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Icebreaker ship Alexander Henry returning to Thunder Bay to become tourist attraction

Ship broke ice across the Great Lakes from 1959 to 1984

THUNDER BAY -- The plan to bring the Alexander Henry home has officially set sail.

City council unanimously gave the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society its approval in principle for a plan that would tow the ship to the city's waterfront, where it would become a tourist attraction at the former Pool 6 grain elevator site.

Museum society treasurer Wally Peterson said council support is essential to moving provincial funding applications forward and allowing for the group to issue tax receipts to donors who want to see the icebreaker ship brought home to the Port Arthur shipyards where it was built in the 1950s.

"It means we can go to the insurance companies and say, 'yes we're getting it,' so we can get hard and fast quotes," Peterson said. 

"We can go to the people who are going to do the tow and start actually getting firm and sound commitments because without a commitment from the city, we were waiting."

The ship that broke ice across the Great Lakes from 1959 to 1984 is currently anchored outside of Kingston, Ont.

The Alexander Henry was displaced from that city's Portsmouth Olympic Harbour Kingston Harbour where it was displayed for decades and used as a bed and breakfast. The federal government sold the land where it was docked, leading to a countdown that would either see it sunk in Lake Ontario or scrapped by the end of June unless $250,000 can be raised and a plan is put in place to tow it across the Great Lakes one last time.     

"With June 29 pending, we had to get this going and that was a hard, hard, hard deadline," Peterson said.      

Some councillors were hesitant to support the group's request for $125,000 from the city in December but all cast their votes in principle to support its efforts.

"It's a win-win situation either way, whether it becomes part of a transportation or the underwater marine museum, it's going to work," said Westfort Coun. Joe Virdiramo. 

Coun. Iain Angus compared the decision council faces to that of the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier turned tourist attraction that's docked in San Diego.

"That ship was the subject of much debate in the community for the price of $100,000 people thought they couldn't afford and now that ship brings in millions to that community," Angus said. "Different magnitude, but just an example of how when you have a vision and you work towards it, it pays off in the long term."

Northwood Coun. Shelby Ch'ng called her reluctant support "an act of faith" in city administration, who has been working with the project's advocates since a business plan presented last year met criticism and disapproval around the council table. 

"I still haven't seen a business plan and I'm very uncomfortable voting 'yes' on something that I haven't seen any numbers on. I've asked this a number of times and I know it's bits and pieces here and there but I just want to see it," Ch'ng said.