Erie: The Canal That Made America

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Erie: The Canal That Made America premieres Sept. 12 at 8 p.m. on WCNY


David Muir to Narrate Erie: The Canal That Made America
WCNY, Central New York’s flagship public broadcaster, announced June 29 that David Muir, ABC “World News Tonight” anchor, will narrate WCNY’s newest documentary “Erie: The Canal That Made America,” premiering at 8 p.m. Sept. 12 on WCNY.

“Erie: The Canal That Made America” is a one-hour documentary, marking the bicentennial of the start of construction of the Erie Canal when surveyors and excavators began linking a young United States’ east to its western frontier. 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.

Muir is an Emmy-award winning journalist who serves as anchor and managing editor of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir and co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20. For more than a decade, Muir has reported from international hotspots including Tehran, Tahrir Square, Mogadishu, Gaza, and Fukushima. Most recently, Muir landed the first interview with President Donald Trump after his inauguration. Muir secured the exclusive sit-down with Pope Francis inside the Vatican. Muir’s Emmy-nominated series Made In America is a hallmark of the broadcast. A magna cum laude graduate of Ithaca College, Muir spent five years as an anchor and reporter at WTVH-TV in his hometown of Syracuse, NY before joining WCVB-TV in Boston, and then ABC News.

“As a boy growing up in Central New York, the Erie Canal was always part of the landscape, but few may know it began as an audacious and grand idea championed by only a few,” Muir said. It is a powerful reminder of the possibilities that can be unleashed when leaders embrace American ingenuity. This was truly an idea born and made in America that would shape our country in ways unimaginable at the time.”

“In this year that marks the bicentennial of the groundbreaking for the Erie Canal, WCNY is committed to telling the national and even international impact of the Erie, the canal that made America,” said Robert J. Daino, WCNY President and CEO. “WCNY’s documentary takes viewers across the country to discover how the canal transformed America’s immigration and opened the Midwest to settlement, created the financial capital of the world, and transported new ideas and social movements that continue to shape the nation today.”

Erie Canal Utica Photo

About the New Documentary
Fifteen miles. It is an average commute to work in 21st century America, or the jaunt to a youth sports practice on a school night. Fifteen miles. In the formative days of our nation, it was the working day for so many who helped push America west along its first superhighway.

“Erie: The Canal That Made America” is a one-hour documentary, marking the bicentennial of the start of construction of the Erie Canal when surveyors and excavators began linking a young United States’ east to its western frontier. 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.

Erie Canal 2The United States marks the bicentennial of the Erie Canal in 2017. Surveyors and excavators began linking the United States’ east to its west in 1817. A young nation broke through with its first great crusade of ingenuity by willing the man-made waterway to places linked to the American heartland and linking a fledgling nation to the rest of the world.

Though it is often credited with helping to create what America now knows as the Empire State, the story of the Erie Canal is more than a New York story. The towpath certainly made New York City America’s leading port and economic hub once the waters of the Great Lakes were wed with the Atlanerie01tic. The confluence would change the course of cities beyond the northeast, including New Orleans and Chicago and Detroit.

WCNY’S 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.

WCNY’s Erie: The Canal That Made America 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.

The Erie Canal motivated other states to join the ride. Ohio built a link from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi Valley, helping Cleveland rise from a frontier village to one of the nation’s great ports. Cincinnati served as a gateway for food products to move down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and up the canal system to Buffalo and beyond. Pennsylvania built a portage canal system to Pittsburgh using stationary steam engines and inclined plans to move packet boats over the Allegheny Mountains on rails.

Even a century after America’s rail system, and later its highway and air traffic systems usurped the canals as the way to move people and freight, the Erie has enjoyed a renaissance as a socio-economic lifeline for communities.

Erie: The Canal That Made America – New York State PBS station air dates


WCNY    Syracuse

Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 17 at noon

Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 1p.m.

Monday, Oct. 16 at 9 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 20 at 10:30 p.m.


WXXI      Rochester

Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 17 at 3p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 23 at 4 p.m.


Saturday, Sept. 16 at 10 am on WXXI World

Thursday, Sept. 14 at 10 pm on WXXI City-12


WMHT  Albany

Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 8 p.m.


