Council asked to berth Owandem

Sam Odrowski

The Friends of the Museum are hoping to display an important piece of Fort Frances history along the waterfront, next to the Hallett.

The Owandem, a small tugboat with strong ties to the town’s logging history, has been restored following the group’s fundraising of $12,000, in conjunction with the Fort Frances Museum, which kicked in an additional $8,000.

“Now it’s time to build a landlocked berth for the boat near the Hallett,” said Friends of the Museum member Caren Fagerdahl during a presentation to council at last Tuesday’s meeting.

The group asked town to cover the cost, since spending the last few years fundrasing to restore the 26-foot-long boat and paint it green and white–the colours of the local mill.

Some structural work was also done to the boat as well as sandblasting.

All of its battle scars are left intact, which speaks to the boat’s history, according to fellow Friends member Eric Fagerdahl.

On the back of the last Canadian one dollar bill, before it went out of circulation in 1989, it shows the Hallett and Owandem together on the Ottawa River in front of Parliament, demonstrating the boat’s historical relevance to Canada.

“It’s really important that we get the Owandem next door to the Hallett, so any way the Town of Fort Frances can help us to make this come to fruition would be great,” Eric Fagerdahl said to council.

The Friends of the Museum presented two different proposals for how the tugboat could be berthed, costing approximately $40,000 or $80,000.

The $80,000 proposal, which was drawn out by Eric Fagerdahl, would have the Owandem recessed into the ground with stones on each side and a beam at its base since the boat was built to lay very low in the water.

The town’s Operations and Facilities manager Travis Rob said there were some concerns with this proposal because of drainage issues, environmental concerns of hull remnants (oil and gas) potentially leaking into the ground, and its long-term sustainability.

Alternatively, he said the Owandem may be mounted about eight inches off the ground on a concrete base to mitigate the need for drainage, with viewing platforms elevated around it, giving access to all sides of the boat. The estimated cost of this proposal would be roughly $40,000.

Council was very pleased with the Friends of the Museum’s presentation and their efforts to restore the Owandem.

“I really want to thank the Friends of the Museum for taking this project on,” said Coun. Andrew Hallikas.

“I’ve looked at pictures of the boat from the condition that it was in when it first came over to the finished product here and it’s magnificent-you’ve done a magnificent job,” he lauded.

While no promises were made by council following the Friends of the Museum’s presentation, Coun. Hallikas said this is a project that should be given priority.

“The Hallett and the Owandem are our heritage, we’ve had a mill here for almost 100 years . . . so I think mounting the Owandem some place near the Hallett, having those two boats together once again, is . . . in essence using the past to invest in our future.”

Coun. Hallikas said council accepted a certain amount of responsibility when the town chose to accept the Owandem from its previous owner, he late Arden Erickson Barnes, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain who purchased the boat when it was decommissioned in 1993.

When Barnes passed away in 2014, it was her wish that the boat go to the Fort Frances Museum because of its significance to the town. The boat was brought over the border back on Dec. 22, 2016.

The Owandem was built specifically for the local mill in 1942, by the Russel Brothers, a boatbuilding company that originated out of Fort Frances and also created the Hallet.

“There’s still people in this town that have worked on it, had captained this little Owandem and worked on the Hallet,” Eric Fagerdahl noted.

“We just felt that with Arden giving us this boat, she gave us a chance to bring these two boats back together which is just unreal.

“We never ever thought that would’ve ever happened because most of these boats were not saved,” he added.

Council is currently trying to convert Fort Frances into more of a tourism destination and Coun. John McTaggart said the Owandem fits that bill.

Mayor June Caul also supports the project and lauded the work done by the Friends of the Museum to restore the tugboat.

She said the boats land-lock berthing will be brought forward during the 2020 budget process.

“It’s on our radar. There isn’t one person sitting at this table who wouldn’t agree with me that this is definitely a worthwhile tourist attraction to start getting people to actually stop here,” remarked Mayor Caul.

“We want Fort Frances to be a destination, not a drive-through town.”

Town CAO Doug Brown said while he echoes council’s point of view, 2020 will be a different budget year with asset management being a priority and the loss of tax dollars through the mill if it doesn’t reopen in an industrial capacity.

“We are going to be in kind of a survival mode this year so I think everything’s got to be taken into account,” Brown explained.

“You’re competing with all kinds of external forces that are going to affect the way we do business in the future, and 2020 is probably the first year that we’re going to see some change–major crisis, maybe. Hopefully, we can try to avoid that.”