The World Canals Conference (WCC), a gathering focused on canal planning, economics and operations, was held in Rochester this September and made 2010 the ideal time for the Lois McClure to return to the Erie Canal. The 2007 Grand Canal Journey had been so well received that we had been looking for an opportunity to return and visit communities that scheduling limitations had forced us to bypass. In addition, the WCC would be a wonderful opportunity to interact with canal enthusiasts from all over the world. Working with our sponsors—the National Park Service, Cabot Creameries, the NYS Canal Corporation—and the WCC planners, we reached a consensus for a trip that would visit 20 communities, 10 of which we had not visited before. The WCC at Rochester would provide the opportunity to host the public, canal delegates from around the world, and arguably most important, school children.
Once we arrived at Rochester, we set up Lois’s sailing rig for to showcase the unique features of these once-forgotten Lake Champlain watercraft. With the assistance of the Rivers Organization and Brett Costello, we were put in touch with Ramar Steel Erectors, owned by Tony Randall. They brought their “small” 40-ton crane to the Corn Hill Landing dock, with Jack Lingle at the controls.
Together, we were able to put up the rig smoothly. On Sunday, September 19th, with the rig in place, Lois was authentic and wonderfully photogenic.Meanwhile, her trusty companion, the C.L. Churchill, joined the parade of working vessels from the Canal Corporation’s “navy,” canal charter boats, and private boats for a flotilla, officially starting the conference. The Rochester waterfront was alive with citizens and delegates from other canal states and 17 countries. Over 1200 people boarded the Lois McClure that day to share a rare piece of canal history and learn about a canal boat that was designed to sail to and from the canal.
On board the schooner, the museum crew interpreted canal history to delegates, citizens and school kids in our traditional way. Some crew members also presented formal lectures to the Conference. Roger Taylor, our captain, gave a talk on European Canals from his perspective of living and traveling the systems. Erick Tichonuk, the first mate, delivered a paper about the projects, research, and programs that have created and comprised the Lois McClure’s six years of educational outreach. I was asked to moderate two sessions on the canal technology, planning, and economics, which included sessions on the feasibility of future commercial traffic on the New York State canal system. I must say I learned a tremendous amount about the possibilities of a canal network that could be incorporated into a “multi-modal” system that would move freight on the canal, while continuing to support recreational use. This concept left me optimistic and excited.
As the Conference wound down, so did we. The sailing rig came down for the last time this season, and we prepared for our easterly run home. We left Rochester for a nine-day run to Waterford and the eastern end of the Erie Canal and southern end of the Champlain Canal. We are looking forward to doing school programs in Waterford, Schuylerville, and Whitehall before returning home to Basin Harbor.