Hallett’s new home to be the purview of next council

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer
The Owandem sits in its temporary resting place at the town’s public works yard in this photo from July 2020. Following significant restoration work, the Ownadem is ready to join its larger sibling, the Hallett, along the riverfront. A new plan proposed by Fort Frances Museum curator Kay-leigh Spiers would see a new resting spot built to acco-modate both of the Russell Brothers boats along the waterfront in order to replace the damaged concrete cradle that had been holding up the Hallett near the Sorting Gap Marina. The timeline of the Ontario municipal elections means that any future developments regarding the Hallett and Owandem will likely be left to the next council. —Ken Kellar photo

Any decisions on the future of the Hallett will be left up to the next Town of Fort Frances council.

A new home for the iconic boat was on Monday night’s council agenda following a report from Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre curator Kayleigh Spiers. In her report, Spiers shared that following the discovery of damage to the Hallett’s concrete berth, it might be time to think up a new location to display not only the tugboat, but its sibling, the Owandem. Both boats were built by Russel Brothers Ltd., which operated out of Fort Frances from 1907 until 1937, when it moved to Owen Sound, where it continued in operations until 1993. The Hallett and Owandem were both built in the 40s at the Owen Sound location.

“On May 30, 2022, history was made in Fort Frances when the historic Hallett tugboat was taken out of the water in order to prevent it from breaching its cradle and drifting away due to the extensive flooding in the area,” Spiers wrote.

“Attempts had been made to weigh the Hallett down using concrete blocks, however, due to the unprecedented high water levels, the tug had shifted in its cradle and needed to be safely removed. During the rigging of the tug in preparation for the removal, the diver hired to complete the rigging noted that the stern concrete cradle had cracked at some point and would require remedial repairs before the boat could be safely returned to its location in the water. While the Hallett has been out of the water, we have had time to consider the long-term care and sustainability of our beloved tug and have been exploring options for how to better conserve and share this important piece of our town’s history.”

Spiers noted that the museum has since developed a three-phase plan to locate and design a new permanent display area for both boats that will include new and updated educational signage. The plan also includes outreach and co-operation with area First Nations communities to better represent Indigenous stories along the waterfront, and even to include both English and Anishinaabemowin on the new signs.

The plan proposed a design phase to begin in the fall or winter of this year to come up with a new location and design for the Russel Brothers boats along the waterfront, along with applying for grants to subsidize ongoing costs. The next phase of construction would then be planned for the spring and summer of 2023, allowing for the new berths to be built, along with any necessary repairs to the Hallett and Owandem before the final phase, labelled “Education” in Spiers’ report, which would last from the winter of 2023 into spring and summer of 2024. This final phase would seek out community engagement regarding the messaging for the new educational signage before it is finalized and installed along the waterfront and at the new home of the boats.

An accompanying report from the town’s culture and recreation manager Tyler Young estimates the potential cost of the design phase to be in the range of $30,000 to $40,000 dollars, which would be an unbudgeted capital expenditure for this year, potentially to be funded through the Corporates Project reserve, or year-end surplus.

While council expressed their support of continuing to ensure the Hallett is a prominent fixture in the community, some concern was expressed with the potential cost of the project, particularly as it comes after the budget has been finalized for this year. Coun. John McTaggart said there is plenty of potential to be had with a new location, but noted that since there is no pressing urgency to the matter, the cost could be held over to next year’s budget, and thus the next council.

“I certainly understand the thinking of not having the Hallett back in the water with the broken cradle that is there, and future maintenance is much easier when it is a land display,” McTaggart said.

“I also like the face that the Owandem is going to be added to it, and one thing that’s not mentioned here, we also have a Russel Brothers anchor that could go along with this display too. My concern is that we’re going to try to come up with $30,000 to $40,000 unbudgeted for this item. There’s a recommendation that the splash park to go Legion Park because they’re fearful of it being delayed with the development of the Shevlin Woodyard, and I don’t see a tremendous need to look for something for the Hallett at this point. I’d prefer that it goes off to the 2023 budget process and we not handle the matter. I think we’re quite a ways away from the Shevlin Woodyard development as it stands, and I would like to put this off to the next council.

Committee of the Whole chair Coun. Wendy Brunetta noted that $40,000 figure is only for the design of the new location and berth, and getting a head start on that phase of the process could set the next council up for an easier time with the project overall.

“That’s why I considered that it was timely, because if we did the study now, we could start the process in the new budget year,” she said.

“It would require financing as well, and that would also go to the new council.”

The Hallett is currently resting near its former home along the waterfront, while the Owandem has been in storage at the public works yard since July 2020.