Theodore Tugboat replica sold to new owner in Ontario

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Theodore Too, the replica TV tugboat, is headed to a new home in Ontario. (CBC - image credit)
Theodore Too, the replica TV tugboat, is headed to a new home in Ontario. (CBC - image credit)

Halifax's iconic Theodore Tugboat is moving to a new home, but this doesn't mean farewell to Nova Scotia forever.

Theodore Too, Nova Scotia's life-sized TV replica tugboat, will soon start a new chapter promoting marine careers while based out of Hamilton, Ont., according to a release from current owner Ambassatours Gray Line.

The tug has been sold to Blair McKeil, founder of McKeil Marine, who has strong ties to Nova Scotia.

In his new role, Theodore will embark on promotional missions throughout the Great Lakes and Atlantic Canada to get people excited about the marine industry, McKeil said.

While many Atlantic Canadians grew up with friends or family working on the ocean or in marine jobs, McKeil said that's not the case for millions of people in Ontario.

"Ideally, we're going to use Theodore as a bit of a mascot and to sort of create awareness toward the whole industry, whether it's transportation or shipyards themselves," McKeil said Friday.

"It had to be Theodore. He's the only guy who could do that."

Theodore Tugboat was the title character of a children's television show that aired on CBC from 1993 to 2001. The replica boat was built in Dayspring, N.S., in 2000.

On the market since last summer

McKeil is a regular visitor to Nova Scotia with business interests in the province, the release said. His paternal grandfather and his father are from Pugwash, while his maternal grandfather was from Cape Breton.

Theodore, who was named as Halifax's welcoming ambassador by Mayor Mike Savage in 2016, was put on the market for $495,000 last July.

Dennis Campbell, CEO of Ambassatours, said at the time that the company had been subsidizing Theodore's operation for several years. With a severe reduction in waterfront visitors due to COVID-19, it decided to launch the tugboat into new waters.

But McKeil said he'd had his eye on Theodore long before this. He had offered to buy the tugboat a few years ago, but Campbell wasn't interested at the time.

When he heard that Theodore was being sold, McKeil said he called Campbell right away. He's also glad to see Ambassatours come through "a heck of a hard time" with the pandemic.

Theodore Tugboat, an oft-photographed fixture in Halifax Harbour, was deemed the city's "Welcome Ambassador" in 2016. He will now be promoting the marine industry from his home port in Hamilton, Ont.
Theodore Tugboat, an oft-photographed fixture in Halifax Harbour, was deemed the city's "Welcome Ambassador" in 2016. He will now be promoting the marine industry from his home port in Hamilton, Ont.(Colleen Jones/CBC)

"You know, we don't own anything. We spend time with things for a while and then we're gone," McKeil said.

"Theodore … will be a big part of our life for a while. So we're excited about that."

McKeil said his sons, now 25, grew up watching the show and his whole family is excited to welcome the famous tug.

Theodore will also be involved in promoting the preservation and protection of freshwater, McKeil said, as well as philanthropic projects like taking kids along for rides.

In the release Friday, Campbell said the company was looking for a buyer that would "harmonize" with Theodore's roots.

"While fielding inquiries from all over the world, it was the offer from Blair McKeil that felt like the best fit for Theodore's personality, experience and potential," Campbell said.

No sendoff date yet

There was a local crowdfunding campaign launched in an attempt to buy Theodore and keep him in the province, but that closed in September 2020. The $2,100 raised was given to United Way Halifax instead, the page states.

Although the smiling vessel will soon be based in Ontario, Campbell said he's confident that Maritimers will see Theodore again during his promotional tours.

McKeil said he is hopeful that will happen at some point, "but Nova Scotia is always going to be his home."

Theodore's departure date from Halifax has yet to be decided, since it will be influenced by weather and interprovincial COVID-19 regulations.

But McKeil said Theodore will stick around Halifax for the next couple months, before he starts working his way up the Nova Scotia coast en route to Ontario in June.

Before becoming a Halifax harbour tour vessel operated by Murphy's and Ambassatours, Theodore spent many summers on the Great Lakes, other Canadian ports, and down the U.S. Eastern Seaboard promoting Nova Scotia as a destination.

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