Welcome Home – The Alexander Henry

By Laurie Abthorpe

The Alexander Henry, a decommissioned Canadian Coast Guard light ice breaker and buoy tender, returned home to its Thunder Bay roots late last year.

The Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company Ltd. commenced construction on the 3000-tonne, 197.8-foot ship as hull #119 in 1957. Construction was completed in 1958. On July 1, 1959, the ship entered service as a Canadian Government Ship (CGS), named after the 18th-century British explorer and fur trader Alexander Henry the elder. Coincidence or not, within his journals, Alexander Henry wrote about the restrictions ice caused navigating waterways of the northwest, particularly in the Red River District.

In 1962, the ship was transferred to the newly created Canadian Coast Guard, becoming CCGS Alexander Henry with its homeport at Canadian Coast Guard Station Parry Sound. Serving on the Great Lakes until 1984, the CCGS Alexander Henry performed many duties. The ship and its crew worked on maintaining the aids to navigation system—fixed, floating, and electronic aids that help determine position and course, indicating best or preferred routes and warnings of danger. They also transported lighthouse keepers, along with supplies, to and from seasonal lighthouses. Though manned with a crew of 34, the ship had a sleeping capacity of 51. Locally, springtime was marked by the appearance of the CCGS Alexander Henry in Thunder Bay, arriving to break up the ice with its specialized hull, bow, and engine, opening the harbour for shipping season.

After its retirement from the CCG, the Alexander Henry spent 30 years as a museum ship for the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston, Ontario. When the museum had to relocate in 2016, the Alexander Henry was left at risk of being scrapped or sunk. The Lakehead Transportation Museum Society purchased the ship for $2 and the City of Thunder Bay provided $125,000 towards its $250,000 towing costs. The Henry returned home to Thunder Bay on June 27, 2017. Now located in its permanent home at Pool 6 in Marina Park, the Alexander Henry has undergone restoration work and is ready to be showcased through public tours and used for special events. Not only a stand-alone museum, the ship also houses mini-museums focused on transportation at the Lakehead.

On Saturday, September 8, 2018 between 10 am and 4 pm the Alexander Henry will one of the sites taking part in Doors Open Thunder Bay.
Visit doorsopenontario.on.ca for more info.