Top Hat Ceremony 2016
Marine and boat culture is steeped in tradition. Humans have been building boats since the beginning of time. The first people to explore the world did so on boats. Whether it was Vikings visiting North America, or pirates plying the Caribbean, we have always had a connection to boats. As a result there are countless sailing traditions which have evolved over the centuries. The Welland Canal in St. Catharines, Ontario is no exception. Each year they host a “Top Hat Ceremony”. A 187 year old tradition.
For the most part, cargo is now moved over water by large, diesel ships. In Canada there is an engineering marvel known as the Welland Canal. The Welland Canal which runs from St. Catharines, Ontario to Port Colborne Ontario and spans a 43km stretch. The first canal was opened in 1830 and is still in operation as of January 2016. Since it’s construction, the canal has gone through many changes, including the building of three canal systems. The First Welland Canal was in operation from 1830 until 1854 when the Second Welland Canal was opened. The Third Welland Canal was opened 1887 until 1932. Currently the Fourth Welland Canal, opened in 1932 is still in operation.
Canada is an arctic country, and historically has up to 8 months of below zero temperatures each year. During the long Canadian winters, the canal is closed to commercial traffic.
On March 21, 2016 dignitaries including local MP’s, and the Mayor of St. Catharines gathered at the Lock 3 Museum on the Welland Canals Parkway to celebrate the opening of the 2016 shipping season. This event is marked by the passing of a black Top Hat to the first Captain to navigate the locks of the year. The seaway’s official opening alternates every year between Montreal and Welland Canal’s Lock 3
This year, the canal opened earlier than normal due to the unusually warm weather. “We certainly welcome the warmer weather,” said Terence Bowles, president and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) in a press release. “A return to an opening in the third week of March provides our clients with the opportunity to move cargo in a timely manner, and make the most of the navigation season.”
Kathleen Powell, curator of the St. Catharines Museum states that the event is about tradition. Wearing a Top Hat was always been for special occasions. Tipping your top hat was often a cultural custom recognise a special person or occasion. The top hat itself honours the importance of the fur trade to the development of early Canada. Top hats were traditionally made from beaver pelt. The Great Lakes were opened to shipping traffic in the 1700s and 1800s because of the fur trade.
The 2016 Top Hat was presented to Captain Jason Church of CSL Thunder Bay. Captain Church has been working on the Great Lakes for over 23 years. He got his start as a Cadet and worked his way up to ship Captain. CSL Thunder Bay was loaded with salt and heading to Bowmanville, Ontario
CSL Thunder Bay stopped at Lock 3, and while docked, the Captain and some of her crew departed the vessel to the main conference room at the Lock 3 Museum. Here they were met with much pomp and fanfare.
Speeches are given by the governing body of the canal known as the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority.
Regional Chair Niagara Region Alan Caslin spoke about the importance to of the Canal and the Niagara Region.
“Today’s Top Hat Ceremony is a celebration of almost 190 years of trade and building the economy along the Welland Canal and Great Lakes regions,” she said.
“Trade brings people, products and prosperity to Canadian and American cities along the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie,” she said.
“Today’s Top Hat Ceremony is also a celebration of Canadians and Americans coming together to build the St. Lawrence Great Lakes Seaway System,” she said.
Built in Chengxi Shipyard of Jiangyin, Jiangsu China, Canadian Steamship Lines (CSL) Thunder Bay departed Montreal on July 30, 2012 on her maiden voyage on the Great Lakes system. She measures 227m long by 23m wide and 14m deep. The self-unloader’s 25 hatches feed into 5 holds where she can carry approximately 37,690 tons at the mid-summer draft of 9m. The vessel displaces 8,101 tons lightship. Her self-unloading equipment consists of a two-belt gravity fed system with a ‘C’ type loop belt elevator that feeds a stern mounted discharge boom that can unload at up to 5,450 tons per hour. Motive power is supplied by a single M.A.N B&W 6S50ME-B9 6-cylinder, slow speed diesel engine producing 8750kw or 10,680 BHP. Power is transmitted directly to a single controllable pitch propeller that can push her to a service speed of 13.5 knots. She is equipped with both bow and stern thrusters.
In recent years there has been a bit of a decline in using the Welland Canals for shipping cargo.
Luc Boisclair, general manager engineering, The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation stated “During our previous two openings, ice was a topic as we coped with the aftermath of frigid winters, In contrast this year, we closed the 2015 navigation season ice-free,” he said. “And today we are ready to open with clear sailing on the horizon.”
“We finished 2015 season with a little over 36 million tonnes of cargo, down 8% from the year before,” he said. “But with year-end volumes well above the five year average, the Seaway once again proved to be important to farmers shipping crops to market, at home and overseas.”
This year the Welland Canal is expected to be busy, and create jobs for people in the Niagara Region.