The canal was opened in 1790 to link the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth and provided a safe route for coasters during the war with France. Pleasure steamers used the canal from 1893 until the outbreak of World War II. The canal was closed in 1963 to facilitate road construction. With funding from a huge Millennium Lottery grant, the canal was reopened in 2001. At Port Downie, a flight of eleven locks had linked the canal to the Union Canal to Edinburgh but these were infilled. Replacing them is the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first rotating boat lift, opened by the Queen in 2002.
The basins at Port Dundas, the southernmost part of the Glasgow Arm of the Forth & Clyde Canal, were not restored along with the rest of the Millennium Link. However, a £5,700,000 project to reconnect Port Dundas with the rest of the canal was completed and formally reopened in September 2006. The project, planned by BW Scotland and Glasgow City Council, is likely to be catalyst for substantial rejuvenation in the area and BW is involved with this continuing work. At the eastern end of the canal, Falkirk Council is leading a bit for Lottery funds that would provide a new and easier to navigate exit to the sea at Grangemouth.