Sails to See Tall Ships festival: A tour de force of history, culture and entertainment


Two years in the making and evolving even as the eleventh hour approaches, the last leg of the ambitious pan-provincial “Coastal Trails: Sails to See” festival ( has already succeeded in uniting Windsor and Essex County in one last commemoration of the War of 1812.

For the whirlwind weekend Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, Windsor, Amherstburg, Kingsville and Pelee Island will host an expected 125,000 people and a fleet of nine “Tall Ships,” with all the attendant pomp, circumstance and entertainment and tourism dollars each port can muster.

“We have prided ourselves on creating a footprint of how communities can collaborate, resource share and dialog with one another,” says War of 1812 Project Facilitator Kyra Knapp. “All of the regional ‘ports’ are doing amazing things and I am so proud to be part of a festival where so many different communities see the value of working as a whole. We are truly practicing what we preach here in Windsor-Essex,” Knapp says.

“The collaboration amongst all four communities sets a precedent for how regions can work together when planning festivals and events, says Gordon Orr, CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island.

With government support alone exceeding $1.3 million, the spirit of co-operation extends well beyond Essex County, including Redpath Sugar (Pan-Provincial Presenting Sponsor); the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund; Government of Canada 1812 Federal Secretariat; Government of Ontario Celebrate Ontario Blockbuster Grant; Ontario Trillium Foundation; War of 1812 South West Region and Enbridge. On the local level, support came from Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, Biz X Magazine, The Windsor Star, AM 800, Blackburn Radio and the Windsor Family Credit Union.

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The term “Tall Ship” may not date back much further than the 1960s – while the oldest of the tall ships themselves only dates to the 1920s ­– but the poignant images of majesty, honour and bravery fire the imagination of landlubbers. With that foundation, “Sails to See” will culminate with a Commemoration of the 1812 Battle of Lake Erie, which led to the burning of Sandwich Town and Amherstburg and the British loss of Lake Erie.

Each community will offer “signature events” encouraging residents and visitors to explore the region and to experience the Tall Ships on a very personal level.

Admission to each port festival is free, but some components of the various festivals do charge a fee, including deck tours of the Tall Ships. A boarding pass (admission is free under the age of five) for $15 gains access to all nine ships in the region for the entire weekend, and each port will also be offering $5 wristbands good for one port for one day.

Of course, the stars of the show will be the Tall Ships, and each port will host its share. Here, port by port, are the vessels and a sampling of the festivities for Labour Day weekend.

The Windsor Port will feature:

• The Sorlandet, a 210-foot, square-rigged tall ship, built in Kristiansand, Norway, in 1927. It’s the oldest of three Norwegian Tall Ships and the oldest full-rigged ship in the world still in operation.

The Sorlandet serves as the home of Class Afloat, a Canadian-accredited organization dedicated to bringing the “classroom to the world” for high school students and was the first ship in the world to offer sail training for women. Life wasn’t always so pleasant for The Sorlandet, which was used as a recreation ship for German U-boat crews during the Second World War, and which later became a camp for Russian prisoners.

• The S/V Denis Sullivan, a flagship of the State of Wisconsin and the United Nations Environment Program. She’s a replica three-masted, wooden, gaff-rigged schooner with a spar length of 137 feet.

Close to 1,000 people contributed almost a million volunteer hours toward the Tall Ship’s construction and she was launched in June 2000.

• The Pride of Baltimore II, a 157-foot topsail schooner out of Baltimore, Md., routinely cruises the east and gulf coasts, the Great Lakes and Europe. The Pride of Baltimore II was launched in 1988 after the loss of the Pride of Baltimore (which sank on May 14, 1986). The Pride of Baltimore II, which assumed the role of Maryland’s Flagship and Goodwill Ambassador, is not a replica of any specific ship, though it represents a vessel known as a Baltimore Clipper.

Christopher Lawrence-Menard, cultural development co-ordinator, recreation and culture for the City of Windsor, confirms the theme of the festival at the Windsor Port is arts, culture and heritage.

“This really is the end-of-summer opportunity for everyone to see the very best of what we have, and the best of who we are,” Lawrence-Menard says. (Visit for an up-to-date list of events and times.)

A wide range of musicians has been lined up to perform at the Dieppe Gardens Show Stage, including Crissi Cochrane, Jackie Robitaille and The Walkervilles. “Our artists and entertainers will appear on an outdoor stage, with the tall ships serving as an unforgettable backdrop to their performances,” Lawrence-Menard says.

