Part I: maya learns about the erie canal

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“This is great!” yelled Maya to her friend Max as they twirled on a Canal Fest carnival ride. After a few more rides, the two friends got their faces painted.

It was a sunny day in western New York State, and Maya Murphy and Maxwell Van Dewater were having a ____(1)____ time. Soon they would get to float in a boat on the Erie Canal. Canal Fest was turning out to be a lot of fun.

The Murphy family, along with Max, had walked from their neighborhood to Canal Fest. They lived less than a mile from the Erie Canal. Canal Fest was a celebration along the banks of the canal. It takes place every July in their hometown of Tonawanda, New York, which is a suburb located next to the city of Buffalo.

Maya’s parents handed Maya and Max two ____(2)____ ice cream cones. As they ate their ice cream cones, they watched the small, colorful boats float by on the canal. Some were bright green or yellow, and others were ____(3)____.

Maya asked thoughtfully, “Why is it called a canal instead of a river? It sure looks like a river.”

“It’s fake. It’s a fake river,” said Max in his “teacher” voice. “If you look at the sides of the canal, you can see the stone blocks that workers brought to help make the walls of the canal.”


The Erie Canal – A “manmade” river

Sometimes Max ____(4)____ Maya with all his facts and knowledge about geography and history. He was always studying maps and reading history books. But, he was her best friend after all, so she had to put up with some things that bothered her a little bit. And, because he loved geography and history, he was always willing to help her with her Social Studies homework. Max was a year ahead of her in school, but since he was her next-door neighbor, they had been friends since before they started school. Although Maya usually liked school, she would rather be doing activities like fishing, swimming, or ____(5)____.

“Well, Max, most people wouldn’t call the canal a fake river,” said Mr. Murphy. Maya smiled just a little when she saw the look on Max’s face change from a grin to a ____(6)____. She knew how disappointed Max felt when he didn’t answer a question exactly right.

“You’re on the right track Max. Canals are similar to rivers, however, canals are made by people. They’re manmade,” explained Maya’s mom.

“I don’t get it,” Maya said. “How can anyone make a river?”

“That’s what a lot of people thought back in 1817. That is the year when Governor DeWitt Clinton decided New York State should build a canal from the city of Buffalo in the western part of the state to Albany in the ____(7)____ part of our state,” said Mr. Murphy.

description: 0616_mapb answers_feb3.jpg

Mrs. Murphy added, “He wanted people to be able to put their goods on canal boats and send them to other places. Many farmers in western New York wanted to ship their grains and fruits east to Albany. Then, those goods could be put on other boats and go south down the Hudson River to New York City, where lots of people needed food. Governor Clinton thought the canal would help people trade their goods.”

“Right, right!” exclaimed Max. “At first, people in New York made fun of his idea to build the Erie Canal. They called it Clinton’s Ditch. They thought it was a ____(8)____ idea. Last year, my fourth grade teacher taught us about that. You’ll learn all about the history of the canal this fall in fourth grade Maya. You will also learn about some cool landforms we have in our state. The canal builders had to really study the geography so they could figure out where to dig the canal. In one place called the Mohawk Valley, they had to dig the canal between two regions (places) of high land.”


Mohawk Valley

“North of the valley, there are the Adirondack Mountains. South of the valley, there are the Catskill Mountains,” continued Max. “But, in between, the land was lower and not as bumpy. It was a good location for that part of the canal.”

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Catskill Mountains

“Good for you Max,” said Mr. Murphy. Max smiled, and Maya could tell he felt ____(9)____.

“OK, but I still don’t understand,” said Maya with a ____(10)____ look on her face. “When you build something, don’t you usually build up?”

“Usually,” replied her dad. “But in this case, canal builders had to dig out a ditch that went nearly across the whole state.”

“Process of Excavation, Lockport” lithograph 1826 - New York Public Library Digital Collection

“In some places, like near Lake Ontario, the land is mostly flat. It was easy to dig a long ditch – a “fake” river – in that part of the state. Then, you could fill the ditch with ____(11)____, and the boats could float on it for a long way.”


Packet boat being pulled by a team of horses at the Erie Canal Village near Rome, NY, near the divide between the Mohawk and the Oswego watersheds.

Mrs. Murphy added, “ However, in other areas, the land was hilly, kind of like going up and down all the time. In these places, workers had to build special “boxes” or spaces called locks.”

description: lock34

Lock in Lockport, New York

“The locks helped boats go up and down hills while they were still floating inside the canal. Special canal workers, called engineers, could raise and lower the level of the water inside each lock. The boats would also go up and down as the water level changed, so the lock was like an elevator for boats. After all the locks were built, and the ditches were dug, the whole ____(12)____ was filled with water for the canal boats to float on,” explained Maya’s dad.

“Wow,” exclaimed Maya. “It’s amazing that the canal workers and their digging machines were able to cut through all that land so they could make the Erie Canal.”

“To tell you the truth, there were very few machines back in the early 1800s, so Governor Clinton had to hire men to do all that digging,” Mrs. Murphy explained. “In fact, your great, great, great grandfather Murphy came to New York as an Irish immigrant. He came from a country called Ireland. He moved his family from Ireland to ____(13)____ State so he could work on the Erie Canal.”

“I remember learning about immigrants,” Max said. “Immigrant is a word used to describe people who move from one country to another country.” He turned to Maya and continued, “Later, I’ll show you on one of my maps how the immigrants from Europe had to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in North America.”

“That’s right Max,” said Mrs. Murphy. “Some European immigrants became farmers or worked in small shops and factories. However, other immigrants, like Maya’s own ancestors, came to make a living working on the Erie Canal.”

Suddenly, Maya realized that learning about geography and history just might be ____(14)____ after all. Especially if one of her own ancestors helped to create the Erie Canal! She was even looking forward to checking out Max’s maps and history books that he found so interesting.

Max looked a little glum and said, “I wish my ancestors were part of our state’s history too, just like yours Maya.”

“Oh, but your last name tells me that some of your ancestors were Dutch, which means they came from another European country called the Netherlands,” said Mrs. Murphy. “The Dutch immigrants were the first Europeans who ____(15)____ to the part of America that we now call New York. They traveled here way back in the 1600s, and they called their new home New Netherlands. They also named what is now New York City New Amsterdam. New Netherlands was later named New York by British immigrants.”

description: map_newamsterdam_atlanticocean_netherlands.jpg

Max looked delighted. “Cool!” he exclaimed. He smiled at Maya, and she was ____(16)____ for her friend. Now they both felt proud of their history.

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