An Idea for the Harbor

Angelo Coniglio has a vision for harbor development, and it doesn’t include a BassPro Shop (though he’s not opposed to it). Coniglio’s vision involves creating a Buffalo-Erie Canal Museum modeled after the Ellis Island experience, complete
with artifacts and memorabilia, and the means for people to trace back to find
where their ancestors traveled on the canal. 

For 10 years now, Coniglio has been writing
mayors, city and county officials, librarians, universities, and getting no
great response. “It started when I realized that in 2025 it would be 200th
anniversary of the
Erie Canal,” he said. “I’ve been watching what’s been
happening with development, and I feel enough is not being made of
Buffalo‘s history as the
western terminus.”

Coniglio envisions a non-profit organization
that would work to organize, collect and digitize data on the passengers who
traveled via the
Erie Canal as they headed west. “The more people that
get into it, the more information is added, and the more it can help people,” he

Coniglio talks of
Buffalo‘s history as the
western terminus, saying, “
Buffalo does have a great history.
More people passed through the
Erie Canal at its prime than
went through
Ellis Island.” He notes that that ability to trace goes
beyond those traveling. “Not only can the travelers but the workers [of the
canal] and many of the families in
Buffalo trace back to the

In talking about his lack of success thus far,
Coniglio says, “Many responses I get are tied to funding, but I believe that
the type of things I’m talking about would bring cash flow. Initially it would
cost money, but in the end it would benefit
Buffalo.” He hopes aloud
saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if people came back to see where their ancestors
traveled on the canal?”

Coniglio will be in attendance at tonight’s
ECHDC GEIS meeting, during which he hopes to air his ideas. His best hope is to see if anyone else there is interested in an idea like the non-profit organization and museum. If Coniglio is
unable to garner any support in the project, he says, “I’ve talked to my
attorney and if I have to, I’m going to pursue a non-profit organization. I’m
not looking for any personal gain, but for 
Buffalo to gain from its

A mock-up of a Buffalo-Erie Canal Foundation
website is already posted on Coniglio’s site. All he needs now is the manpower. If interested, contact Coniglio at,
or meet him tonight at the Waterfront School for the Canalside Scoping Meeting.

About the author  ⁄ Eli George

Buffalo Erie Canal Foundation
Buffalo Erie Canal Foundation

I have read the EHDC's "Scoping Document". Though I found no reference there to a museum of any type, one plan view at last night's EIS meeting identified an area as an apparent underground museum. The ECHDC did not take questions from the audience, so I could not ask what that meant. When I gave my four-minute talk promulgating a museum, no one stopped me to tell me that a museum was already planned. My proposal was simply listened to and recorded (that is, what I could cover in four minutes.) By the way, though some sent "representatives", there was not one City, County, or State elected official at the meeting. And there is no "entity" identified for planning a museum, apparently because they're not interested in a museum. Al Labruna, (or anyone interested) please e-mail me at

al labruna
al labruna

Do I understand this correctly, the proposed museum is below grade?

Placing a museum collection below grade is very frowned upon due to the very real potential of water intrusion from the ground, dampness/mold, or failure of fire suppression/plumbing/roof that could potentially destroy very delicate and expensive museum pieces - including the exhibits.

And lets not forget the proximity to Lake Erie - the water table there must be a few feet below street level.

For that matter, is there even an entity identified to operate a museum? There needs to be. They can identify issues like these, and outline any needs they foresee. They need to be in on the spacial planning. Otherwise, many costly mistakes be made.

Buffalo Erie Canal Foundation
Buffalo Erie Canal Foundation

Please see my page at

I'm not proposing "fake scenes inside an empty barn." First, commit to a Buffalo Erie Canal Museum, then design the museum. Put the museum ***IN*** a period Canal packet or Lake schooner, or steamer, or ON "Admiral Perry's warship", for example!

And NO, a museum is NOWHERE in the existing plans. In a letter to Jordan Levy of the ECHDC, I suggested a museum, and his answer was "we are not in the business if building museums, we are in the business of developing a site". So is their job to "develop" a chain store, restuarants, or parking ramps with no attention to any links to history, but NOT to "develop" a museum that could draw tens of thousands?

