BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The replica of the “Seneca Chief” — the boat known as the first to open the Erie Canal — is inching closer to setting sail.

“We wanted to build it on the sight, we wanted to build it in public, we wanted to build it with the public,” said John Montague, founder of the Buffalo Maritime Center. “We have been sort of dedicated to raising awareness of the harbor, about Buffalo as a waterfront city.”

The Buffalo Maritime Center came up with the idea to recreate the boat decades ago, to help signify how the canal was not just historic for Buffalo — but for America and the World.

“It was filled with boats, canal boats, with schooner and square ring ships and so forth in the 19th century, it was a large grain port, really significant in the development of America,” said Montague.

Canalside marks the original West End of the Erie Canal, marking the point where the Atlantic Ocean met the Great Lakes. They wanted to teach all parts of Erie Canal’s history to the community — especially some of the history that’s unknown to some, including how the Canal carved through Native American lands.

“We want to commemorate the past, in other words, we want to remember it and if there are issues, we need to raise those issued and talk about them,” said Montague.

In the Longshed building, that was built for the public to see the progression of the project, in the upstairs of the building, they have a timeline that shares the Canal’s history, alongside information from the Seneca Nation as they share the history from their point of view.

“By remembering it, we can regenerate those issues, we can rethink those ideas, and we can kind of reprocess some of those things. This raises a lot of issues, the good–the bad–the ugly–but it’s important that we remember,” said Montague.

Plank by plank, hundreds of local volunteers, with a wide variety of skillsets, have helped craft this replica of the historic boat. From the Carpenters Union, to school kids, to retired crafters, the community has lent their hands, while sharing the history of the city.

“The project has been a success in terms of bringing the community together. Getting people to work together, getting them to buy into the project together, and to bring all of their creativity and their interests, and excitement to that,” said Montague.

This weekend, the community will come together to toast finishing the bottom of the boat and then back to work on the next phase. They hope to launch the boat in the spring, and then embark on a replica of the historic voyage — after the World’s Canal Conference, held right here in Buffalo, marking the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Canal.

“We will depart with the Seneca Chief with two buckets of water from Lake Erie, to dump in the New York Harbor, which is a reenactment of the ‘Wedding of the Waters’ when DeWitt Clinton opened the Erie Canal,” said Montague.

The Whiskey Plank celebration will be taking place this Saturday at noon, at Canalside.

For more information on the project, visit the Buffalo Maritime Center’s website here.

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Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.