12.5 tons of concrete was not enough to keep a Fort Frances landmark in place. With key infrastructure in its path, the safest course of action was to remove the Hallet from the water, according to Town of Fort Frances Operations and Facilities Manager Travis Rob.
“As people may or may not know, last week, we added concrete ballasts to the boat as the water level was continuing to rise in the river,” Rob said. “We were able to add about 25,000 pounds worth of concrete to the boat, hoping that that would be enough with water levels subsiding.”
However, water levels haven’t subsided.
“As the water levels continued to rise it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be enough of a solution to the problem,” he added. “And the boat floating was an inevitability.”
The Hallett has never been anchored in place normally it sits in concrete saddles, dependant on gravity to hold it in place.
“In the event that the boat starts to float, there’s nothing stopping it from taking off downstream,” Rob said. “Which would, of course, have had catastrophic consequences with the bridge and of course the dam beyond that. We had a few different options that we were batting around and really it came down to lifting it out being the safest option for the boat, and of course the downstream infrastructure. There’s no risk of it floating away if it’s sitting on dry land of course. It wasn’t the easiest solution but it is definitely the safest solution.”
The operation which had a lot of technical aspects came together fast, Rob says. The initial decision was made Sunday afternoon and The Hallet was out of the river by Monday evening.
“I started making some phone calls through Sunday evening,” Rob said. “We got the crane from Thunder Bay Mobilized for first thing Monday Morning and George Armstrong Company with some supplemental equipment and materials. We had town crews disassembling things like the railing and some interpretive signage. Fort Frances Power Corporation had to come lay down two light standards that were in proximity to the pavilion. We also had to mobilize a diver to do the rigging of the slings underneath the boat in the water.”
The early part of the process went well, Rob says. The crews with LH North and George Armstrong Company worked well.
“We had some great crane operators, very skilled, very good equipment,” Rob said. “They came right in, got set up and they rigged it all up as fast as they could. Once that was done the lift went as good as we could have ever hoped.”
The Hallet was lifted from the river and onto a flatbed trailer where it was secured for a short trip down the road to the parking lot at the nearby Sorting Gap Marina.
“The winds died down just before we started lifting the boat out of the water,” Rob said. “But unfortunately we weren’t able to set the boat on the parking lot last night. We did shut down early because of the weather. So that was a little nerve wracking as we had to leave the boat on the trailer last night.”
The process was interrupted by the severe thunder and lightning storm that tore through Fort Frances Monday night. Thankfully, the boat was secure and it stayed in place and it was laid securely onto the parking lot Tuesday morning.
The Hallet is 82 years old and formerly served on Rainy River as a tugboat in the logging industry. It is currently under the purview of the Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre. Museum Curator Kayleigh Speirs says while people won’t be able to see the inside of The Hallet this summer, there is a unique opportunity to see the entire exterior. This time will also be used to figure out the future of the vessel.
“While the Hallet is out of the water we will use this time to consider the long-term care and sustainability of our beloved tug,” Speirs said in a post on Facebook. “While people likely won’t be able to explore the interior of the Hallet this summer, you will be able to get a 360 view of it while it sits in the parking lot at the marina. Rest assured that the tug will return to its more permanent berth, however, we will be exploring options for how to better conserve and share this important piece of our town’s history.”
Rob says he was reassured of the decision on Monday as preparations were underway
“The other thing that helped, I guess I would say, is that in the afternoon yesterday [Monday],
just shortly after lunch the boat did start floating on its own even with the ballast on it,” Rob said. “Which allowed us that reassurance that this needed to happen sooner rather than later and it got everyone focussed on the task at hand and the importance of it.”
While the effort to conserve The Hallet will likely come away with a significant price tag, Rob says that the primary consideration was safety.
“In emergency situations like this we don’t have time to go out and solicit quotations,” Rob said. We’re reacting. We have a job to do, we need to get it done and it’s going to cost what it’s going to cost. We just need to make sure it happens. The cost of lifting the boat out of the water is far less than the cost of the boat floating downstream into the bridge.”