You cite the size of New York City. Do you know that the cmpletin of the Erie Canal to BUFFALO ***MADE*** NYC? The bulk of the visitors to Ellis Island are not from NYC.

The Buffalo Erie Canal Foundation doesn't simply propose a museum. Also proposed are:

• Signage at every major entry road to Buffalo, reading "BUFFALO - WESTERN TERMINUS OF THE ERIE CANAL";

• Excavation of historic streets, buildings, and sites. Lacking that, at least have interesting, provocative displays acknowledging events like the Mormons' "Miracle at Buffalo" (it happened at the Commercial Slip);

• A statue of Dewitt Clinton pouring real water into the Commercial Slip;

• Recognition and promotion of the fact that the Erie Canal can still be travelled by water from the Commercial Slip, through the inner harbor to the Black Rock Canal and obward to Albanny. Promote Canal excursions and "traveling plays" on ***Canal packet boats***, starting from and returning to BUFFALO’s Commercial Slip, NOT based in Tonawanda or Lockport.

• Join Tonawanda's and Lockport's "Canal Days" celebrations with BUFFALO's (ever hear of one?) for a mega-"Western New York Caanal Days."

• An on-line database allowing local and nationwide researchers to locate information about ancestors who passed though Buffalo on the Canal.

• Formation of a Buffalo-Erie Canal Foundation, supported by individual citizen contributions and purchases. This would include an Erie Canal Wall of Honor, on which citizens could have their ancestors' names inscribed, with framed certificates for families to keep, commemorating their forebears' travels.

• Finally, recognition of the role played by the Erie Canal in the westward migration of thousands of pioneers heading Westward, including many of the founders of the Mormon Church who eventually settled in Utah.

You say "Your post reflects the idea that Buffalonians have a much different view of themselves and their history than do non-Buffalonians. Like the world just doesn't know, if they only knew." I think that younger Buffalonians may have a 'different view' of Buffalo than "seasoned citizens". I remember when Buffalo was one of the nation's most vibrant cities. I remember when Torontonians came to BUFFALO for weekends! If the world has forgotten that, let's REMIND them.

I'm thinking Ellis Island, The Royal Museum, The Met, The British Museum, The Smithsonian - not a "crappy museum with dull, static displays". I say again, think outside the box.


You're on the money there. A crappy museum with dull, static displays really doesn't tell the story as well as a fuctioning canal section with businesses, canal boats and activity alongside. Any museum portion should be a breezy escape from the outdoors with the usual photographic and material evidence. The real action should be outside and it should include shops, restaurants and period style. The Erie Canal story is one of burgeoning business, not fake scenes inside an empty barn.


Hey, Like I said I thought there was going to be a museum anyway.

Eliis Island is not a good analogy. It has NYC as its backyard which gives it supply side, it is where 10s of millions trace their ancestry to....the canal does not compare. And, I'm not against any wall of honor, just don't think it's nearly as important as other aspects. I'm not against it.

Your post reflects the idea that Buffalonians have a much different view of themselves and their history than do non-Buffalonians. Like the world just doesn't know, if they only knew.

Find the box, then you can think outside of it.

John Carocci
John Carocci

There's a Canal Museum in Syracuse, and I don't want to be a downer but it's kind of lame. When I was a kid, we went there on a field trip every year, and the whole class dreaded it because the Canal Museum was such a bore. Part of that is because the Canal in Syracuse is filled in. The museum is in a weighlock building and there's an actual canal boat, but it's surrounded by stones in a not very convincing attempt to make it look like it's in water. Boring.

I mention this not to discourage a Buffalo project, but to challenge us to learn from the mistakes of others. A half-assed museum won't cut it. I've been to the Canal Museum a few times as an adult. It's marginally more interesting now, but each time I've been there I was the only visitor in the building.