WCFE     Plattsburgh

Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 8 p.m.


WPBS     Watertown

Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 8 pm (pledge)


WLIW    New York City

Thursday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m.


WSKG    Binghamton

Saturday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m.


WNET     New York City

Sunday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.


WNED    Buffalo

Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 10 p.m.


Erie: The Canal That Made America, public TV stations carrying the documentary, air dates


Kentucky Public TV

KET: Friday, October 13 at 4:00 AM ET

KET2: Sunday, October 15 at 10:00 PM ET

  1. KETKY: Thursday, October 19 at 5:00 AM ET
  2. KETKY: Thursday, October 19 at 7:00 PM ET
  3. KET2: Thursday, October 19 at 10:00 PM ET
  4. KETKY: Saturday, October 21 at 4:01 AM ET


KCTS, Seattle, Oct. 25 2am

KQED(Plus), San Francisco, Oct 2 and Oct. 8, 10 am

KQED World:San Francisco, Sunday, Nov 5, 9:30am

KSPS7.1 – READ MORE, Spokane, WA

Wednesday, October 25, 10:00 pm

Sunday, October 29, 02:00 pm

KSPS7.2, Spokane, WA, Sunday, November 5, 09:30 am

WHUT, Washington, D.C. Saturday, Oct 14, 12:00 p.m.

WGBY, Western Massachusetts, Sunday, Nov. 5, 12:30 p.m.

SOPTV, Southern Oregon Public Television, Wednesday Oct. 18, 11 p.m.

APT World, Alabama Public Television, Sunday Nov. 5, 11:30 a.m.


All others show on website, but no schedule as of yet.

PBS Hawaii (NA)

RockyMountainPBS (NA)

Montana PBS (NA)

WFSU Tallahassee, FL (NA)

WTTW Chicago (NA)

KLRU Austin, TX, (NA)

KNME New Mexico Pub TV (NA)

AETN Little Rock, AR (NA)

MPT Maryland Public TV (NA)

NineNetwork (St. Louis) (NA

WGVU Grand Valley State Univ. (NA)

WCMU Central Michigan Univ (NA)

Detroit Public TV (NA)

Community Idea Stations, Richmond VA (NA)

WPSU Penn State

Arizona Pub TV (NA)

WFYI Indianapolis

OETA, Oklahoma Educational TV

South Carolina Pub TV

Pioneer Public TV, Mn, SD, Iowa


WKNO, Mid Tennesee

LPB Louisianna

WVIE Sacramento, CA

WNMU, Marquette MichiganThursday Oct. 5 10 p.m.

IPTV, Iowa Public TV, Des Moines, IA

TPT, Twin Cities Public TV, Minneapolis, St. Paul, MN

WBGU, Bowling Green, OH

KUHT, Houston, TX

MilwaukeePBS, Milwaukee, WI

WBRA BlueRidge PBS, Roanoke,Lynchburg, VA

WVIA, Pittston, PA

KQED,San Francisco, CA

KPBS, San Diego, CA

WGBH, Boston, MA

WLTV PBS 39 WGBY Springfield, MA

South Carolina, SCETV

WVIZ, Cleveland, OH

WGTE, Toledo, OH

Ozarks Public TV, Springfield, MO

PBA30 Atlanta, GA

OPB, Portland Oregon

KLRN, San Antonio, TX

KUCF, Central Florida PBS

KUED, Salt Lake City

Ozarka public tv

KLRN San Antonio

20120614_eriecanalwayWCNY, with support from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, traveled the world’s most successful canal to explore the waterway as it is today. Along the way we met people who use the canal in a variety of ways and invited them to share their stories. It is these stories that make up the seven Erie Canal Minutes (actually each 90 seconds in length) found on this page. As you watch and listen to these minutes, it is evident that this national historic treasure is very much alive and well!
The seven minutes are:

A Tradition of Service

The Canal’s locks are a constant source of fascination for young and old. The lock-tenders responsible for maintaining and operating the locks are a wealth of information about the Canal, past and present. At Lock 22, not far from Rome, John Matt III, chief lock operator, shared how he is the most recent of several generations of his family to work on the Canal and what that means to him.

