I haven't made the particular trip, but for some reason the figure of "$85" is stuck in my head. I think the transit takes six hours or so.
Given that Lakemax freighters use the canal, unless you have a hundred foot mast, I wouldn't worry.
As for the sailing qualities, at the east end of Erie, you are generally going to be at the end of Erie's entire fetch, and the eastern shore will be a lee shore. Erie is shallow, quite so in spots, and is known for "square waves" even nastier than Ontario's.
The Lake Ontario side, by contrast, is appreciably lower, and is sheltered somewhat at the western end by the relatively high Niagara Escarpment. On the other hand, certain winds can funnel through gaps in that feature, or can act in a katabatic fashion and basically "roll down the hill", kicking up sudden, intense but usually brief squalls.
If you want an American club, you might consider Youngstown, N.Y., which is pretty close to Buffalo but allows you access not only to the nice spots on the south side of the lake, but also to the more densely populated and more boating intensive Canadian side, as the lake is only about 30 miles wide between Youngstown and Toronto, with a broad "U" of over a hundred miles of "coastline" around what is called "the Golden Horseshoe".
Going out the St. Lawrence is a great idea, but beware that you don't end up so in love with the cruising grounds of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that you spend the entire summer there!