James Whalen to be lifted from water

·5 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — The James Whalen tug will be lifted from the depths of the Kaministiquia River next week after it took on water and sank in May.

Cory Halvorsen, with the City of Thunder Bay, says initially when the tug sank, contractors reached out and suggested they were ready to act on this and they had the equipment to do it.

“That was the first report that I was passing along because that was literally what I was being told,” Halvorsen said. “As they looked at it more, they realized that this tug weighed 300 tonnes. The project complexity and scale were too great to just call up one contractor and ask them to just refloate it. They had to put together a plan.”

From that point, the city issued a request for proposal (RFP), clearly laid out the rules of the project and gave the opportunity to any local contractor through an emergency procurement process.

The $800,000 costs of refloating the tugboat include storing it somewhere securely for one or two years with it either moored at a dock or suspended on dry land.

Anticipation of the tug being installed in front of the Alexander Henry exhibit by the Thunder Bay Transportation Museum volunteers and president Charlie Brown, has sunk. Halvorsen says the original plan submitted from the contractor, stipulated once they refloated it, they were going to lift it out of the water and place it into a wood crib on the shore at the Paterson dock on the Kaministiquia River.

“However they store, it was really up to them,” said Halvorsen, of the contractor. “They have now considered rather than hoisting it out and putting it onto the dry land, they’re looking at just mooring at the Paterson dock — so that that is where it will move.”

He added that before it’s moved, an assessment will take place of the vessel’s soundness after it’s raised and pumped out to determine if there are any major leaks or damage that will cause it to take on water quickly.

He says it’s not that they wouldn’t consider storing the Whalen tug at the transportation museum but it’s not something that they can “just go and do.”

“It’s something that requires dredging and permits and right now we’re currently in the time of year where in-water work is restricted. Right now, it’s not as simple to do as it would be in the summer. So we’re going to have from now until next summer to work on a decision about what to do with it,” he said.

The city has leased the land, adjacent to the cruise ship dock, to the transportation museum in a five-year lease that will expire in November this year.

Halverson says he has been working closely with the cruise ships and says they are learning about the space requirements for the large vessels. Although the city needs to “really consider” the use of the cruise ship dock, the museum’s lease is in place.

“They have a lease through the land they’re using and the space on the dock and I really can’t say specifically what kind of change, if any, is coming there,” he said.

Charlie Brown, president of the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society, is frustrated with the decision to keep the tug on the Kam River instead of at the Pool 6 site south of Marina Park. He said he can’t understand why they didn’t float the Whalen tug, prior to its sinking, to a spot they reserved in front of the docked Alexander Henry.

“Of everything that we have on our property, we said (the James Whalen) was one of the original things that we wanted to save years and years ago when we started this organization. It hasn’t come to fruition,” Brown said. “We did get to save the brill buses and we’re building some canopies over top of them. The rail guys have restored the caboose back to its originality and did a really great job on that. So those are two things, but there’s still the VIA train and there’s still the Whalen but the city owns them. It’s totally their responsibility. So it’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing we can do unless the city would like to work with us. We’re still hoping that can happen. But that’s entirely up to them.”

Brown’s museum society is also hoping the city will lower the rent for the property going forward.

Meanwhile, the museum is attracting visitors with the newest being the embarking and disembarking passengers from the neighboring docked cruise ships.

“In spite of all the roadblocks, we’ve done remarkably well. Today for the first time we were actually getting people off the Viking Octantis when the ship came in early today because of the weather,” Brown said. “They absolutely positively love our tours.”

The cruise ship had to bypass Silver Islet due to heavy winds and sailed directly to the Thunder Bay port around 11 a.m. Friday morning due to high winds, says Paul Pepe, manager of Tourism Thunder Bay.

“(The transportation museum) is the first thing we’re promoting to guests,” said Pepe.

The Viking Octantis will make its final visit of the season to Thunder Bay on Sept. 16 and leave for the year on Sept. 18.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal