Festival aims to bring some Russel Brothers tugs back home; Homecoming weekend to include ties to city's shipbuilding past with a tugboat festival
Thursday, March 15, 2007 - 12:00
Local News - When people come down to the harbour on homecoming weekend, it will be full of tugboats for the first-ever Owen Sound-Russel Brothers Tugboat Festival.
Steve Briggs is organizing the event, which should draw at least 15 tugboats to the harbour on July 28, coinciding with Owen Sound's week-long 150th anniversary bash which will have kicked off the night before.
Briggs developed a passion for tugboats while researching the history of Owen Sound's once-significant tugboat manufacturer, Russel Brothers.
The company built the tug displayed on the back of Canada's $1 bill, which went out of circulation in 1989. That tug now rests beside the Owen Sound Marine and Rail Museum.
Like tugboat festivals in Sault Ste. Marie and Parry Sound, Owen Sound's will include tugboat races and a nighttime parade of tugs strung with Christmas lights. Some 100 or so sailboats and powerboats will join the floating parade. Some will be in a regatta the next day.
Brigg's website, www.russelbrothers.com, contains colourful pictures of tugs chugging full bore through churning water and of tugboats lit up while plying tranquil waters at dusk.
Parade prizes will be awarded at a banquet at the Rusty Gull restaurant on the Saturday night. A dockside breakfast will be prepared for captains and crews Sunday morning.
Any and all tugboats are welcome to join the festival, but Briggs is particularly looking for vessels built by Russel Brothers and he's been hearing from Russel fans from across the country.
Briggs has already confirmed the participation of several vessels, including three big tugboats more than 30 metres long.
The ex-Ville Marie Coast Guard ship, which has been converted to the pleasure boat the Still Watch, is the second-largest boat Russels ever built. The current Canadian Coast Guard ship, the Cove Isle, and the 77-year-old Prescontont tugboat are coming.
Public tours of the Coast Guard ship Cove Isle will be offered Sunday.
Briggs said any money made by the event will be given to the the Marine-Rail Museum.
Merchandise for sale will include a comprehensive DVD Briggs created containing pictures of about 500 of the 1,300 tugs Russel built, a video of the boats in action and a 1987 interview with Tom and Fred Russel, shot by Archie Carnahan.
The Beaver's Helper, built in 1974, was the last boat built at the Russel Brothers factory. The company's eastside waterfront buildings were demolished in the 1990s and the site is overgrown with weeds. Condominium construction is contemplated for the site.
Ian Boddy, chair of the city's homecoming steering committee, said plans for the tugboat festival are exciting.
"You think about how many tugboats were built by Russel Brothers and this was a boat-building mecca for years. It's pretty neat to have them back and I think Steve's got an amazing idea going. I can see this being an annual thing for years to come."
Briggs imagines that might happen, but it depends on how well it is received and whether someone will step forward to organize it again.