Kennewick marks the opening of The Dalles-Celilo Canal and river navigation to the ocean with a wild and symbolic celebration on May 5, 1915.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 3/02/2008
  • Essay 8502
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On May 5, 1915, the "greatest event in the history of Kennewick" takes place when the city is joined to the sea by the opening of The Dalles-Celilo Canal, allowing continuous navigation from the Pacific up the Columbia.  Kennewick stages a massive parade and dignitaries arrive by boat to stage a mock wedding of "Miss Columbia" to "Mr. Snake." The Dalles-Celilo Canal is located about 130 miles down the Columbia from Kennewick, which is situated at the confluence of the Columbia and the Snake rivers.

When The Dalles-Celilo Canal was finished, it appeared to usher in a new era for Kennewick as a seaport. For the first time, boats could steam all the way up the Columbia from the Pacific without stopping to make a portage and change boats at the treacherous falls at Celilo. A. F. Gardner, editor of The Reporter, called the day the canal was officially opened "the greatest day Lewiston has ever known; it was the greatest event in the history of Kennewick and Pasco; it was epoch-making for Wallula and the biggest night Umatilla has ever seen" (Gardner).

The governors of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon all made the trip up the river to be part of the celebrations.

In Kennewick, the main event was a mock wedding of Miss Columbia (a Kennewick girl) to Mr. Snake (a Lewiston man). A huge parade escorted the bride, complete with bridesmaids, from Pasco to the Kennewick waterfront. Hundreds of people followed behind. The groom was to arrive by boat with many of the dignitaries.

Here the festivities hit a snag. When the celebration's flagship arrived, the "groom" did not disembark. He had unfortunately been placed on another, slower boat which was still miles away. Rather than make the crowd wait any longer, one of the "groomsmen," from Pasco, was pressed into service as the emergency groom. The ceremony was performed by U.S. Senator Wesley L. Jones of Washington, who "paraphrased the usual wedding vows in an apt and ready manner" (Gardner).

Then the hungry throngs descended on the barbecue grounds. "Soon half a dozen sandwich makers and as many more waiters were hustling as they had never hustled before," wrote Gardner (Gardner). The whole event, he went on, "was so spectacular as to compel a firm faith in the possibilities of the future" (Gardner).

Unfortunately, the future didn't turn out so bright. The Dalles-Celilo Canal proved a disappointment because seasonal fluctuations often rendered the water level too low. It was inundated and rendered irrelevant in 1957 by the rising waters of The Dalles Dam.

Sources: Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "The Dalles-Celilo Canal opens to traffic on May 5, 1915" (by David Wilma) (accessed Feb. 17, 2008); A. F. Gardner writing in Courier-Reporter, May 6, 1915, quoted in History of the Yakima Valley by W. D. Lyman ([Chicago]: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1919).

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