Canal Fest of the Tonawandas gets underway today, back for its 32nd year, and serves up eight days of events spread out over 2 square miles along the border of the Erie Canal from Sweeney and Webster streets in North Tonawanda to Main and Niagara streets in the City of Tonawanda.
The event draws 250,000 people each year.
Whether you love the parade, the antique cars, the midway, the free music or the food, most visitors to the annual event find a favorite that brings them back year after year. And best of all, admission is free.
“There’s something going every day,” said Lawrence M. Denef, president of the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas. “The key thing is that it doesn’t cost you anything to get in to the event. It’s hard to do, but you don’t have to spend any money to come to Canal Fest.”
He noted that Canal Fest is not a city-run event but is put on by the Canal Fest Corp., which officially took over the event in 1995 from the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas. He noted there are more than 40 civic and nonprofit organizations that participate and about 600 volunteers who donate their time for the event.
“When it started in 1983, and still today, it was an opportunity to showcase both cities. It was a way to promote business in the downtown areas, and it was a major avenue of revenues for the nonprofits,” said Denef. “By coming and supporting Canal Fest you are supporting all the church groups and the volunteer fire companies, and everybody else that has a booth down there. Nearly $200,000 goes back into the community.”
Today’s Canal Fest opening ceremonies begin at noon on the Renaissance Bridge and continue through the closing fireworks next Sunday.
New this year is the Vintage Fire Truck Muster from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday on both Main Street in Tonawanda and Webster Street in North Tonawanda. All local fire companies have been invited to join and show off their antique fire trucks.
• Canal Fest Parade: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, more than 100 units in a two-hour parade between the two cities. This year’s theme is Mexican Fiesta.
• 16th annual Car Cruise: 6 to 10 p.m. Wednesday on Webster Street in North Tonawanda and Main Street in Tonawanda. Staging areas open at 3 p.m., and cruisers must report to one of the staging areas to participate. Those who want to park on Webster must report to Gratwick Park, and those who want to park on Main Street must report to Niawanda Park.
• Canal Fest Bike Cruise: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday on Webster Street; features more than 2,000 bicyclists. Prizes are awarded in categories such as classic and best custom paint. There also will be live blues music on the Webster Street stage and the Sweeney Hose beer tent.
• Duck Races, Erie Canal: 3 p.m. Saturday. Adopt ducks for a chance to win prizes. The event is a fundraiser for Community Missions. Ducks can be adopted by going to www.communitymissions.org, by calling 298-3403, Ext. 2225, or by visiting the Community Missions booth at Canal Fest.
• Saturday and next Sunday: Arts and Crafts Show.
Other popular events include the Tim Frank Memorial Canal Fest 4-Miler Run, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the foot of the Delaware Street Bridge and Sweeney Street; street art chalk contest, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. today on Main Street near the McDonald’s restaurant in Tonawanda; Diaper Derby, 6 p.m. Thursday at Tremont and Webster streets, North Tonawanda; and Sika Cup Boat Building Contest and Race, with elimination heats launching at 6 p.m. Saturday in the canal at the Long Homestead, Tonawanda.