The James Whalen is Thunder Bay’s Canary in the Coal Mine

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James Whalen Sunk
James Whalen Sunk

THUNDER BAY – OPINION – When the historic James Whalen tug sank into the Kam River during 2022, it was a result of what honestly is a symptomatic problem in Thunder Bay.

The City doesn’t invest enough money or effort in maintaining things.

We have in our city a long history of wanting, and often getting new things. Major efforts have gone into chasing to get a new Event Centre, and a new Indoor Turf Facility. So to have millions in tax dollars gone chasing these new wants.

Thunder Bay Council and Administration seem to have a determination to get new things, they have a history of not maintaining infrastructure.

From parks to roads, we have a massive infrastructure deficit in the city.

That is why Kam River Park, and the James Whalen tug boat are this city’s “Canaries in the coal mine”.

Frankly put, the James Whalen has been basically ignored for well over a decade.

At Riverfest in 2008, the James Whalen was going to be open for the public. However the morning of the event, it was discovered people had broken into the historic tugboat, had been living, drinking and doing drugs in the James Whalen.

How that was completely missed for what was apparently weeks if not months by city officials was never answered.

In 2014, on Boxing Day the James Whalen broke away from the dock. It had a list to the portside. It was honestly reported to city management. It was months before it was taken care of.

VIA Rail train at Kam River Park near the downtown South Core CBD
VIA Rail train at Kam River Park near the downtown South Core CBD

The VIA Rail passenger train at Kam River Park has just sat there with the elements taking a toll on the paint. Since the train cars are sealed up, the truth is no one has a clue what condition the passenger cars are in.

Kam River Park in the winter is for all intents and purposes ignored. The dock is not plowed, and the pathways are let go for the winter.

At Kam River Park, while management at 500 Donald Street East said the James Whalen sank because Cory Halvorsen, manager of parks and open spaces said, that on the night before the vessel had been checked and was fine. Pumps apparently could not be installed because there was ice in the historic tugboat.

There has been lots of talk over the years on revitalizing the downtown Fort William neighbourhood.

Like Marina Park is the Waterfront District’s crown jewel, Kam River Park could well be the matching piece for the south side.

However there has never been a seeming focus on doing what is needed to make that possible. The James Whalen was left to sink, and the VIA Rail Train is ignored.

The monument to the mariners who died on merchant ships during the Second World War is standing strong, but likely only because it is concrete and steel and durable.

The Kam River Park Sailor's Memorial
The Kam River Park Sailor’s Memorial

Managers at 500 Donald Street East, and incumbent councillors alike should making themselves accountable for the failure. Honestly the mistakes with the James Whalen, which is now going to cost city taxpayers at least $800,000 demand accountability.

Yet was this even a part of the 2023 budget?

Who is responsible? Why was there a catastrophic failure that led to the James Whalen sinking into the Kam River? What action is being taken to protect our existing infrastructure?

In a private company, there would likely be ramifications for such an expensive mistake.

In the City of Thunder Bay, taxpayers deserve accountability.

The James Whalen having spent the summer in the river is quite likely to end up being scrapped.

The Lakehead Transportation Museum, at the Transportation Museum Pier at Marina Park is not loaded with the needed funds to recover the James Whalen. City Administration and Council shot down a proposal by former Councillor Aldo Ruberto.

In the tender acceptance announced by 500 Donald Street East, what wasn’t included in the cost of removing the James Whalen from the water of the Kam River is getting the ship to somewhere permanent.

Chances are this huge part of out city’s history is going to be lot.

That it isn’t the first should now become a part of an impetus for real change, responsibility and accountability.

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