First downbound vessel passes through canal
Port Colborne Mayor John Maloney, left, welcomed Capt. Gary Kafcsak, of the tug-barge combination Calusa Coast and Delaware, to the annual Top Hat ceremony in Port Colborne at Lock 8 Park Monday morning. The tug-barge was the first downbound vessel in the Welland Canal, heading from Detroit to Hamilton with a load of asphalt.
Not only is the Welland Canal at the forefront of Niagara’s transportation infrastructure, it’s an economic driver for the region and great for tourism as well, speakers at the Top Hat Ceremony in Port Colborne said Monday morning.
The ceremony, held at Lock 8 Park, celebrates the first downbound vessel to pass through the lakeside city toward Lake Ontario, and the opening of the canal.
Capt. Gary Kafcsak of the tug-barge combination Calusa Coast and Delaware received the ceremonial head-topper.
When speeches were over, Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum director/curator Stephanie Powell Baswick presented a more than 100-year-old beaver felt fur top hat to Kafcsak.
The Calusa Coast and Delaware are part of Dann Marine Towing, a fifth generation family-owned and operated tugboat company, which manages a fleet of 22 ocean and coastal tugboats as well as inland push boats. The captain and his crew were bound for Hamilton with a load of liquid asphalt from Detroit.
“This is a big honour to do this. I love it,” Kafcsak said of the ceremony. “I appreciate what the canal and Canada has done for us, to keep us moving products and working. It’s a very well-maintained canal. We’re grateful to be working in these waters,” he said.
Jim Wheeler, manager of canal services for the seaway, said Monday’s ceremony marked the start of the 189th year of operation of the canal.
“Marine transportation has played a significant role in building our country for centuries,” said Wheeler, as he referenced Canada’s upcoming 150th birthday.
He said long before the modern day seaway system, which stretches some 3,700 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River and Welland Canal, which was constructed starting in 1824, were important trade routes.
Nearly three billion tonnes of cargo, worth some $400 billion, has moved through the seaway system since 1959, Wheeler said.
“The City of Port Colborne takes seriously our responsibility to work with the marine industry to enable them to move their goods through the marine system in an efficient and economical manner. And the marine industry supports the city as well,” said Mayor John Maloney.
“Look at the number of ships that were docked over the winter here … and the benefits they bring to our local economy.”
Regional chair Alan Caslin said while the canal links two Great Lakes, it also helps tie the region together and is an economic driver.
“It’s also great for tourism … everyone knows the canal,” said Caslin, who stayed briefly, before heading to St. Catharines for its Top Hat Ceremony at Lock 3 for the first upbound ship through the canal.
Capt. Ted Brown of MV Robert S. Pierson was awarded the top hat there.
The ship, owned by Rand Logistics, is a 189-metre-long Canadian flag self-unloader that would make its way to Cleveland and then be back in the lock system by tonight, according to Brown.
Ed Levy, president and CEO of Rand Logistics, said the vessel will move 18,000 tonnes of salt to Toronto, and during the 2017 season will load and unload about 120 times.
“We transport approximately 21 million tonnes of dry bulk commodities annually. To put this tonnage in perspective, to match you would need approximately 670,000 trucks or nearly 210,000 rail cars.”
Levy said the company was honoured to be part of Monday’s Top Hat Ceremony, and was pleased that not only was it the first day of spring but also one of the earliest days of the opening of the canal.
He lauded St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. for its $100 million in improvements and maintenance made to the seaway and Welland Canal during the off-season.
“These improvements are critical to meet the needs of our industry,” he said.
Seaway corporation vice-president of operations Stephen Kwok said there is optimism that cargo volumes will be up this year from the 35 million tonnes that went through the seaway in 2016.
He estimated that cargo moved over the combined Great Lakes seaway system supports more than 227,000 jobs and $35 billion of economic activity in Canada and the U.S.
“With the advances we are making with our modernization program, I am confident that the seaway is ready for the future and is a crucial lynchpin connecting the heartland of North America to the world,” said Kwok.
“Expanding the use of the seaway is a very sustainable way to promote economic growth in a low-carbon economy.”
Before Monday’s top hat ceremonies, a Mariners Service was held at St. James and St. Brendan Anglican Church in Port Colborne Sunday evening.
The annual event also celebrates the opening of the canal, through music, prayers, dance, fun and fellowship. Pastor Brian Lofthouse, filling in for Rev. Rob Hurkmans, led the service.
The service is held to ask for the safety of all those who work and play on oceans and lakes throughout Canada and the world, and this year, members of Port Colborne Marine Auxiliary Rescue Unit were special guests at the event.
— with files from Bob Tymczyszyn
Port Colborne top hat facts
Turn of the century beaver fur felt hat from Tress and Co. in London, England
Brought out of storage for four exhibits and annually for Top Hat ceremony
Kept in an acid free box in the climate-controlled Captain John W. Sharpe Heritage Resource Centre
Hat was anonymously donated to Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum
The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System is a “marine highway” that extends some 3,700 km from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. Approximately 160 million tonnes of cargo travels over the system on an annual basis, supporting over 227,000 jobs and $35 billion in economic activity.
The binational St. Lawrence Seaway serves as the linchpin within the broader waterway, connecting the lower St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes. Beginning in Montreal and extending to points west, the seaway’s 15 locks (13 Canadian and two U.S.) enable ships to climb a total of 168 metres from sea level up to Lake Erie. For more information on the St. Lawrence Seaway, see www.greatlakes-seaway.com.
Stakeholders within the system have been pioneers at advancing and developing new technologies that promote safety and environmental protection, including:
In 2002, the seaway was the world’s first inland waterway to adopt the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to share vital marine navigation data from ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore in real time.
Since 2010, Canadian shipowners have invested over $2 billion on specially-designed, eco-friendly vessels built for use in the seaway that have won numerous international awards.
In 2015, St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. received the Promising Innovation in Transport Award by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for developing the first hands-free mooring system in the world for a lock system.
About St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp.
St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. was established in 1998 as a not-for-profit corporation by the Government of Canada, seaway users and other key stakeholders. In accordance with provisions of the Canada Marine Act, the corporation manages and operates the Canadian assets of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which remain the property of the Government of Canada, under a long-term agreement with Transport Canada.