In 1818 William Merritt set out with neighbours George Keefer and John DeCrew to survey a possible route for the canal. Shortly after, they successfully petitioned the Legislature of Upper Canada for an act to provide for the construction of a canal to connect the Twelve Mile Creek and the Welland River. This canal would not be used to supply water but to carry boats.
The Welland Canal Company was organized in 1823 with George Keefer as its first president. Two surveys were done and a route was chosen that would pass through what is now downtown St. Catharines.
On November 30, 1824, the first sod was turned at Allenburg with 200 people in attendance.