The Alexander Henry isn’t a person of Port Arthur. She is a boat. However, she was built right here in the Port Arthur ship yards! In 1959!

Photo by Bill Bird

The Alexander Henry was a hard working coast guard ice breaker for many years, breaking up the Great Lakes ice when it was time for shipping season to resume. After her “retirement” she was sent to rest in Southern Ontario.

After years away in Kingston, a group of Thunder Bay friends (The Lakehead Transportation Museum Society) heard that The Alexander Henry was scheduled to be scrapped. They began a quest to get the big ship into her home harbour again. The Lakehead Transportation Museum Society is a non profit organization dedicated to educating people and preserving historical artifacts associated with the city’s transportation history.

The Alexander Henry was built by the Port Arthur Shipping Company in 1959. The beautiful big ship entered service in 1959 and worked as a coast guard ice breaker with Captain Basil Dube and Chief Engineer Karl Zvejnicks on board.

In 1985, The Alexander Henry was replaced by the ice breaker Samuel Risley and was given to the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston. In June of 2017, the ship was purchased by the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society of Thunder Bay and returned to its home port.

Earlier in the year, my little family visited the Alexander Henry but it was closed and we were unable to see inside. This week we were able to call ahead, book a tour, and we finally got to go inside.

April 2020: Nobody got to go inside!

And you know what? The tour was even better than I imagined it would be. I had no idea what to expect.

It’s old of course. I guess I expected that. The original accessories, panelling, furniture, decor, and fixtures are all still there. Right down to dishes used by crew? It was all such a visual treat for anyone interested in vintage and retro collectibles.

The mini museums are also full of amazing antiques that will satisfy any boat lover, nautical scholar, or history buff.

Or maybe you aren’t interested in boats or history… I bet you’ll still enjoy walking around an old boat and climbing steep stairs. It was just so fun!

Our tour guide’s name was Charlie Brown (for real!) and he was excellent. You could tell he was an avid and enthusiastic fan; he did a great job passing on his knowledge. I commend his patience too because I touched something I wasn’t supposed to (sorry!) and my youngest kid really wanted to run around and act like a five year old!

Elle took our money (25.00 for a family price) and she was just delightful; so kind and charming.

I caught a glimpse of a fellow named Wally too… he was off in the distance but I hear he does tours as well!

Unfortunately, with all the steep stairs and narrow corridors, this floating museum is not accessible to all. I think people with certain mobility disabilities would be unable to see the whole ship (but the deck was wheelchair accessible) and people with extreme vertigo or claustrophobia might find it daunting and risky.

But if you are interested and able, this is a great way to spend a couple hours. Call ahead, book a small group tour, wear a mask, and get learning!

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