Documentary explores Erie Canal’s role in shaping America


“Floating Ideas: How the Erie Canal Helped Shape America” will air on July 6 via YouTube.  

The documentary examines the spread of ideas along the Erie Canal, with an emphasis on women’s rights, suffrage and the quest for social justice. 

“The struggle began two centuries ago, but is just as relevant today,” said Bob Radliff, executive director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. “Although the preamble of the Constitution begins with ‘We the People of the United States,’ expanding who ‘we’ means to include women, Native Americans and people of color has been a long and enduring fight. ‘Floating Ideas’ explores the Erie Canal’s role in shaping the narrative and expanding our national identity.” 

The film threads together movements to end slavery and secure women’s right to vote. Themes include the influence of the Haudenosaunee on suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, the women left out of the suffrage narrative who faced voting barriers despite the passage of the 19th Amendment and expanding opportunities for women today. 

“Floating Ideas: How the Canal Helped Shape America” examines the spread of ideas along the Erie Canal.

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor received a National Park Foundation Women in Parks grant to support to the creation of the film. 

“This film details how the Erie Canal was an information highway, moving people and their changemaking ideas throughout the country,” said LaTresse Snead, NPF chief program officer. “The National Park Foundation and our donors are committed to elevating more perspectives about the multifaceted history of the United States through national parks, including women who broke the norms traveling alone along the Erie Canal to gather and organize around their vision of equality, dramatically impacting the world as we experience it today.” 

The documentary was produced by WCNY Public Media for the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor with funding support from NPF, the National Park Service and the New York State Canal Corporation. 

“The Erie Canal is something New Yorkers and beyond so often take for granted,” said Brian Stratton, director of the Canal Corporation. “A revolutionary feat of engineering built by many New Yorkers before us, the Canal and its banks hold stories of our nation’s journey to self-discovery and its struggle for equality. Just as goods and travelers passed through its waters, so too did the fight of women’s rights, suffrage and the quest for social justice. ‘Floating Ideas’ provides New Yorkers with an inside look at that journey and how this historic waterway helped shape our nation’s identity for decades to come.”