Port Colborne’s Top Hat Ceremony occurs mid-late March at Lock 8 Gateway Park (163 Mellanby Avenue, Port Colborne) and celebrates the opening of the Welland Canal and start of the shipping season by welcoming the Captain of the First Downbound Vessel.

The 2024 Top Hat Ceremony will be held on Friday, March 22, 2024, at Lock 8 Gateway Park starting at 7:30 a.m.

Back again this year the Port Colborne Fair Trade Committee will be providing a pancake breakfast with hot chocolate, tea and coffee.

Watch the 2023 ceremony. 

Top Hat Facts: 

- Port Colborne became Ontario’s first Fair Trade City in 2009! We’re proud of our status and committed to making our world a better place by offering, using and educating the public about fairly traded products.

- The present Welland Canal is the fourth Canal to be built and was officially opened August 6, 1932.

- The Top Hat Ceremony began in Port Colborne in the early 1970s under Mayor John Buscarino.

- The Top Hat that is currently presented to the Captain of the first Downbound Vessel has been loaned from the Port Colborne & Historical Museum since 1999. It’s a beaver felt fur hat that was donated to the Historical & Marine Museum by an anonymous donor. It’s a turn of the Century Tress and Co. from London, England. The Founder of the Tress & Co.  hat firm was Cooper Tress Sr (1787-1869), son of William Tress and Sarah Clifford, of Upchurch, Kent, England. He was joined at the firm by his son Cooper Tress Jr. and later by Cooper Tress Jr.’s sons, Sidney Cooper Tress and Herbert Charles Tress. The company was active in England for over one hundred years being established in 1846 and finally selling to Christy’s in 1953 in the neighbouring suburb of Bermondsdey.

- After the Ceremony the Top Hat is stored in an acid free box in the Captain John W. Sharpe Heritage Resource Centre, a climate controlled building that was built in 1995 to house over 17,000 artifacts and archives. But don’t worry, the Captain is given a keepsake Top Hat to take with them on their downbound journey!

- New from 2017, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations, the Captain will also be presented with a silk tuxedo scarf bearing the Canada 150 logo.

- Every Civic Holiday long weekend Port Colborne celebrates their Marine Heritage during Canal Days

Port Colborne Library
To learn more about the Welland Canal, check out these titles from your Port Colborne Public Library.

The Golden Dream: A History of the St. Lawrence Seaway
Call Number: 386.509714 STA

Historic Welland Canals
Call Number: 386.470971338 BRA

Mr. Merritt’s Ditch: A Welland Canals Album
Call Number: 386.470971338 STY

This Colossal Project: Building the Welland Ship Canal 1913 – 1932
Call Number: 386.470971 STY

This Great National Object: Building the Nineteenth-Century Welland Canal
Call Number: 386.470971338 STY

The Welland Canals: Past and Present
Call Number: DVD 386.470971338 WEL

The Giant Staircase: Building the Welland Canal
Call Number: J FRI

Historical & Marine Museum

Learn more about the history of the Welland Canal including construction, commerce and industry, shipbuilders, East Street and West Street, and more at the Port Colborne Historical & Marine Museum's Online Exhibit!