Skip to content
Chronological Reasoning and Causation

How did children use the canal?

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Expansion and Reform (1801 - 1861)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School

  • Topics:

    Erie Canal

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    Western New York
    Finger Lakes
    Central New York
    Mohawk Valley
    Capital District
    Mid Hudson
    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Boy and Mules on the Erie Canal Tow Path at Lyons, 1910 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Watercolor sketch, c. 1890, by E.L. Henry, of a girl driving mules on the Delaware and Hudson Canal in Main Image Viewer
  3. Load Photograph of children playing ice hockey on the canal, c. 1870 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions


Driven by political and economic motives, the United States expanded its physical boundaries to the Pacific Ocean between 1800 and 1860. This settlement displaced Native Americans as the frontier was pushed westward. Westward expansion provided opportunities for some groups while harming others. 


Students will examine the Erie Canal as a gateway to westward expansion that resulted in economic growth for New York State, economic opportunities for Irish immigrants working on its construction, and its use by religious groups, such as the Mormons, to move westward.