Lawrence-Menard says some programming will also take visitors away from the waterfront, past Windsor’s Community Museum, the Art Gallery of Windsor, and the site of the new Family Aquatic Complex, to the historic Capitol Theatre on University Avenue and into the downtown Windsor Core. “There, visitors will be able to explore our many restaurants, cafes, galleries, performance venues, heritage sites and more,” Lawrence-Menard says.

Alex Lambros, of Lefty’s on the O, is delighted to see any extra activity downtown. “We’re of the belief that any effort made to bring people to our city – not just the downtown, but to the city – is absolutely fantastic,” he says. As someone who grew up attending festivals and fairs across the region, Lambros says, “it’s good to be part of everything. And (Sails to See) sounds wonderful.”

He says he expects word of mouth to pay off for the city and region. “How can you go wrong with 125,000 people moving around, doing things and seeing things?”

Additionally,” Lawrence-Menard says, “as we get closer to the festival, we will announce the various restaurants who will be participating and let the community know where they’ll be able to find some unique culinary experiences in the Downtown Windsor Core during the Tall Ships event.”

The Amherstburg Port will feature:

Friends Good Will, a 101-foot working American reproduction of the historical Friends Good Will (1811-1813), a merchant square topsail sloop that was overtaken by the events of the War of 1812. Captured by a British ruse of war shortly after the capture of Fort Mackinac, and recaptured during the Battle of Lake Erie, she served in the U.S. Navy before she was destroyed by enemy action in 1813.

Lynx, a 122-foot square topsail schooner based in Newport Beach, Calif. She’s an interpretation of an American letter of marque vessel of the same name from 1812. The original Lynx completed just one voyage, running the Royal Navy blockade; the British captured her in 1813 at the start of her second voyage and took her into service as HMS Mosquidobit. Today, Lynx serves as a sailing classroom, offering an early American history program as well as a life, earth and physical science program to schools.

Anne Rota, Manager of Tourism and Culture for the Town of Amherstburg, points out that festival-goers can come out to “the very grounds that the soldiers and seamen stood on during the War of 1812.”

The Amherstburg portion of the “Sails to See” festival will be staged in the Kings Navy Yard Park where major warships were built during the War of 1812. “The theme is ‘authentic history,’” Rota declares. “You can visit two unique tall ships (which) are historically correct and both portray aspects of the ships that were part of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813.”

Legend has it that in September of 1813, the women of Amherstburg marched to meet opposition soldiers intent on burning down the town while the men were away at war. To recognize and celebrate their success in restoring peace on that pivotal day, a march will recognize Ontario women of historical significance that contributed to modern society’s peace, equality and dignity. (Visit to learn more.)

“In many ways, Amherstburg has its own Laura Secords,” Rota says.

The Tall Ships festival is expected to highlight the small town charm and hospitality for which Amherstburg is known. “It also highlights some pretty interesting museums and galleries, (and) the magnificent waterfront in the heart of downtown is the perfect backdrop,” Rota adds.

Last year’s “Roots to Boots” bicentennial festival drew more than 40,000 people, so local merchants like Mary Beth Gibb are already gearing up for the Tall Ships.

“We’re excited to showcase our town again and hopefully all the people will come out to see the Tall Ships and all the wonderful things Amherstburg has to offer,” the owner of Country Bliss gift shop says.

Gibb says the festival has been a hot topic among Amherstburg merchants who enjoyed a boost from last year’s Roots to Boots festival, and hopes are high for more of the same this year. “A lot of what’s going to happen is just coming to light, but we’re excited and we’re gearing up to have another wonderful festival.”

“In terms of economic development, we see special events as a tourism draw that contributes to the bottom line of any commercial district,” Rota says.

The key event for the weekend, Rota says, will be a commemoration of the Battle of Lake Erie. “The Provincial Marine was the first regiment of sailors during the War of 1812,” Rota explains, “and today’s Provincial Marine re-enactors and the commissariat building still operate actively to tell the story of our history.”

The Kingsville Port will feature:

Fair Jeanne, a Canadian sail training ship built and registered in Ottawa. Fair Jeanne is a 110-foot traditionally rigged brigantine, which began her service as a private yacht. Today, she is leased and operated by the youth charity Bytown Brigantine Inc., which uses her for youth sail training. During the past 15 years, the vessel has logged more than 240,000 kilometres in service.

• The Unicorn, a 118-foot topsail schooner out of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. As the only all female-crewed Tall Ship in the world, Unicorn sails the East Coast, Long Island Sound, New England and the Great Lakes teaching on-board leadership programs. Holland-built in 1947 from German U-boat metals, Unicorn partners with “Sisters Under Sail,” a New Jersey-based non-profit corporation dedicated to helping teen girls and women build confidence and develop leadership skills.

