October 2006 - Ladd's Landing - Grand Isle, VT
It was late afternoon after a chaotic day of school groups on the North Lake Education Tour that I met Tim McShane. He came on board Lois slowly, taking everything in, only the way an experienced eye can. Soon he and I were in a pleasant conversation about the vessel and her travels. As we discussed the previous year's tour down the Hudson to New York City he shared with me his experiences as a tug captain in the very same area. When our conversation turned to the future exploits of Lois McClure
I shared with him our vision of going north to Canada in 2008. He handed one of his business cards from Vermont Electric Boatworks
and said that if we were planning to go north to contact him. In addition to electric boats he works for a shipping company in Montreal and said he could help us with connections. That evening I scrawled a few notes on his card and filed it.
January 2008 - My office at LCMM
After coming off the high of the incredibly successful Grand Canal Journey in 2007 and with an invitation from Quebec City to join them for their 400th celebration we set the gears in motion to see if a tour of Canada in 2008 was really in the cards. Despite funding still being in limbo we had to start looking at the logistics of the tour. In addition to Quebec City what other ports would we go to? Montreal? Ottawa? What's it like navigating the St. Lawrence? Would we be able to make way against the current? Do we need special vessel permits? What other border issues are there? What about bilingual interpreters and written material? Being in charge of logistics for our tours, these and dozens of other questions were swirling in my head and I wanted to get busy finding the answers. With Art's permission I started my investigation of what lay in store for us. I cracked open my file and pulled out Tim McShane's card. I called Tim and explained what was afoot and he asked me to let him do a bit ice breaking first and he'd call me back. He did just that and gave me the number of Robert van den Ende of Gresco in Montreal. He said, "Robert is willing to help." That would prove to be a huge understatement.
April 10, 2008 - Gresco's office - Old Port of Montreal
I sat next to Art in the board room of the Gresco office in one of the incredible old stone buildings in the Old Port of Montreal. We looked about the space with various ship models, national flags, and golf trophies while we waited for Robert to join us. Gresco is a shipping agent and broker. If you own a ship and want to load or unload in the Montreal-Sorel region you might call them. They'll arrange everything, including tug and pilot service, inspectors for the vessel and its freight, documentation, etc. They know the river and all the players. They have connections. I had a lot of questions and was sincerely wondering how much help they would be willing to provide. At least Tim told them we're a non-profit, didn't he?
At this point we had already met with the Quebec City 400
folks and knew where we stood with them. The schedule was beginning to be roughed in but there were still some serious questions. We figured we'd put the rig up and take it down in Sorel, but was that feasible? Who would do the crane work and where? Would we need tug assistance in Montreal or Quebec? Who would do it? How much would it cost?
When Robert came in we laid out who we are and what we had in mind for the tour. His eyes would widen and narrow in accord with our statements as he looked over the various images we had brought to share. Over the next forty-five minutes we discussed the tour and its related issues and repeatedly he would say, "We'll look into that." Co-workers like Yves Lafond dropped in to look over the materials and see what the two strange guys wanted. Even Bob Muir, one of the founders of Gresco came in. He told great stories in a thick Scottish accent and shared his enthusiasm for history. Art and I left with a great feeling that we may have just met the John Callaghan of the St. Lawrence. John had been instrumental in the logistics of our boat movements every step along the Erie Canal tour the previous year, like a guardian angel.
Ever since that meeting I've been pestering Robert with questions and requests. Never has he acted as if it's a burden. I feel Gresco shares our enthusiasm for these waterways and enjoys helping a worthwhile project. They invited me to a golf invitational they hosted, giving me the opportunity to meet other potential supporters such as Ocean, who provided us with the incredible tow service into Montreal. Gresco also secured crane service from Grues Guerin for our rig in Sorel-Tracy at no charge. They have tirelessly and gladly helped us every step of the way on the St. Lawrence. Now we were in their city.
