Oswego Canal Festival welcomes a parade of boats

The Urger, a New York State Canal tug, will join the fleet at Oswego’s Historic Maritime District on West First Street Pier from Wednesday, Aug. 29 to Saturday, Sept. 1.

Her visit is planned to help kick off the Oswego Canal Festival planned for Labor Day weekend. She will be available for free walk-aboard tours during regular museum hours.

The Oswego Canal Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1 through Monday, Sept. 3.

The public may visit an historic line-up of vessels and enjoy weekend festivities to honor the New York State Barge Canal System.

“The Urger tug is the flagship of the New York State Canal Corporation’s fleet and one of the oldest working vessels in the country,” said Mercedes Niess, executive director of the H. Lee White Marine Museum. “We’re so pleased to have her here to help launch the festival.”

The Urger was built in 1901 as a commercial shipping vessel. Twenty years later, she was sold into the New York State Canal fleet where she hauled machinery, dredges and scows. She was retired in the 1980s only to be returned to service a decade later.

Since her return in 1991, the Urger now spends her days touring and teaching. Each spring and fall, she can be found welcoming fourth-grade students to learn about the history of the canal system and the significant impact it has had, and continues to have, on canal communities and the surrounding areas.

As an ambassador for the New York State Canal System, the Urger continues her work throughout the summer by visiting ports along the canal to celebrate their shared canal heritage.

Another highlight of the festival will be the Lois McClure, a full-scale replica 1860s canal schooner. The 88-foot boat depicts 19th century canal ships that both sailed on open water and moved people and goods through the canal systems.

In 2002, she was built primarily from local forests in Maine, New York and Vermont for the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Two years later, she made her launch and inaugural tour of Lake Champlain.

Since that time, she has traveled thousands of miles to visit ports of call throughout the Northeast and Canada.

This historic vessel is currently making the voyage to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. The Lois McClure will be open for free public tours during festival hours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

She makes her arrival in the Oswego Harbor with her tugboat, the C.L. Churchill. In addition to the renowned line-up of visiting ships, attendees may tour Oswego’s distinguished home fleet. The U.S. Army Tug LT-5, a National Historic Landmark, is one such ship to call Oswego home.

The New York State Canal Derrick Boat No. 8 is another vessel based in Oswego. Shortly after her arrival in Oswego, the derrick boat was sunk in a severe storm. She was later rescued under the direction of Lance Knapp with assistance from the Oswego County Highway Department.

She is the last remaining steam-powered barge along the canal system and is also considered an actual shipwreck.

Another rescue is currently underway with the Eleanor D. The vessel was originally built in 1948 from surplus World War II sheet steel and later purchased by the Cahill family in 1958. The family of fishermen operated the boat on Lake Ontario until 1979. Surviving occasional 25-foot waves, she is the last U.S. commercial fishing vessel to work Lake Ontario.

The Ontario also enjoys her residence in the Oswego Harbor. She was christened and launched on July 2, 1994, exactly 115 years after the last schooner was built in Oswego.

An 85-foot topsail schooner, she was built by volunteers to be used by the Oswego Maritime Foundation as a floating classroom and is the only ship of her type on U.S. registry dedicated to public service on Lake Ontario.

Niess added, “In addition to the boats, we will have activities, crafts and historic presentations for the whole family to enjoy as we celebrate New York’s rich canal history.”

‘Haunted Harbor’

The museum’s annual “Tales of the Haunted Harbor” program will also take place over Labor Day weekend. The event begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1 with a rain date of Sunday, Sept. 2. A separate admission will be charged.

Festival admission is free and the museum will offer reduced admission to visit the main building.

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