Peacemaker, originally named “Avany,” was built in southern Brazil using traditional methods and tropical hardwoods, and launched in 1989. The Twelve Tribes, a religious group with communities in North and South America, Europe and Australia, purchased the 150-foot vessel in the summer of 2000. The Twelve Tribes spent seven years replacing all of the ship’s mechanical and electrical systems and rigging it as a barquentine. The refit vessel set sail for the first time in the spring of 2007, under the name Peacemaker.

Maggie Durocher, Kingsville’s Manager of Programs, Parks and Recreation, sees the Tall Ships visit as an opportunity to highlight the integral part that the port plays in the community, “and our direct ties to the fishing industry, and our heritage.”

Kingsville will be serving up two unique events – the Harbourside Dinner on Friday and the 1812 Bicentennial Parade on Saturday morning.

The Harbourside Dinner will offer an all-local wine and food selection, to be served on the dock next to the ships. The evening will also feature beer sampling from Walkerville Brewery and entertainment by The Barley Reavers and Nemesis.

The parade will feature bands from across Ontario, Quebec and New York, and the same bands will perform in a field show on Saturday night at Lakeside Park. The weekend will wrap with the Symphony of Sound and Light concert at Lakeside Park featuring the Greater Windsor Concert Band, and a fireworks video display on a 70-foot big screen.

“We are expecting in excess of 50,000 people to travel through,” Durocher says, “with all of the restaurants participating in specialty menus and the BIA offering incentives. This is truly a community wide event with participation coming from the entire area and a very full agenda with lots for the entire family.”

Pelee Island is hosting Liana’s Ransom, an 85-foot, steel-hulled schooner built in Houston, Texas, and launched in 2002. Liana’s Ransom was bought by her current owners in the spring of 2005, and sailed home on a 20-day, 2,500 nautical mile voyage to Nova Scotia in the fall of 2006.

Kim Gardner, of the Pelee Island Heritage Centre, says the inhabitants of Canada’s southernmost community have embraced the “Sails to See” festival with gusto.

“We are a very small community compared to others, so hosting a ship and putting on a festival is a testament to what community is all about. We are all working together to ensure that visitors to our island can experience the natural beauty, our heritage, and our hospitality as we carry on the tradition of welcoming ships to our harbour.

Given the nature of island life, the Pelee Island Port will see smaller numbers than its partner ports, but those who do make it out by ferry are in for a treat.

First up, visitors who purchase a “Sail Out” ticket will take in a 90-minute cruise aboard Liana’s Ransom along miles of shoreline. And “if you choose to participate,” Gardner says, “you can haul on lines with the crew, set sails or steer from the helm.”

In addition, a Sunset Cruise, complete with appetizers, music and a cash bar, will depart from the Scudder Marina at 7 p.m. Friday and Sunday. (The Saturday night cruise is sold out.)

The true highlight of the weekend will come for 70 fortunate souls as they sail out Monday to the Reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie on Liana’s Ransom. “We are the only Canadian port to have a sail out ship over Labour Day weekend,” Gardner says.

Other Pelee highlights include an 1812 Dinner at Ruins of VinVilla, Art at the Marina featuring local artisans, 1812 Exhibits – a 28-print exhibit by renowned artist Peter Rindlisbacher, and fireworks Sunday evening (location to be determined; visit for cruise times and up-to-date information).

“We anticipate a full house over the labour day weekend,” Gardner says, which amounts to about 2,000 people per day. “The economic impact will be greatly realized by a full marina, B&B’s, cottages, island inns and motel. All of our restaurants and other services will be running at full speed and we welcome this with open arms!”

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In addition to the unique events at each port, “Sails to See” will present the Stowaway Wines, the official wine of the Coastal Trails festival. “The wine is actually another great regional collaboration between six Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent Wineries,” Knapp says.

“Each winery” – Cooper’s Hawk, Oxley, Sprucewood Shores, Colio, Smith and Wilson and Pelee Island – “has a different varietal and each winery has taken on the ‘identity’ so to speak of one Tall Ship that would have existed in 1812. This way all of our wines have a common theme but a different look. This also makes them truly a collectors item.”

At the time of writing, two launches have been planned for the wines: a soft launch on Thursday, July 4, at the Commissariat in King’s Navy Yard Park in Amherstburg, and the official launch in Kingsville on July 19.

“Our wines are all scheduled to be for sale at the wineries on July 4,” Knapp says.

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