In many ways, it’s difficult to imagine the lure of what at one point in the history of the Great Lakes was THE only form of transportation from one community to another over water.
Today, with all the modern conveniences associated with travel, the Tall Ships phenomenon stands as an appealing throwback to centuries past.
Later this summer—the weekend of August 9-11, 2019—and thanks to the City of Sarnia as well as Tourism Sarnia-Lambton and two generous local organizations—the Carpenters’ Local 1256 union and Imperial Oil—residents and visitors alike will get a chance to experience what those glory days might have looked like.
Officially, the event will be known as the Tall Ships Celebration, a part of the Great Lakes Series, with the sponsors’ names front and centre.
Early on in the organization of this event, the City of Sarnia stepped forward to ensure the event, costly in a number of respects, would indeed be secured.
As Rob Harwood, the City of Sarnia’s director of Parks and Recreation, made it clear in those early days—back in January 2019—that having the support of both the Carpenters’ Union and Imperial Oil was an essential driver of an event expected to draw crowds to the Sarnia Harbour.
“These two organizations have been pillars in our community,” said Harwood. “We couldn’t be happier to be able to work with both Carpenters’ Local 1256 and Imperial Oil on this signature event. It is partnerships such as this that will make this event a success.”
Bob Schenck, business manager for the Carpenters Local 1256, said the organization was proud to step forward in support of the event as Title Sponsor.
“We look forward to welcoming guests from around the world to Sarnia-Lambton for this Tall Ship Celebration historic event for our community and we are honoured to be part of it.”
With Imperial Oil, a longstanding mainstay of the community, the opportunity was one not to miss.
“We determined that the ‘presenting sponsor’ opportunity was the right fit for us,” said James Ritchie, plant manager for Imperial’s Chemical plant. “The Tall Ships Challenge is a perfect way to showcase Sarnia’s waterfront, and Imperial is looking forward to flying the company flag on one of these majestic ships.”
While private functions will take place on August 9, what follows will be two days of public showings, with the Bluenose II leading a fleet of tall ships into Sarnia.
Joining the iconic Bluenose II will be the Picton Castle, Empire Sandy, Fair Jeanne, and Appledore IV.
Vicky Prail, coordinator of Special Events and Sports Marketing for Tourism Sarnia-Lambton, said putting the event together will “bring community pride for years to come.”
In many respects, the August 9-11 weekend is shaping up to be one of, if not THE, most memorable of the year, certainly from a tourism standpoint.
With Bluewater Borderfest slated to be sharing the spotlight, organizers are expecting even bigger numbers than last summer’s 7,000 guests.
With a renovated Centennial Park as the venue for Bluewater Borderfest, it will be a busy weekend for all concerned.
Aside from the excitement that follows these events, it is the ships that will dock at Sarnia Harbour that will be the real “stars” of the weekend.
First among them is the Nao Santa Maria, a replica of the iconic trip made by Christopher Columbus in 1492.
In celebration of the 525th anniversary of that historic meeting between the Old and New Worlds, the Nao Victoria Foundation, with the support of the Provincial Council of Huelva, Spain, and the Cajasol Foundation, built the Nao (New) Santa Maria.
Over the last two years, the Nao Santa Maria has travelled across the Atlantic, around the Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast and now into the Great Lakes.
Having the Nao Santa Maria as part of the Tall Ships fleet docking at Sarnia was one reason for Sarnia Harbour becoming the berth during the August 9-11 weekend.
“Sarnia Harbour is the perfect site to safely accommodate these amazing ships and was also the site of the 2003 Tall Ships Festival, which is the last time Sarnia welcomed the Tall Ships,” said Rob Harwood. “The Sarnia Harbour is strategically situated at the centre of the Great Lakes, adjacent to Centennial Park less than 1,000 feet away and has all the amenities we need.”
More than 5,000 tickets have already been sold for the August 9-11 weekend festivities.
For the latest information on tickets and all the various options available, visit www.sarniatallships.com.
The event has its own Facebook page as well—at facebook.com/sarnialambtontallships.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Lambton Shield magazine.