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A classic North Tonawanda Fire Department truck during last year's Canal Fest parade. (Photo by Nick Donoughe)
A classic North Tonawanda Fire Department truck during last year's Canal Fest parade. (Photo by Nick Donoughe)

37th annual Canal Fest kicks off Sunday in Tonawanda, North Tonawanda

Thu, Jul 11th 2019 04:10 pm

By Michael DePietro

Things are heating up in the Twin Cities this weekend, as Canal Fest, one of Western New York’s largest and most popular outdoor summer events, is set to return for its 37th year.

The eight-day, event-filled outdoor festival is set to begin on Sunday, July 14, and continue through Sunday, July 21. 

Taking place along the banks of the historic Erie Barge Canal, Canal Fest is a massive event that spans between the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. Featuring a huge variety of food, music, carnival rides and nightly events, the ever-popular event is expected to draw-in roughly 200,000 people over the course of its eight-day run.

The festivities kick off with a bang on Sunday … literally. The opening ceremonies begin at noon at Renaissance Bridge with the firing of cannons to commemorate the construction of the canal. This tradition harkens back to when the canal was completed in 1825 and the state celebrated with a 90-minute long cannonade along the length of the canal and the Hudson River, from Buffalo to New York City.

According to Canal Fest Corp. President Peter Chenier Jr., Canal Fest offers something for everybody. 

“Everyone is gonna have a good time. It’s a lot of fun,” he said. 

One of the staples of Canal Fest, Chenier said, is the Chalk-It-Up street chalk art contest which runs 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday July 14. This year’s theme will be “Birthday Celebration.” 

“It’s amazing work that they do and how nice it looks,” Chenier said. “That’s an event that’s been growing every year and we hope to expand on it this year.”

Another festival mainstay is the “Charles Fleischman” Canal Fest Parade on Tuesday. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., the two-and-a-half-hour parade starts at the corner of Grove Street and Minerva Street, Tonawanda, and ends at Webster Street and Gamy Street, NT. According to Chenier, the parade is one of the largest in all of New York state, and brings in thousands of people every year. Additionally, the grand marshal of this year’s parade is former WYRK radio personality, Dale Mussen. 

Friday’s Canal Fest Bike Cruise, is touted as one of WNY’s premiere bike events and “The Must-Attend” bike night of the summer. Now in its 14th year, the Bike Cruise is expected to draw 3,000 bikers from all over Western New York, Ontario and surrounding states.

Other popular stalwarts of Canal Fest are the Vintage Fire Truck Muster, Car Cruise, Diaper Derby, 4-Mile Run, SIKA Cup, Golf Tournament, Canal Fest Pageants, and the ever-popular two-day Arts and Crafts show on July 20 and 21, which features hundreds of local vendors. 

Live music will be provided by numerous local acts, including: The Jim Wynne Band, Kickstart Rumble, 90 West, Yellow Jack, Ramblin’ Lou Family Band, Reset to Vinyl, Bloodline, Red Rain, Joe Childs Students, Phocus, Seventh Sign, Busted Stuff, High Horse, Urban Renewal, Dave Constantino Band, West of the Mark, Peter Zalocha Student Bands, Gateway Sweeney, Russ Vesci & Texas Revolver, Coda (a tribute to Led Zeppelin), and Denzel Ward & Cool Platinum.

For a complete live-music schedule, visit https://www.canalfest.org/.

Carnival rides are provided by the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum and are available July 15-21. Pay-one-price wristband bracelets will be available every day the rides are open and are $25 each on the midway. The bracelets are good on all rides (except the speed ride) and are valid all day on the day of purchase.

For parents looking to save a few dollars, presale wristband vouchers may also be purchased for $20 at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, 180 Thompson St., North Tonawanda, as well as at the following locations:

Tops Friendly Markets locations at 890 Young St., City of Tonawanda; 150 Niagara St., City of Tonawanda; and 301 Meadow Drive, North Tonawanda; Market in the Square in Budwey’s Plaza, 535 Division St., North Tonawanda; and Lane Jewelers, 28 Seymour St., City of Tonawanda.

For more information, visit the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum website at www.carrouselmuseum.org.

Chenier added that parking space is ample surrounding the event, and recommended the Webster Street parking lot, the Main Street self-parking space at the former Elk’s building lot, as well as the nearby First United Methodist Church parking lot. Additionally, parking along Main Street is reserved for handicap vehicles.

Chenier also reminded everyone that as per Tonawanda city law, pets are not permitted on the Canal Fest campus. 

The festivities will conclude Sunday night (July 21) with a spectacular fireworks show launched from Renaissance Bridge that Chenier said is absolutely top notch. 

“They’re really incredible,” Chenier said. “Better than any in Western New York, definitely.”

In addition to providing annual entertainment for area residents, since the festival began in 1983, Canal Fest has acted as something of a fundraiser for numerous not-for-profit organizations. At the same time, Chenier said these same organizations help organize and run the festival, and have been instrumental in keeping the organization going all these years.

“If it wasn’t for the group (of member organizations) pitching in, the event would never happen,” he said.

While Chenier admits overseeing an event of Canal Fest’s magnitude can be stressful, helping to provide support for these organizations makes it all worth it.

“I really enjoy the event. I believe in the event because it supports the not-for-profits,” he said.

For a complete schedule of all of the events Canal Fest has to offer, visit https://www.canalfest.org/.

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