Celebrating Port Colborne’s marine heritage

The Buffalo Fire Department Fireboat Edward M. Cotter will be leading the way in Sunday’s Boat Parade of lights at this year’s Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival.

Port Colborne is all geared up for the 40th annual Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival, a festival that celebrates the city’s long relationship with the marine industry as a result of the Welland Canal.

John Maloney, the Mayor of Port Colborne, invites everyone to come and sit by the canal to watch the ships go through the canal as well as enjoy all the different activities for the family August 3 – 6/2018.

“For 40 consecutive years, Canal Days has been our premiere summer event providing entertainment for residents and visitors alike,” Mayor Maloney said. “It is a huge tourist attraction and economic generator.  All this in a marine setting with its working canal, lift bridges, mammoth lakers and maritime schooners.”

The best place to start with your exploration is where it all began 40 years ago, the Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum.

There’s just so much to do at the museum this year.

“It did all start here 40 years ago,” Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum assistant curator Michelle Mason said. “It was started as a celebration of our marine heritage here in Port Colborne.”

“At the museum we will have some volunteers participating that have been here since the start,” she said. “We have the rope ladder building, Grants and Sons, who have been here every year since the beginning, the radio controlled model boat show, it’s not been here the whole time, but, it’s been here for 38 years.”

The major exhibit at the museum this year is “Stacking up the Years,” an exhibit celebrating 100 years of Inco in Port Colborne. The Welland Canal was a major factor in the company locating here in 1918.

There are also two other exhibits at the museum to explore.

Assistant curator Michelle Mason shows the “Tugging Along: Tugboats on the Welland Canal” exhibit at the Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum.

“We have a permanent exhibit on the Welland Canal,” Mason said. “A bulk of the exhibit is an interactive touch screen exhibit showing the history of the Welland Canal, it talks about what the Canal did to Port Colborne.””

“It talks about the construction, shipbuilding, the businesses that sprung from the canal, how it changed the town,” she said.

“We also have a time-lapse video of a ship going through the canal.”

The exhibit also shows a timeline of the construction of the Welland Canal.

The other exhibit is called “Tugging Along: Tugboats on the Welland Canal.”

“It’s really about the tugboat business during the period of the third canal,” Mason said. “There was really a boon in the business then. Port Colborne had about 20 to 30 tugs.”

“The Carter family is a big name in the local tugging industry,” she said. “Charles Carter came and he was a tow boy, before the steam engine, they used to take horses and donkeys and that’s how they got ships through the canal.”

“Charles Carter was the first to introduce the tug boat on the Welland Canal in 1850,” she said. “Then his three sons took over the business, Dewitt Carter is a big name in Port Colborne.”

The HMCS Oriole of the Royal Canadian Navy will be visiting Port Colborne for Canal Days. DND photo

“They had about 7 tugs,” she said. “We have artifacts from them, we have a couple of model tugs that were carved by Joseph Carter in 1890, we are really fortunate to have those in our collection.”

“We’re featuring that exhibit in the MEL, Marine Exhibit Lighthouse,” she said.

Other exhibits around the museum carry along with the pioneer/marine heritage themes throughout the weekend as wells as live entertainment, displays, and interactive displays.

Arabella’s Tea Room will be open to the public on the weekend on the museum grounds, a popular place to enjoy a Victorian-era lunch.

One of the items on the museum grounds this year is the Holodomor Mobile Classroom about the Ukrainian famine that killed millions of people in 1932=1933.

Along West Street, you will be able to see the visiting vessels, many offering deck tours.

The Empire Sandy, US Brig Niagara and the Fireboat Edward M. Cotter are returning favourites. This year, we will also see the Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Private Roberston VC which has been in Port Colborne several times before, the Lettie G. Howard, a two-masted wooden-hulled fishing schooner and the HMCS Oriole, the Royal Canadian Navy’s longest serving commissioned vessel, a tall ship built in 1921 and used for public outreach and training junior sailors. http://portcolborne.ca/page/vessels .

The Fireboat Edward M. Cotter leads the Boat Parade of Lights before the fireworks on Friday night. The Buffalo Fire Department boat holds a special relationship with the City of Port Colborne.

“The relationship goes back to 1963 when there was a fire at the Maple Leaf Mill,” Mason said. “They came and helped to combat the fire. Since then there has been this connection with the Cotter, they come every year to Canal Days.”

All attractions for the Canal Days weekend can be found through the Canal Days website: http://portcolborne.ca/page/canal_days_attractions.

Don’t forget to visit the Vale Health and Wellness Centre Saturday/Sunday for the Optimist Club of Port Colborne’s Canal Days Craft Show.