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The Gowanus: A True 'Love Canal'

A pair of newlyweds celebrate their big day in a canoe on the canal.

A newly married Brooklyn couple recently celebrated their union in a rather unconventional way—right after they said their "I do's," they took a romantic boat ride.

Stepping carefully off of an old wooden platform, they boarded a canoe decorated with bouquets of flowers. A guide, gondola-style, waited aboard with a paddle. The couple was transported to a nearby bridge, where a wedding photographer waited to snap photos. Swathed in her wedding gowns' layers of white silk, the bride navigated a rusty ladder up the side of the bridge and back to land.

In a lake or river, perhaps, a wedding canoe ride wouldn't be such an unusual sight. But in this case, the body of water carrying the newlyweds was the murky, mysterious Gowanus Canal, and their destination was the rickety, brightly painted Union Street bridge.

Of course, many Brooklyn folks have nothing but love for their canal: mafia rumors, pollution and all. And to South Brooklynites and residents; they've been doing it for years.

So why not celebrate one of the biggest days of your life there?

Three years ago, Ariana Souzis and Joel Hamburger were just another young couple living in Brooklyn when they became engaged on the Union Street bridge. They had discussed marriage while canoeing in a more convential setting, on a vacation in Maine, but Souzis said the official proposal came from Joel while the two were taking a stroll on the bridge back home in Carroll Gardens.

That's when he popped the question, she said, and they decided to continue the theme of a water-based ceremony, having begun their story in Maine, and having both been living near the canal for some time.

"I had some sentiment because of that," said Souzis, referring to Joel's proposal on the bridge.

So Souzis, a native of Brooklyn and a Carroll Gardens resident, made a proposal of her own – how about a ceremony at the clearing by the Carroll Street bridge (home to the ), followed by a short ride down the canal from the Carroll Street bridge to the Union Street bridge? It was close to her Brooklyn roots, and symbolic of the start of their engagement and their embarking on a new life together.

And so on Saturday, the yard at 370 Carroll St. was equipped with citronella candles, white folding plastic chairs, a makeshift "stage" and white lights strung across the tree branches. The vows were exchanged, and the bride and groom boarded the canoe as a throng gathered around, applauding, transfixed, scrambling to get a picture. Souzis and Hamburger stepped off the platform as elegantly as possible in formal wedding attire and joined Eymund Deigel, the man with the paddle, on the canoe.

The three then embarked on their adventure, paddling down underneath the Carroll Street bridge, the bride and groom holding hands the whole way, the bride throwing her bouquet in the air with her free hand as if to say "Yeah! We did it!"

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Dubbed Brooklyn's "coolest" Superfund site, the Gowanus Canal has certainly celebrated its share of milestones in its 400 or so year history - first as a creek crucial to the Revolutionary War, then as a major transportation hub, but perhaps most notably for being designated a Superfund site in 2009. (The "Love Canal" in Niagara Falls was the first Superfund site.)

But this is the canal's first wedding canoe ride in recorded history.

And the love bug (mosquito?) buzzing around the canal bit more than just Souzis and Hamburger. Local resident Liz Kravetz also became engaged several weeks ago while canoeing down the canal with her now fiance, Ned Tyrrell.

Kravetz said they really bonded during their trip down the canal, when Tyrrell told her he loved that she liked to do "stuff like this," meaning padding on a canoe down an infamously toxic local waterway. They were regulars to the canal, and he loved that she was so enthusiastic about their unconvential pastime.

She said the couple pulled in under a concrete slab while on one of their rides, and he proposed to her right there.

"He picked it on purpose. We love that canal," said Kravetz. "We think it's so beautiful just how it is. It's a waterway, and it's ours."

Ray Howell of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club said the couple showed up at a Saturday public boating event, "eager to take out a canoe."

"So I prepared a canoe and sent them off," he said. "They returned after about an hour, all smiles. I [commented] on how happy they looked, to which she replied by showing me her new diamond ring, and saying 'We got engaged.'"

Celebrating such a special occasion on the canal is not without its perks. Howell said he helped them take their first pictures as an engaged couple, and gave them free membership to the club.

*

And now, the Gowanus Canal can be compared to the love canal for a reason not related to toxic waste.

"Perhaps we now have a true love canal," said Howell.

Lilly Frances September 29, 2011 at 08:21 PM
Thanks for reading and for your kind words, Craig!
Leon Nicholas Kalas October 01, 2011 at 01:41 PM
Nice story. I leave a few away from the canal. I have a book out just published that includes Brooklyn " New York Images of a Metropolis" to view the book please go to: www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2517005
Leon Nicholas Kalas October 01, 2011 at 01:45 PM
I love the canal. I pass through there all the time. I am a Brooklyn visual artist. Please Visit my website: www.leonkalas.com
Kaitlin June 11, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Hi Lilly, Love all your Brooklyn based stories and would LOVE to discuss a new bike tour venture based in Williamsburg. Funny enough, I grew up in South Orange and then moved to Brooklyn out of college so would love to hear your feedback! If you're interested, please email me at kaitlinkrns@gmail.com. thanks!
Joanna Prisco June 11, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Hey Kaitlin, Let me know if you happen to launch any tours out of Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill or nearby in Gowanus or Red Hook. Thanks! - JP

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