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Marine Delivers Magazine 2021

Toot, toot! Theodore Too sets off on Lake Erie adventure as a maritime ambassador

The iconic tug is attracting much-needed attention to marine careers and the benefits of “real-life” shipping

Theodore Too, the life-sized tugboat replica from the adored Canadian television series, is setting off again this Friday to make new friends along the Welland Canal, Lake Erie, the Detroit and St. Clair rivers, and Lake Huron over the next five weeks. Theodore Too’s upcoming voyage provides another opportunity to showcase the maritime industry and its career potential to those who are young or young at heart.

Since June 10, the iconic tug has encountered numerous fans and made hundreds of new friends while journeying from Halifax, Theodore’s home port for 21 years, to a new life and purpose based out of Hamilton.

“The response has been overwhelming,” confirms Natasha Mackow, Theodore’s chief experience officer. “Even in Halifax, where Theodore’s departure was bittersweet, so many Haligonians turned out to say goodbye and wish Theodore well on his new mission.”          

“Every marine enterprise is facing a challenge to recruit young workers”

Blair McKeil, the CEO and president of Breakwater Investments, purchased Theodore after he found out the owners were forced through COVID-19 circumstances to sell off treasured assets.

“My two boys – now young men – used to watch Theodore and I always liked the show’s values of family and friendship,” he says. “I think it’s those values, along with the pandemic bringing families closer together, and Theodore’s iconic Canadian presence, that has made the reception so enthusiastic at every stop.”

As the third generation of McKeil Marine where he continues to serve as board chairman, he also arranged to buy Theodore Too for Breakwater Investments with the hopes of making youngsters aware of the career opportunities within the maritime industry.

“It’s no secret that every marine enterprise is now facing a challenge in terms of recruiting younger workers,” he says. “So I think it’s great to see children eager to meet Theodore’s captain and crew and find out what they do, especially in smaller communities where you might not have a visitor like Theodore often.”

Theodore also built awareness during a recent visit to Heddle Shipyard’s Dry Dock in Port Weller. “Through social media, Theodore was able to show a Canadian Coast Guard ship in a dry dock, as well as talk to the project engineer who explained her role in the vessel’s refit,” Mackow says.

Role of the tugboat is evolving

Group Ocean’s tugboats were among the flotilla that welcomed Theodore to Quebec City and Montreal and then accompanied Theodore into Hamilton with a spectacular water display.

The company welcomes Theodore’s new ambassadorial role. “It’s important that young people realize the various maritime career options,” notes Benoit Lafreniere, Senior Director – Business Development and Client Relations.

“Yes, there’s the crew out at sea for weeks or months, but also the tug operator or welder-fitter who is back home almost every night.”

The role of the tugboat is also evolving. “Larger, more efficient oceangoing vessels have made it necessary to make some of our tugs larger and more powerful,” Lafreniere notes. “Learning how to handle tugs and guide larger vessels takes special skills which is why Group Ocean has its own in-house training on simulators and vessels in addition to the maritime schooling new hires already have.”

Watch this video on the most powerful tug built in Eastern Canada

Group Ocean looking at electrification for tugs​

Cleaner running, more powerful engines are also helping to address climate change by transporting more goods by barge rather than trucks – significantly reducing CO2 emissions and highway congestion.

“We’re hoping that as the federal and provincial governments realize the economic and sustainability benefits of a blue economy, they’ll find ways to encourage more companies to establish shortsea shipping routes,” Lafreniere says.

Group Ocean is looking into the electrification of various components of its vessels to further reduce its footprint. “It has to make sense in terms of the intended route so the stored battery power is sufficient and feasible,” Lafreniere explains. “Of course, we also have an eye on how the technology is constantly improving.”

Theodore will run on biodiesel in 2022​

Theodore is also playing a sustainability role. In collaboration with Swim Drink Fish, Theodore is seeking to collect 10,000 Watermark stories. “These are real-life stories from individual Canadians about how they connect to a specific body of water,” Mackow explains.

Theodore is also a ‘citizen scientist’ with sensors aboard to monitor water temperatures. Next year, Theodore Too will run cleaner, too. “Theodore is being spruced up and modified over the winter to operate on biodiesel fuel in 2022,” Mackow relates.

With key partnerships, Theodore’s new owner hopes to have the tug visiting numerous communities again starting next April into early October.

“When I was young, my father always reminded me that we’re here and own things for just a short while, and then we’re gone,” McKeil says. “I really want to share Theodore with as many people as possible.”