Batchawana Tug


Winter, 2010, the Batchawana is docked in Toronto.


By Paul Wilson, The Hamilton Spectator, January 18, 2008

The article copied here with permission of the Hamilton Spectator,

Copyright © The Hamilton Spectator

The sheriff is auctioning off the little rusty boat that doesn't measure up in a post-9/11 world

Every now and then the sheriff has a garage sale.

Maybe you saw the notices in the classifieds last weekend. There's a property the sheriff seized on Amherst Circle, near Upper Sherman and Stone Church. Somebody owes the TD Bank and unless they make good, the place will be auctioned off.

That's common enough. But the notice beside it says the sheriff has also seized a tugboat. It's called the Batchawana, built in 1912, and he will "offer it for sale by public auction at the John Sopinka Court House, 45 Main Street East, Suite 126, Hamilton, on Jan. 23, 2008 at 11 a.m."

The tug is owned by one Arthur Gray. He is a legend in diving circles. He is 84 and has been in the business since 1952.

We reach him and he talks about this matter reluctantly. "I don't need any bad publicity for the few years I've got left."

The Batchawana, named for a settlement at the eastern tip of Lake Superior, was built at the Polson Iron Works in Toronto for the government.

It later became the property of McNamara Marine. Gray bought her from that outfit. He's not sure when.

He lives near the lake in Grimsby and we find him in ill health. He was a diesel engineer and diver with the navy in the Second World War and says the heavy lifting he did then and ever since has caught up with him. His back's acting up. For now, he can't drive and has to use a cane or wheelchair.

Many years ago, Gray arrived with a boat and scow at the foot of Strathearne, east end of Hamilton Harbour. It was just marsh there, and Gray built a temporary dock to get out past the weeds. In more recent times, that area got cleaned up and rebuilt and Gray had to move on.

He approached Blair McKeil, president of McKeil Marine, which has a fleet of barges, tugs and larger ships that work all over the Great Lakes, the eastern seaboard, the Arctic. The company was founded in Hamilton 52 years ago by Blair's father Evans, a friend of Gray's.

Gray asked Blair McKeil for a temporary home for the Batchawana. McKeil said he could pull the tug in with some company vessels and it went on that way for years.

Right now, the Batchawana is tucked in between a couple of larger McKeil tugs alongside Pier 10, in what's called the Navy Basin. That's home to the HMCS Star base and the old battleship Haida.

The 50-foot Batchawana, top speed 10 knots, is a battered vessel these days. Its faded letters are barely legible on the rust-coloured hull.

Brent Kinnaird is manager of communications for the Hamilton Port Authority. He says that two years ago they stopped taking dockage fees from Gray and asked him to leave.

Kinnaird says "the reality of post 9/11 is security enhancements." The port is spending millions on this, following the dictates of Transport Canada -- new fences, new locks, more surveillance cameras.

Under the new rules, Gray would have to obtain something called "a declaration of security." That never happened.

Kinnaird says the port is also concerned with "potential safety hazards with that vessel." They point out there's history there -- some years ago, a scow of Gray's did sink in the harbour.

Blair McKeil says Gray "seems like a rough guy, but he's a sweetheart."

He will not be going after Gray's tug. McKeil has bids in other sheriff's sales, including one on the courthouse steps in Orlando, Fla.

But he just doesn't need the Batchawana. If he did, he'd be prepared to pay $10,000. "It's got character, kind of a little toot. It would be a nice little pleasure boat for somebody."

Arthur Gray says there was just no other good place to tie up his tug. He seems resigned to losing her. "I don't have the money to fight this. You're up against big people."

Batchawana registration information.