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“Alexander Henry’s” voyage continues (Thank goodness)

[Editor’s Note:  I added “thank goodness”, and commend John Reisinger for following the story. Many of us greatly appreciate when Town Councils help preserve history.]

Last November, ThousandIslandsLife had an article (A Last Night on the “Alexander Henry”) about the “Alexander Henry”, the venerable icebreaker/buoy tender that was the centerpiece of the Kingston Maritime Museum for so many years. The article told of a noble ship apparently doomed to an ignoble fate of being either dismantled or sunk because the museum lost its lease to development. There was talk of moving the ship to Thunder Bay, but nothing had been decided, and time was running out.

Since then, however, the people of Thunder Bay have come through and moved the Henry to the town where it was built. The return was largely the work of the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society, a private organization that has worked tirelessly to return the Alexander Henry. Thunder Bay contributed $125,000 and Kingston $50,000 towards the total budget of $250,000 for the long distance towing.

Alexander Henry at Thunder Bay

“Alexander Henry” at the ore pier in Thunder Bay

Photo by Leith Dunick,


The move involved an epic thousand-mile voyage in which the Henry was towed from the Thousand Islands across Lake Ontario, through the Welland Canal, across Lake Erie, past Detroit and Windsor, across Lake Huron, through Sault Ste Marie, and across Lake Superior to Thunder Bay. Well-wishers eagerly followed the progress on Facebook until the ship arrived safely at Thunder Bay. So it would seem that the hardest part of the effort to save the Henry was over.

Not so fast.

When the Alexander Henry finally arrived at Thunder Bay, the city fathers were still debating where to put the ship as a permanent home. So the Henry was tied up at Thunder Bay’s iron ore pier, a barren industrial place dimly recalling a more prosperous past. Because this question was still up in the air, the official opening of the ship was put off until September. There is a small waterfront park called Kam River Park that already has a train and a smaller ship on display, and would seem to be a possible place, but it is deserted after dark and isolated on the other side of both a highway and railroad tracks, so security would be a concern. Judging by comments posted on the local news website, this location did not generate much public support.

The Lakehead Transportation Museum Society, along with many of its donors, favored Pool Six, a developing marina area where the Henry would be more visible, be exposed to more foot traffic, and would be more of a tourist attraction. So, for weeks, even after its marathon voyage across the Great Lakes, the Alexander Henry waited silently at the drab and lonely iron ore pier, looking forward to better days. Was it possible that after all the work and all the high hopes the Alexander Henry would wind up at a place where few would see her and there would be a constant threat of vandalism?

But now, like the sun breaking through after a storm on the lakes, better days are suddenly on the horizon for the Henry. It’s not often a city council can be heroes, but on July 31st, the Thunder Bay council passed a resolution directing the administration to come to a lease agreement with the Thunder Bay Port Authority, allowing the former Canadian Coast Guard ship to be displayed at the Pool Six location. This would put the Alexander Henry proudly in the heart of the developing marina area, near an existing tourist pagoda, new luxury condos, restaurants, and even a casino. For those who appreciate irony, the ship that was displaced by waterfront development will now find a home because of it. She will be seen every day by tourists, residents, and boaters.

Not bad for a ship that appeared to be headed for the scrapyard less than a year ago.

Welcome home. It’s been a long voyage.

John Reisinger is an author living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore but he and his wife Barbara come to the Thousand Islands for vacations. John writes about real-life people, places and events. Two of his books have won Gold Medals in the Global eBook Awards! Check out Flanagan and the Crown of Mexico, Death and the Blind Tiger and visit his webpage to see his complete list of fiction and non-fiction works. In the September, 2016 issue of TI Life, John wrote Buried Treasure in the Thousand Islands.

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