Canal Cruising

The Canal’s primary function today is as a recreational waterway. Boats of all sizes and shapes enjoy its tranquil waters, including the specially designed ships of a Rhode Island cruise line whose captain explains what makes boating on the Canal so unique.

Still Shipping

The Erie Canal began as a commercial shipping route but railroads and later trucks traveling routes like the New York State Thruway, became the preferred, more cost-effective means of transporting commercial goods. But cargo, sometimes quite unique, is still shipped on the Canal, as a visit to a Troy shipping company reveals.


When traveling the Erie Canal boaters are often surprised to see adjacent dams and power plants, some of which are generating hydroelectric power, as WCNY discovered during a visit to the New York Power Authority’s Crescent Plant near Albany.

Canal Crop Irrigation

Agriculture is New York State’s #1 industry, and the Canal is a source of water for irrigation for farmers, including the Hurd Family, whose farming roots along the Erie Canal date back to the 1830s. Today, water from the Canal irrigates the family orchards.

Canalside Recreation

The original Erie Canal required the clearing of land for a path — a towpath — for the horses and mules that pulled or towed the Canal’s 19th century flat-bottomed boats. The horses and mules are gone, but not the towpath, which is now used by walkers, hikers and bikers.

Good for Business

Communities like Fairport and Pittsford, both near Rochester, have long recognized the economic development opportunities the Canal offers. Now Buffalo is redeveloping its Canal waterfront, generating jobs and new businesses to serve both residents and tourists.

Test your Erie Canal knowledge with “15 Questions on the Erie Canal”

Take Quiz Now!

Dennis Salenski

There is section of the old canal in Solvay that still has the remains of the original lock, the only one in the entire country…there is a stretch in Camillus that has a marker showing that this was the halfway point between Lake Erie and Albany, and along that part of the canal, along the side there is a section of the original 4 foot deep Clinton’s Ditch.


SilberKenneth Silber

Just over 10 years ago, I married Brooke Carter, a great-great-great-great granddaughter of DeWitt Clinton, and two and a half years later Brooke and I named our son DeWitt after his distinguished ancestor. We live in northern New Jersey but business and social ties brought us to upstate New York frequently. When DeWitt was still a preschooler, we began traveling along the Erie Canal for a book project I had conceived combining canal history, family history and what you see as you travel along the canal’s historic and modern routes today. We kept a particular eye out for remnants of the original 1825 canal, or “Clinton’s Ditch,” and places noted by DeWitt Clinton in his travels. I hoped to make a contribution to public awareness of the Erie Canal and its history, and to give young DeWitt a sense of the vision and perseverance his great-great-great-great-great grandfather had displayed. My book In DeWitt’s Footsteps: Seeing History on the Erie Canal was published in September 2017 (

The Erie Canal Guide to Infrastructure Investment


Syracuse native David Muir to narrate WCNY documentary about Erie Canal tonight
Finger Lakes
Section D Looking Back Briefs Sept. 10, 2017


Rome Sentinel
‘World News Tonight’ anchor narrates Erie Canal documentary
New Documentary Shows Off the Historical Value of the Erie Canal Outside of New York State
New Erie Canal documentary to premiere in September
Erie: The Canal That Made America was made possible through the support of:
William G. Pomeroy Foundation
Empire State Development
Raymond Paul Mathis
Paulette and Kevin B. Quinn,

with additional support from:
New York Power Authority

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erie_sponsor_logos5 ECM_LOGO

George Washington’s Support of a New Canal
America became what it is today in so many ways because of the Erie Canal.

Religion Along the Erie Canal
Social change flowed along the Erie Canal as steadily as commerce.

The Impact of the Erie Canal on America, is a new WCNY-produced interactive lesson now available in PBS LearningMedia . Students learn how the creation of the Erie Canal represented a large-scale effort by people to change their environment and the nation. This transportation waterway impacted American culture, economics, politics, and more and set America on a path of destiny, from a fledgling nation to a worldwide superpower. This lesson, aimed at middle and high school students, features content from WCNY’s Erie: The Canal that Made America documentary and historic images and resources from the New York State Library, NYS Archives, and NYS Archives Partnership Trust.

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