Oswego Canal Festival Welcomes a Parade of Boats

OSWEGO – The Urger, a New York State Canal tug, joins the fleet at Oswego’s Historic Maritime District on West First Street Pier from Aug. 29 to 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. Sept. 1 through 3.

The H. Lee White Marine Museum welcomes the public to 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.

The Detroit Free Press once described her as the “finest fishing boat in the local fishing fleet.”

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.

In addition to Oswego, the Lois McClure will visit the ports of Ottawa and Kingston, Ontario; Montréal, Québec; and Sackets Harbor, New York before traveling back to Lake Champlain where she will make stops at Essex, New York and Vergennes, Vermont.

Niess said, “The bicentennial is a great opportunity to bring attention to the role this region played in an important chapter of American history. Many ports on their tour either had forts that were significant to the War of 1812 or supplied naval ships to the American fleet during the war.”

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.

The 33-foot tug was built in 1964 for lumber dealer Chester L. Churchill.

Originally powered by steam, she was later retro-fitted with a 6-cylinder diesel engine.

The Churchill regularly assists the Lois McClure on tours.

In addition to the renowned line-up of visiting ships, attendees are invited to 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 115-foot ocean vessel was built in 1943 for service in World War II.

Under attack during the Normandy Invasion, a gunner aboard the LT-5 used one of her 50-calibur machine guns to bring down a German fighter plane.

She is the last remaining operational U.S. Army transport vessel of her type from World War II.

The New York State Canal Derrick Boat No. 8 is another vessel based in Oswego.

She was constructed in 1925 and used for dredging, canal lock repairs and lifting heavy boats.

Ames Ironworks in Oswego built the steam boiler system that powered the vessel.

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 under way with the Eleanor D.

In 2007, a small band of volunteers began to stabilize and restore the nearly 60-year-old vessel where she rests on the pier.

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.”

Museum guides will discuss the canal system and Oswego’s maritime history, while a display that highlights youth sailing, fishing, diving and more will be located in the Oswego Maritime Foundation Pavilion.

“The Oswego Canal played an important role in transporting people and products through the region and this event allows us the opportunity to highlight this history,” said Rich Bush, president of the board of trustees for the H. Lee White Marine Museum.

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. on Sept. 1 with a rain date of Sept. 2.

A separate admission will be charged.

The main sponsor of this year’s festival is Wayne Drug Store.

Additional sponsors that helped make this event possible are Oswego Elks Lodge #271, Oswego Family Physicians, Mrs. Norma DeAmbra, and Stewart’s Shops.

Further support is provided by Drs. Dexter, Baker and Youngman of Harbor Eye Associates; Oswego Port Authority; the city of Oswego; The Picture Connection and the Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning.

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

For more information about the Oswego Canal Festival, call the H. Lee White Marine Museum at 315-342-0480, or find them online at www.hleewhitemarinemuseum.com or Facebook page.