impossible-looking shapes.

In the winter when the parking and the center are both free, a local can casually go down there and enjoy seeing weather from comfort surrounded by shipping artifacts helping you contemplate the true nature of this inland sea and when ship journeys were not so predictable.

You can go out for a little while to take some photos, get something from the gift shop or (my favorite) stop by Amazing Grace for some coffee and do some work on my laptop. Having a safe, warm and free harbor when coming down to Canal Park will cause many to spend money while down there.

As you enter the Maritime Center you go down a gentle wheelchair-accessible sloped hallway with handrails on both walls. Also, on both walls are somber black and white photos of old sailing ships and early settlements along the lakeshore when Duluth was a frontier. There are also photos of more modern ships and later periods of Twin-Port’s history.

By the way, like I did last week I made a video to go along with my research and put it on YouTube. You can search for “Maritime Center Tour with Duluth Writer” or put in my name too if you don’t find it. Like last time, I used my gimbal video stabilizer, so the walking shots look nice and smooth.

Then there is a nice painting of a ship, a few other displays and the gift shop. After going past the giant ship engine, I went upstairs to the main attraction. There is also an accessible elevator.

Immediately when reaching the second floor, is a large display dedicated to the famous sunken ship Edmund Fitzgerald. It left the Twin Ports and never touched dry land again. They almost made it to Whitefish Bay with some shelter on the way to safe harbor at the Sault Ste. Marie Locks on the way to the steel mills on the lower lakes.

Across from the Edmund Fitzgerald display are models of various ship, including the first five-masted schooner, the David Dows. Schooners are awesome sailing ships and there is a nice schooner called Charley that is docked at Loons landing that takes people out on rides.

There are all kinds of models and demonstrations teaching us about iron ore and iron ore loading and shipping. New since I was there last is a mock control station where you are surrounded by large monitors letting you imagine you are at the Sault Ste. Marie Locks.

I learned something from the large 3-D map depicting the Great Lakes without water. The lakes weren’t labeled so I did mix up Lake Erie and Ontario on the video. But, looking at the model it was striking how shallow Lake Erie is compared to the other lakes. 

You can also see how much higher Lake Erie is than Ontario, which is why Niagara Falls exists and why the Welland Canal was necessary to create a shipping path to the ocean. 

To help me not confuse those two lakes in the future, I’ll keep in mind that the Erie Canal obviously had to bypass Niagara Falls. So, it went from the Hudson River to the second lake, “Erie” of course.

The views from the mock boat pilot area are great and are really awesome during the Gales of November. By the way you can learn more about this epic time of weather at the “Gales of November” seminar at the center in, you guessed it, November.