July 17, 2008 - Jacque Cartier Basin - Old Port of Montreal
As we arrived in the Old Port on July 16 the dock was lined with staff ready to take our lines. Amongst them was Marco Lenzi the harbormaster. After our meeting with Gresco in April I had made contact with the Old Port of Montreal
and set up yet another meeting. It would be their docks that would best suit our needs. I desperately hoped that they would have space and would be willing to accommodate us. I met with Marco and Sylvain Lainesse the director of quays (docks) operations. All my hopes came true. They were enthusiastic and incredibly supportive of our visit. They provided us with a premium location for the dates I requested along with all the amenities this incredible facility has to offer including bathrooms, showers, and laundry right on the docks! There was another wonderful surprise on the dock.
Volunteer Mike Yarwood (far left) and his shipmates aboard Lois McClure. Photo by Kathleen Carney.
Last year I was contacted by Mike Yarwood from Ontario to volunteer aboard Lois
on the Erie Canal. Mike had been an awesome guy to have aboard and now he was standing on the dock! After securing the boat and settling in I caught up with Mike and his shipmates. They're part of a flotilla on the way to Quebec City. His flotilla would end up being our first visitors this morning, just before the press conference.
The press conference was not organized by us, but instead by more outside help. Colleen Hickey of the Lake Champlain Basin Program
strategized with long-time friend of the museum Anne Drost of the Montreal firm Fasken Martineau
. Together, and with support from Louise Pothier of the Pointe-a-Calliere Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History
they pulled together a well-attended event. Newspaper reporters and TV crews crowded the dock to hear remarks by our own Art Cohn, Burlington Mayor Kiss, and Richard Deschamps, a City Councilor from the LaSalle Borough of Montreal. Even WPTZ from the Champlain Valley was there: watch their story online
. The press conference had no sooner ended when we hosted the sixty friends of Pointe-a-Calliere to a group tour. We were off and running in Montreal!
Gresco invited First Mate Erick Tichonuk aboard Ocean's 4,000 horsepower tugboat Duga, seen here maneuvering a large grain ship off the dock, on her way to Spain. Photo by Erick Tichonuk.
In past tours we've relied upon our long-term pool of incredible volunteers. It had become routine to create "rotations" with van loads of help coming and going on a roughly weekly basis. Like many of our core crew, most of our regular volunteers don't speak French, and that's what we really needed. The strategy became to involve as many local folks as possible to help us with interpretation at each port. We've looked to many sources for help. During the planning phases of the tour Art and I met with colleagues from both the Pointe-a-Calliere Mueum and the Stewart Museum
. Our goal was to see how we might collaborate on the visit. Both museums responded by providing us with bilingual interpreters. Tyler, Karine, and Alain are all of the highest quality, a true asset to our program and down-right fun to have around.
We're now in the home town of Jean Belisle, our very own crew member from Concordia University and long-time friend of the museum. He spent plenty of time on the phone in the days before arriving in Montreal to coax his family and friends into helping us interpret. They came out in droves; including sister Claire, niece Emilie, son Antoine, and son's girlfriend Barbara. Jean also roped in some of his colleagues including Pierre, Robert, and Jean. Our crew was now flush with bilingual speakers, and some great people!
After a full day of interpretation in the Old Port of Montreal we prepared to host a very special event that evening aboard Lois McClure. We've hosted fundraisers for all types of non-profits, been the platform for weddings, and even spread people's ashes; but never have we celebrated the appointment of a Superior Court Judge. Our congratulations go out to Fasken Martineau's Paul Mayer. Our stay in Montreal was off and running, a total of six days open to the public. As we settled into the busy routine I anxiously awaited the arrival of my daughter Emily for a few days of fun.
I hope this log entry gives you some inkling of the planning and logistical process that goes into a tour. It's just a glimpse, and the reader should be delighted to know I've left out dozens of details. I also hope this gives a greater appreciation of all the incredible support we receive. It takes financial and logistical support as well as time. Thousands of hours of valuable time are given to us on the part of our volunteers and so many others. I extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who supports the Lois McClure on her mission of sharing the amazing story of our shared heritage along these waterways.