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The Canal Walk, and Canal Cruise, and Richmond Slave Trail

Heading into the city, we started our day walking up and down the Richmond Canal Walk and ended by purchasing tickets for a Canal Cruise. This informative, 40-minute, historically narrated tour helped us discover new things about the James River and Kanawha Canal along Richmond’s historic Canal Walk.

  • The covered boats accommodate up to 35 passengers.

  • Tours depart on the hour from the Turning Basin, between 14th and Dock streets on Virginia Street.

In 2011, 17 Richmond Slave Trail Markers were unveiled, located throughout the East End of Richmond that help tell the journey, human impact, and the role Richmond played in the tragic history of slavery. You can walk this forgotten path of pain. It is about 3 miles round trip.

What we learned:

  • Richmond, lying on the fall line of the James River, was destined for a history steeped in canal navigation. George Washington, a staunch proponent of canal transportation, appeared before the Virginia General Assembly in 1784 to support legislation to create a waterway to bypass the falls. By linking the James River with the Kanawha River in western Virginia, which in turn flowed into Ohio, he hoped to improve transportation and trade with the west. In 1785, the state incorporated the James River Company with Washington as the honorary president. The James River Company set to work constructing the first towpath canal system in North America. The first section of the canal system to be completed circumvented the seven-mile falls near Richmond.

  • During the 1850s — and peaking in 1860 — canal traffic was at its busiest. As many as 195 boats regularly traversed the waters, bringing goods such as tobacco and wheat from western Virginia to market and returning home with finished goods from the city.

  • All this came to an end as flooding, Civil War damage and competition from the expanding railroads eventually took a huge toll on the canals.

  • Richmond’s riverfront includes monuments to the black bateau men who navigated Virginia canals.

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