When the Linlithgow Union Canal Society (LUCS) was founded in 1975 the canal basin’s buildings were derelict, the canal was blocked at Preston Road and there were no boats. Despite this, the society’s founder, the late Mel Gray MBE, knew there was interest in the canal and so collected the names of those who wished to restore the canal and invited them to a meeting in his house at which LUCS was formed.
LUCS was active from the start. In its first year it purchased “U66”, a 40ft horse drawn scow, removed rubbish and cleared weed from the canal. LUCS entered a float in the Marches, and has done so every year since. It also entered a team in the Drambuie Canal Marathon between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Held between 1975 and 1990, this required two-man teams to carry their dinghies around canal blockages. Photographs of the marathon show the state of the canal at that time. From 1977 onwards LUCS took over the onerous task of organising the Marathon.
The Society’s flagship, Victoria, was acquired in 1978 at a cost of £5,000 from Welford on the Grand Union Canal. Thereafter various small boats were acquired and hired out. In 1988 a larger boat, “Janet Telford”, was made available to LUCS. She had to be returned in 1995 when she was replaced by “Ohmega”, an electric powered boat on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal acquired for £40,000.
On arrival in Linlithgow, Ohmega was renamed Saint Magdalene after suggestions by local schoolchildren. Over the winter of 1999/2000 she was converted to diesel power and a new galley provided. The LUCS day self-hire boat Leamington was acquired in 2003 and has proved to be very popular. She is operated as a joint initiative with Scottish Canals who own this boat and is an example of the close working relationship between LUCS and Scottish Canals, formerly British Waterways.
The canal yard and centre premises have been subject to steady development as new facilities were opened. These were: Museum (1977); Wooden slipway (1977); Toilets (1988); 100 tons kerbstones laid (1988); Concrete slipway (1988); Workshop (1990); Tearoom (1991) and Mel Gray Education Centre (2008). In addition a Glasgow Subway Car was used a temporary accommodation in 1981.
As the basin has been enhanced over the years, so has the canal. In 1992, opening of the new Preston Road canal bridge allowed trips from the canal basin to the Avon Aqueduct. With the Millennium Link came the removal of the blockage at the M8 (2000). By 2002 the Falkirk Wheel had opened and all blockages on the Union and Forth & Clyde canals had been removed, something that Drambuie marathon competitors could barely have imagined.