Tugs bring a history lesson in tow
TARA BOWIE / Sun Times staff local news - Monday, July 30, 2007 @ 08:00
At a banquet at the Rusty Gull after the races, Howard Donovan told stories about being a Russel Bros. employee. "It was a good place to work. The company was fair, they had great employees and it was a great asset to Owen Sound."
The 85-year-old started as a fitters helper for Russel Bros. in 1950, after their amalgamation with Hipwell Engines, part of the Steelcraft division. "I worked my way up and learned as fast as I could. It was a challenge."
The Owen Sound resident was part of the construction team that completed the 1,000th vessel built at the company in 1953. In 1955 Donovan helped finish work on the Maid of the Mist before it was transported to the Niagara Falls gorge. "I finalized the hook-up for the steering and then they shipped it down in four pieces and assembled it on the dock," he said. That's how they did it back then."
After completing the Maid of the Mist, Donovan switched into the engine building part of the company. He installed gas truck fittings in Newfoundland and spent time in Vancouver building diesel engines. Donovan also built ballistic missile early warning systems in Labrador for the U.S. during the cold war. "I was involved in a lot of installations from Newfoundland right across to Vancouver Island. "I did get around, it was interesting. I was lucky I always liked my work," he said.
Tom MacKenzie worked for Russell Construction in Toronto. He dredged the waterways in Seven Islands, Que. with a tug built in Owen Sound. MacKenzie stood with his wife, Sherrie, at the pier near the grain elevator to watch the races. "These ones are all painted and restored quite nice," he said.
Tug Fest organizer Steve Briggs spent thousands of hours putting together the festival and a website dedicated to the event and the company. "(The Russel Bros. company is) something I didn't really know about growing up in Owen Sound," he said. "When I found out I wanted to spread the word."
He received more than 500 pictures, old and new, from around the world after launching the site. "It was amazing the numbers of photos posted, from everywhere," he said. "I'm not the only one with the interest." Briggs' site is www.russelbrothers.com.
Winners in Saturday's races were: Brutus, from Ajax, the 0-to-100-horsepower class; Pankhurst M, from Owen Sound, 100-to-200 hp; and Mink Isle from Snug Harbour, 200-to-300 hp.
The 300-plus hp category only had one entrant, the Still Watch from Meaford. The Still Watch is the second largest model built by Russell Bros.
The boat was open for tours before the races and many people went aboard the 135-foot ship originally named the Ville Marie. The boat was used as a Canadian Coast Guard survey vessel before being sold.