3 diverse festivals teaming up for 1 blockbuster weekend

The Empire Sandy is one of six ships confirmed so far for the Sarnia Tall Ships Celebration. Photo courtesy, Murielle Lecerf

Troy Shantz

Boats, bands and brushwork will collide for what’s shaping up to be a must-stay-home weekend this summer.

The Tall Ships Festival could draw a crowd of 100,000 to see majestic sailing ships such as the Bluenose II and 200-foot schooner Empire Sandy the weekend of Aug. 8-11.

And if that isn’t enough, the third annual Bluewater Borderfest music festival and Artzscape by the Bay are also taking place that weekend.

“By aligning ourselves with two existing successful events, we see greater collaboration and potential to attract a new and a more diverse audience,” said Vicky Praill, special events co-ordinator with Tourism Sarnia-Lambton.

Six tall ships are confirmed so far to dock at Centennial Park, the Government Docks or Sydney Smith Wharf, giving visitors a chance to board the vessels and meet the crews. More ships will be announced soon.

The city is underwriting the festival and contributing $30,000 US while Tourism Sarnia-Lambton has agreed to cover one-third of that.

With a budget of about $500,000 the festival could generate $3 million in economic activity for the community, City Hall estimates.

“It’s going to be an enormous amount of work but very worthwhile,” said Rob Harwood, Sarnia’s parks and recreation director.

Bluewater Borderfest co-founder Mark Perrin said his team is excited about pooling resources with what’s officially known as the Sarnia Tall Ship Celebration. Borderfest will coordinate ticket sales for both events and share some costs, said Perrin, who was recently named executive director of Tourism Sarnia-Lambton.

“We really feel that this is a great opportunity.”

Borderfest drew 7,000 music fans to Centennial Park in just its second year to see acts that included the Arkells, Matt Mays and Honeymoon Suite, supported by locals Rodney James and the Riot and Cory James Mitchell.

The schedule will be modified to complement the tall ship and Artzscape audiences, Perrin said. Music will start at 5:30 p.m., a fourth day has been added, and the VIP section will be expanded.

Artzscape by the Bay, which had over 8,000 people attend last year, is a fine art and artisans show and sale of juried work hosted by Pathways Health Centre for Children in Centennial Park.

The tall ships are coming from Canada, the U.S. and around the world and are crewed by cadets and civilian enthusiasts under the command of professional captains and sailors.

Other confirmed participants include The Picton Castle, Denis Sullivan, Fair Jeanne and Appledore IV.

Ticket packages will include general admission, deck tours and exclusive sail-away tickets aboard the Empire Sandy.

Toronto, Midland, Kingsville and Brockville are the other anticipated Canadian ports of call, along with several U.S. cities.