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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Art by the River draws in great turnout as tall ship was moored

by Greg Layson

One of the biggest draws — both literally and figuratively — of this past weekend’s installment of the annual Art by the River exhibition at Fort Malden in Amherstburg was nowhere to be seen, at least not publicly.

Low water levels at the Amherstburg Naval Yard forced His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Oriole tall ship to spend four days moored to a dock downriver at the Canadian Coast Guard Amherstburg Base, which is off limits to the general public.

Lt.-Commander Robert Pelton, the ship’s Captain, told the Essex Free Press that tall ships usually visit the Windsor-Essex earlier in the summer, when water levels are “significantly higher.”

So, there were no photo ops and no deck tours of the oldest and longest serving ship in the Royal Canadian Navy. Her bright red, white, and blue sail – emblazoned with a Baltimore oriole – was left furled on deck for four-days.

Three crew members, including Pelton, said its journey through the Great Lakes was one of — if not the — most harrowing experiences of their naval careers.

“It was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be,” Pelton said. “Lake Ontario was one of the more challenging crossings I’ve ever done. And Lake Erie took us a few days to cross. It was squall after squall after squall after squall.”

The ship arrived shortly after a week of strong storms, one of them so violent it damaged the guardrail on the 102-year-old ship.

Coming into Port Dalhousie, the stop previous to Amherstburg, the thrashing wind blew loose the ship’s yankee sail, or forward sail.

Sailor 1st Class Steve Nosewoorthy was one of the people tasked with pulling the sail from Lake Ontario’s water, but the crew couldn’t lash it down tight enough and the wind took it again.

“Part of it was tied to the guardrail, and when we got hit by a wave – and it was pretty windy that day – a lot of sea state came up on deck, and it took the yankee right off again, and took the guardrail with it,” Noseworthy said. “But, the adrenaline starts pumping and you just forget about whatever fear you got. You just do your job.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class and cook Gabriel Lau credits Pelton’s calm demeanour and leadership for getting the ship through storms and safely to Amherstburg.

Pelton said he had three options en route to Amherstburg: turn around, head southeast “to the U.S. and find refuge,” or “go for it.”

“I just put on my Captain’s hat and made sure everybody stayed calm and decided to go for it,” Pelton said. “If you look frazzled, no one’s going to believe in you.”

On shore, the Art by the River festival attracted 165 vendors and hosted its annual live art competition. The theme? Water, of course.

Kathleen Cant, Co-Chairperson of Art by the River, said the contest is offered to promote the arts to high school students and inspire them to choose art as a major.

Kennedy High School students Akira Baldassi and Paula Rapsing painted a Koi fish leaping from the water.

Baldassi liked the theme because it was broad.

“It’s just water. There’s so much you can do with that. And it’s not just one thing where it’s like everyone’s going to end up doing the same thing,” she said Saturday as she painted.

Baldassi said art “gives us a chance to really express ourselves and like [in] a variety of different ways.”

Nellie Dadaeva won top prize of $100, the museum announced Monday afternoon. Piper Daly and Nicole Labute won $75 each in second place; Baldassi and Rapsing won $50 each for third; and Asher Soucie $25 in fourth.

Cant said the festival drew several new vendors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen a huge expansion of people creating art. People over COVID decided ‘I’m going to start painting or do some arts and crafts,’” Cant said. “COVID really did inspire people to get creative.”

The annual Art by the River event which is the major fundraiser for the Gibson Gallery.

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