Buffalo Erie Canal Foundation
Buffalo Erie Canal Foundation

What's your guess on how many people visit Ellis Island yearly? That's "just a museum". When Lee Iacocca opened it, he wrote to every American and asked if they would pay $100 to have their ancestors' names put on a Wall of Honor and a certificate. My eight siblings and I each paid $100. I think a few people in Oregon, Utah, California and points west would do the same thing for a Buffalo Erie Canal Wall of Honor. Think outside the (Bass Pro) box.


It's been about 3 months since the lego model debut by the way.

Any progress besides the one building rehab (Dulski?) or are we officially on B.G.T.S.


Doesn't the plan already call for a museum?

Really perplexed why the BRO crowd wouldn't want Bass Pro as part of the plan, or maybe they do but it always seems it gets trashed.

7 -1

My guess as to how many people from out of town would come to the canal if / if not have a flagship retail like Bass Pro v. nothing more than museums


I do hope they keep that underwater walkway concept going to showcase native fish species.


I do hope they keep that underwater walkway concept going to showcase native fish species.


I was under the impression that many of the artifacts unearthed by local volunteers including myself a few years back that participated in the "Big Dig", wre going to be incorporated into some sort of inner harbor museum display(s)? Whats the status of this?


Excellent compliment to the city but no canal museum is going to be complete without the wharf district having a replica of LaSalles Griffon which was the first ship to sail Lake Erie and having the replica Canal Barges familiar in Rochester....and perhaps....plans for Buffalos replica of Adm Perrys Lake Erie Warship....which would put Buffalo right alongside Boston, NYC, Philly, Baltimore, Charleston as historic ships.


Rebuilding and rewatering as much of the canal as possible should be a priority as well as this great idea. Much of the old canal was filled in and built over with the Thruway. Maybe someday that could be reversed.

The Kettle
The Kettle

Love the idea. Authentic Buffalo history that would bring in so much while costing relatively little. Too bad our political "leaders" have not been qiuck to embrace the idea. Im guessing they only have the time for the big developers.


I think a component such as this would be a huge benefit to out region and to the validity of this whole project. Without strong ties to the actual history of the site the ancillary developments will loose their luster over time.

You need something timeless to continually draw people back to the site over the years. School trips, visiting friends. When you go to Baltimore people bring you too the harbor.. nice once but I don't have any reason to go back there again because all that is there are commercial entities you can go to in any suburb of any city. Let me correct myself, the one place I would go to again is the converted Coal Powerplant... It doesn't matter what the function is, that is one cool building and a good reason to go back. An Imax, Cheesecake factory or a Hard Rock are not exactly going to draw people more than once.

As PaulBuffalo said, they are important and should be in such a place but they cannot be the reason for the place.

al labruna
al labruna

why is the National Park Service not opening a visitors' center at the Canal?

Perhaps if there had been more of an NPS role, there would not be a giant green flyswatter @ the Canal.

As plans for an the new Canal District move forward, there is renewed opportunity for a National Park Service Visitor Interpretive Center adjacent to the re-watered Erie Canal.

The National Park Service (NPS) has 391 units, including the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor. Locally, the NPS works in cooperation with a nonprofit to operate the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site on Delaware Avenue.

The National Park Service brings potential advantages over other museum alternatives:

• A nationally and internationally known, established, creditable, and respected brand

• Well paid, skilled jobs

• Project capital

• Availability of NPS’s extensive technical and historic assets

• A proven record of quality museum development

• Potential symbiotic relationship between other nearby NPS Units

• Ability to attract visitors

• A sustained, and independent funding source

• Experience with administering and interpreting canalways: Chesapeake & Ohio, Ohio & Erie, Illinois & Michigan

National Park Sites have a record of creating and attracting economic development. A study of potentially similar NPS National Heritage Areas found that 34% stayed in hotels for an average of 2.2 nights, and that heritage visitors spend $2.5 million in the local regions per twenty-five thousand visits. The direct impacts of this spending are $780,000 in wages and salaries, $1.2 million in value added and 51 jobs.*




Mr. Coniglio, this is great. The story of Buffalo is so neglected in western New York and an Erie Canal Museum should be the focal point of the waterfront design instead of BassPro being the center of attention. (There's nothing wrong with BassPro, but it should be treated as just one component of the plan.)

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