Winters grasp begins to take hold. The boaters are long gone, either to a distant land or are squirreled away inside, beside a wood burning stove, with a cup a tea and a book in hand. Those who call the 1000 Islands home, look out to the river and watch the ice patiently take control of the water, halting the migration of boats down the seaway until winter releases its snowy grasp again.
As the year draws to an end, many reflect on the highlights of the year, with one of the most memorable events of the season being the Tall Ships Festival in Brockville, during the month of June. With 45,000 visitors flocking to the waterfront to see thirteen tall ships from around the world, stopping for their first port of call, on their tour of the Great Lakes region, many are calling the festival a cornerstone moment in the region’s tourism industry. But when the ice fades away in the New Year many are unsure about the future of the Tall Ships Festival and the tourism industry in the area.
The Tall Ships 1812 Tour was truly a unique event. Sailing to 15 ports throughout the Great Lakes region, in the summer, to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the tall ships graced the 1000 Islands with their presence by stopping at Brockville’s waterfront, during their first port of call.
The tall ships, a term used to generally describe a sailing vessel that simply has at least one tall mast, are a magnificent sight! It is fitting way to celebrate the history of the War of 1812, as this style of ships was a common sight in the past. I personally have only seen this style of ship as a shell of their former beauty, slowly sinking into the silt at the bottom of the river, while SCUBA diving, so to see a tall ship in action was a sight to behold! For myself and as a delight for many others, the Tall Ships festival, brought to life a time from the past and was a memorable event this summer.
I am very familiar with the Brockville Narrows, and was able to use this to my advantage during the festival. Growing up as a child, I was fortunate to have my parents introduce my family to the region and spent weekends swimming in the currents rushing around the islands. Constantly dreaming of ways to get myself back to the 1000 Islands, I was able to land a summer job in Brockville.
I was living in the heart of Brockville, so when the tall ships came into town, it provided me the perfect chance to explore the ships and capture some moments in a photo essay.
Both on the water, during they day, and at night, I was able to relish in the beauty of the tall ships. Fireworks, sunset dinner cruises, and even the American Poker Run cumulated to become one of my most memorable experiences of the St. Lawrence River this year.
With the festival long over and the ice settling in, many are wondering whether or not the Tall Ships Festival, was a one hit wonder or the beginning of a new tradition. With the festival exceeding expectations drawing in massive crowds with an economic impact of over $4 million, there is a lot of interest to bring the festival back in the future. However the tall ships only sail the Great Lakes every four or five years, which will make it more difficult to lure as many ships to another festival in the coming years. The City of Brockville’s "festival and events reserve account" holds $115,000 of surplus, generated by the festival’s profits, and currently there is concern over how this money will be used moving forward.
The Tall Ships Volunteer Committee, would like the money to go towards hiring a Festival and Events Coordinator, to facilitate planning tourism events in the future.
The Tall Ships festival was a huge success as a result of the dedicated work of over 300 volunteers. It is quite common for volunteers to burnout, which creates the challenge of constantly having to look for new volunteers. They are hoping that future events do not solely depend on volunteers, but as a collaboration between them and the City. The new position will aim to help lift volunteers up; not replace them.
Brockville’s City Council is expected to vote on what to do with the proceeds in the coming week. Even if the Tall Ships Festival is not a viable option for the new year, with the help of volunteers and the city’s support, there is hope that the tourism industry in the 1000 Islands region will continue to grow and delight many to the splendors of the area.
Bundled up in my jacket I stroll down the streets feebly battling the winter winds while I dream of the long summer days out on the river. The tourists are gone and I begin to question what exactly will bring them back? I will always come back to the 1000 Islands only because I am well aware of how much fun and beautiful the river actually is. Festivals just like Tall Ships on the river introduce the wonders of the region and the tourism benefits the local economy. Moving forward as a region, do we want to step up and support this industry or will we continue to leave the 1000 Islands as a hidden gem?
By Michael Chahley, www.nothingisknown.com
Michael Chahley is concurrently studying engineering in Toronto and practicing entrepreneurship. Intimately familiar with the 1000 Islands, he enjoys spending the summer days boating through the islands, exploring shipwrecks, and taking photographs of the region. His new website,www.nothingisknown.com, is dedicated to sharing stories from our world to better engage people in conversations about it. Prints of the photographs are available for purchase online. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.