UPDATE: Float Down Participants Make Unexpected Visit To Canada (GALLERY)
Inflatable rafts, tubes and other floatation devices littered Sarnia Bay Sunday afternoon.
Hundreds of participants in the Port Huron float down made an unexpected visit to Canada after being pushed to Sarnia’s shoreline on strong westerly winds.
Speaking to Blackburn News at the scene, Sarnia police Inspector Doug Warn described the situation as the worst he’s seen for the unsanctioned event.
“Obviously no one has ID, but our only concern is that everybody is safe,” says Warn. “We’re not concerned about citizenship at this point. If people are tired or cold we want them to get out of the water and make their way home. Make some phone calls and so forth. We’re really not concerned about anything else.
“Once they are into this current in Sarnia Bay, there is no way that they can paddle out. Some people are getting towed, but you have to be careful when you’re doing that so you don’t swamp some of these unsteady crafts and put people in jeopardy. So, they’re making judgement calls.”
Vessels from the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard, Sarnia Fire and Rescue Services, Point Edward fire department, and the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department could be seen assisting people in Sarnia Bay and the St. Clair River. Members from the RCMP, security and fire personnel from chemical valley companies, the Red Cross and the general public also assisted.
Four to five Sarnia Transit buses made 20 trips, taking 1,500 people back across the Blue Water Bridge. Sarnia Police closed off Front St. between Davis and Lochiel to allow the buses through.
Lambton EMS reported only minor injuries, primarily cuts and bruises from people trying to scramble ashore.
Fort Gratiot resident Jeanne Gardner decided to scale the railing at Sarnia Bay to get out of the water. She was with her son, daughter and two of their friends.
“I’ve done this since I was in my 20s and I’m in my 50s now and never been in Canada illegally, ever,” says Gardner. “I have almost ended up in Canada a few times but I’ve always managed to get back, just not today.
“We spend about an hour and a half paddling and we were going nowhere. It just was not working. So the police officer told us to just come ashore.”
The group told Blackburn News they were calling a cab company to come get them but expected they may be in Canada for a while because they didn’t have any ID or money with them.
Shipping traffic was halted on the St. Clair River from 12pm until 8pm Sunday from the Blue Water Bridge to Stag Island.
Last year, over 5,000 people went into the water on various floatation devices at Lighthouse Park in Port Huron.
With files from Lee Michaels