21 Mar

Top Hat Ceremony

Today, I attended the annual Top Hat Ceremony for the official opening of the Welland Canal at Lock 3 here in St. Catharines.

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Judging from the packed house 20 minutes before the ceremony began, I didn’t arrive early enough.

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Before heading up to the second floor, I made sure to sign the guestbook and pry a program loose from one of the volunteers engrossed in a conversation with one of his colleagues. Luckily, I was able to get a good seat right up front before the others joined me.

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Master of Ceremonies D’Arcy Wilson kicked off the event while Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin shot me a “What the heck is he up to?” look. It’s a media event, Alan. I wasn’t the only one there with a camera.

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Francois Allard, Director of Marine Services for Windsor Salt and Allister Paterson, President of Canada Steamship Lines.

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Betty Sutton of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and Terence Bowles of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

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After an anthem singing I could have lived without, Bowles spoke first, followed by Sutton. Bowles played a video proudly showing off the new hands free mooring system being used on the canal and throughout the Seaway.

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Our mayor, Walter Sendzik, then took the podium. I have never known a more dynamic public speaker.

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Ted Luciani, Thorold’s mayor and a 25-year Seaway employee.

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Alan Caslin. Now he appears a little more receptive to the spotlight.

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Paterson spoke about the gloomy state of affairs with the market in China bottoming out.

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Allard then spoke about the salt business. There’s something so fitting about having the first ship through the canal being filled with the essence of Ontario.

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Gifts were then presented.

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Kathleen Powell of the St. Catharines Museum then presented the Top Hat to the captain of the Thunder Bay. The Top Hat tradition apparently dates back to the days of the fur trade, as the beaver pelts were used to make hats.

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The captain poses for the cameras.

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Bowles presented a plaque to the captain and chief engineer.

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Chaplain Arthur Taylor then led the group in prayer. No, we weren’t on our knees on a rug praying toward Mecca. Maybe there’s still some hope for us after all.

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Finally, Bowles and Sutton officially declare the shipping season open, bringing the hour-long ceremony to a close.

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As the crowd dispersed and headed downstairs for the free food, the participants posed for a group picture.

For the second straight year, I’m glad I went and again learned more about the Seaway’s importance not only to the region, but the North American economy.