Worcester T&G: Blackstone Canal District Tours return July 5

WORCESTER —  Nothing can evoke a sense of Worcester pride like a Blackstone Canal District Horse and Wagon Tour.Originally a last-ditch solution to writing an essay, the project of former South High Community School students Rubby Wuabu and Iris Sanxhaku has grown into a business, Canal District Tours.The tours, which are offered every half-hour from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays beginning July 5, are free, hour-long horse-drawn wagon rides featuring a narrated history of the Blackstone Canal and impersonations of historical figures. Groups meet at Harding and Temple streets near St. John’s Church.

Ms. Wuabu, who has watched the program grow since it was launched four years ago, is thankful for the happiness the tours have brought her.

“My favorite part was learning about Worcester’s history. I think we take it for granted. Learning the value of Worcester itself gave me more pride about living in Worcester,” she said.

The tours are meant to raise awareness of Worcester and the canal’s history. The Blackstone Canal opened in 1828 to allow for the transportation of goods between Worcester and Providence. It was 45 miles long with 49 locks. The canal created jobs for immigrants, helped start the Industrial Revolution in America and was eventually paved over by 1893.

With the exception of some older mentors from the Canal District Alliance and South High, the program is student-run.

Students serve as tour guides and interpreters. Most of the students are from immigrant families, just as the builders of the canal were. They are encouraged to tell their own stories as well as learn about those who built the canal and lived and worked in the Canal District.

“This year there’s more emphasis on individual perspective,” said Ms. Wuabu, who emigrated from Ghana.

A graduate of Simmons College, Ms. Wuabu works at Lowell National Historical Park and has handed most of the tour responsibilities to South graduates Michelle Ly and Alexandra Gicas.

As managers, they must find local businesses, such as Wings Over Worcester, to sponsor the tours. Ms. Ly, a business major at Bryant University, said the job has been fun and has given her invaluable experience.

“I learned public speaking skills and now that I’m in the background I’ve learned about business. It’s a lot of networking,” she said.

Ms. Ly’s favorite part of the tour is Kelley Square. As Hotel Vernon proprietor Bob Largess navigates the multistreet intersection in a wagon drawn by two Belgian draft horses — the largest horses in the world — the reactions can be eye-opening.

“Seeing people’s reactions, sometimes shocked, sometimes angry, when two horses are running through Kelley Square is always entertaining,” she said.

Now that the tours have gained popularity in Worcester, Ms. Wuabu wants to sustain and expand the business. The future goal is to become the main historical tour for the city. She hopes the program will eventually attract not only Worcester residents but also visitors from other cities.

“I think there’s a need for such a group, but all the groups are fragmented. Our dream goal is to have the tour group be the tour group for the whole city,” she said.

The Canal District Tours will run weekly until Aug. 30. To learn more, visit www.thecanaldistrict.com.

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