Set Sail at Canal Days [Port Colborne, ON]

Nestled on the north shore of Lake Erie – Port Colborne is usually a quiet little town, but not on the Labour Day weekend in August. Tens of thousands of people crowd the canal for Canal Days each year, and for the last two years I have been one of them.

This year I kicked off my Canal Days experience with the opening concert on Friday night. Armed with a camping chair I settled in around 7pm and not too many people were there yet. First up was Thunder Bay, Rock ‘n’ roll band Poor Young Things with their fresh and hip sound and my favourite of theirs is called Let it Sleep – it’s very catchy … excellent for road tripping! Next to hit the stage, from Nova Scotia, was The Stanfields – their thunderous and raw sound brought me back to my first Maritime concert (well, if you consider a concert in Fort McMurray to be a maritime concert … but that’s a whole other blog post). Their biggest crowd pleasers were Crocodile Tears and The Dirtiest Drunk – both a lot of fun to dance to. Finally, The Trews headlined the show and, as expected it was incredible. If you aren’t familiar with The Trews I suggest that you check out their song Hope and Ruin – it is my favourite. It was past midnight when I left and the party was still raging on … probably due to the beer and coolers tent …

After a great night’s sleep, on Saturday afternoon I headed back to Port — the promenade was bustling with vendors and people armed with water bottles to keep themselves hydrated. It was a scorching 40 degrees outside before humidity and everyone’s shiny faces were a constant reminder of the heat. I found refuge inside the Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum where the ROM had donated an inflatable traveling Starlab. It seemed popular with the kids, I was a little curious but not curious enough to climb into a constricted bubble with a handful of other sweaty people – so I pressed on. The museum grounds were full of many different local associations and demonstrations including the Point Abino Preservation Society, the Niagara 1812 organizers, and who could forget the remote control motor-boat races. In the historical blacksmith shop there were live demonstrations … I managed to collect a nail that one of the local blacksmiths transformed into a sword – the kids loved it! I also discovered the community-run Arabella’s Tea Room but decided to save that for another lux experience because it’s open year-round.

Down in the promenade beside the canal were a ton of gourmet (and not-so-gourmet) food vendors. You could choose from Panzeroli’s (mini pizza pops) to traditional Funnel cakes, from back-country BBQ to good ole fashioned Greek gyros. Your taste-buds certainly had their choice of carnival options and your nose could lead the way . Me, I stuck to a large glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade – certainly hit the spot on such a hot day.

There were also a lot of clothing, belt buckle, sunglasses and other “kitchy” vendors. Some local businesses had also set up shop outside of their businesses and it was this local flare that I liked the most. There were even some local fundraisers going on for cancer and other charities which I certainly appreciated.

Something I especially enjoyed seeing was a small chalk-board explaining what ships were expected through the canal that day. We were there in the early afternoon and there weren’t too many barges … but lining the canal were two tall ships – the US Brig Niagara (also called Flagship Niagara) and the Empire Sandy. Both are a sight for sore eyes. The US Brig Niagara is manned by sailers who are learning to sail for the summer. They climb aboard and stay-on for pds of 2+ weeks and learn to ‘swab the deck’, all about the millions of ropes that line the decks and have themselves a heck of a summer I’m sure. It’s fun to talk through the boats, appreciate the hard work that goes sailing and, for me, it especially made me grateful for my air-conditioning.

The Empire Sandy is another great tall ship and, unlike the US Brig Niagara, for $20 a person you can go on a morning or afternoon cruise on Lake Erie and during the evenings you can pay $69 for a dinner cruise. Me, I rode this ’empire’ last year and found out that I don’t have very strong sea legs … so I took a pass this year. From what I remember it was quite fun to see people up and down the sails to keep the boat going. The MC of the cruise was also really funny. And, I like when they fire the port-side cannon as they are coming back into dock – always gives the people walking along the promenade a little startle and those on the ship a great laugh!

I must admit that I was also looking forward to seeing and walking through the Canadian Coast Guard ship called the Cove Isle but they weren’t in port like they were expected to be. Who knows – maybe it was called into service … considering it’s the Coast Guards 50th Anniversary this year it would have been nice to talk to some of our sailers and celebrate with them. I guess I have reason to go back next year.

This year there was also a 60+ vendor craft show at the West Side arena, a giant-kite show, a sailing festival of lights, rubber-duck racing, a vintage car show and of course the closing fireworks spectacular on Sunday night not to mention another concert series with David Wilcox and Sloan among others. If you’ve never been to Canal Days before I suggest that you put it on your radar for 2013 – it’s a great event with fun and sun for every age.


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