Vintage vessel arrives here

Duane Hicks

Just as Santa was getting ready to make his deliveries before Christmas, Fort Frances got a special delivery in the form of the logging tug boat, “Owandem.”
The boat, which was in dry-dock in International Falls, Mn., made its way across the border on Dec. 22 and taken directly to the Public Works yard, where it is now being stored until money is found to refurbish it.
The “Owandem” was donated to the Fort Frances Museum by Arden Erickson Barnes, who was “a very intriguing character” originally from Ranier, Mn., explained Caren Fagerdahl, who helped facilitate the donation along with her husband, Eric.
Barnes was the daughter of Rainy Lake pioneers John and Gina Erickson. She worked in Thief River Falls, Mn. as a anesthesiologist at the hospital there.
She also was a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain and purchased the “Owandem,” when it was decommissioned in about 1993, to run on Rainy Lake until shortly before she passed away in 2014.
She renamed the boat, “The Motherlode.”
Barnes had become friends with district resident Randy Carmody when he purchased Little Canoe Camp and they developed a close friendship over the years, noted Fagerdahl.
It was Barnes’ wish that the “Owandem” be returned to Fort Frances, so Carmody was the person who brought the information to museum curator Sherry George, she added.
“We became involved with the boat as ‘Friends of the Museum’ and because we have an interest in the history of boats and boat-building in our area,” noted Fagerdahl.
“The process started when Randy took us to show us the boat, which was dry-docked in a field outside International Falls, in early November,” she explained, noting the paperwork to get the boat through Canada Customs was started then.
The Fagerdahls then called Rick Roche of Roche’s Towing & Salvage in International Falls, who moved the boat from the Falls to here on Dec. 22.
Shane Armstrong of George Armstrong Co. Ltd., who Fagerdahl said has been a supporter of the museum in the past, once again came through by donating his time, staff, and equipment to move the boat off the trailer and place it in the Public Works yard behind the Fort Frances Animal Shelter.
“It will be stored there until we can raise enough money to have it refurbished,” Fagerdahl added.
“The fundraising efforts will begin soon.”
The refurbishing costs could be as high as $24,000-$25,000.
“We hope the ‘Owandem’ will take its place next to the ‘Hallett’ once again when it has been sandblasted and painted,” said Fagerdahl.
“We are very excited about this project, and being able to be a part of bringing our logging and boat history to life for the celebration of ‘Canada 150.’
“Sherry and the museum staff and ‘Friends’ continue to work hard to make the history of Fort Frances come to life,” Fagerdahl enthused.
“We really enjoy being a part of this group.”
Both the “Owandem” and the “Hallett” were built by the Russel Brothers, who started their business in Fort Frances in 1907 but later moved it to Owen Sound.
Small tugs such as the “Owandem” were nicknamed “Bugs.” Their purpose was to shepherd the log booms and help the “Hallett,” which was the primary towing vessel.
In addition to its boom sluicing duties, it was used at the sorting gap on the Rainy River, below the Ranier rapids.
Fagerdahl noted the picture on the back of the old $1 bill features these boats.
“It’s a drawing, so we are not sure if the drawing is of these exact boats or just examples of these boat designs,” she said.
The transportation cost ($500 U.S.) to get the “Owandem” here was paid for from museum donations.