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Remember This? Row-row-row your bathtub?

For six brave captains, it was paddle or sink on the St. Marys River in 1986

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

Remember when people sailed down the river in of all things, a bathtub?

At the mention of the word bathtub, it may elicit memories of bedtime routines from your childhood, which included a bathtub full of bubbles and possibly a floating rubber duck.

Most likely, it was your first opportunity to conduct an experiment called sink or float. You know the one. Where you throw various items into the water to test whether they would float or not. The data you gained from carrying out this experiment would have come in handy if you chose to participate in the Sault Ste. Marie Bathtub Society and Sault Conservation Authority’s annual “Bathtub Race and Anything that Floats Rally” (Sault Star, June 14, 1986, p. 21).

For this event, there were two categories in which the ‘would-be sailors’ could register: the tub race or the rally events.

The construction of the makeshift vessel, as you can imagine, would take a substantial amount of time and effort, giving participants an opportunity to test and make adjustments before the event took place. To help alleviate some of the cost of manufacturing their vessels, Kim Barsanti, a student worker at the time, said “letters are going out to 200 organizations seeking sponsors for participants” (Sault Star, 1986, p.21).

In 1987, Parks Canada was one of the sponsors to submit an entry in the annual event. Bob Carpentier “…and three other timber shed crew employees spent four evenings constructing the craft from their own design” (Sault Star, June 1987, p. 16). After a number of test runs, the group, though keeping specifics to themselves, made adjustments prior to race day. The Timber Crew team raced in the fourth Annual Great Bathtub Race and Fun Rally, which boasted an “improved spectator viewing and additional categories” (p.16).

Although the third annual bathtub race lacked the improved viewpoints for spectators that would be installed for the following year, the race did come with a little bit of intrigue.

It was a tub race that ‘had quality, not quantity’, having only six participants, but that’s not the intriguing bit! “Bathtub racer Mike Malysh…became the centre of attention on the St. Mary’s River, even before his competition began” (Sault Star, Jul. 1985, p.18). While Malysh was doing a test run before the event, he meandered into the course where tugboats were lined up to complete their race. As you can imagine, this caused onlookers some panic. Organizers relayed their worry via radio, stating “You guys go by him, you’re going to sink him for sure”, mentioning that “he seems to be going very erratically” (p.18).

Despite his ‘erratic’ driving, Mr. Malysh finished second in his race, finishing the course in roughly 78 minutes. Malysh stated that changes had to be made, as he was “sitting dangerously low in the water. Unable to sit at the back of his tub for fear of upsetting it, he used a pool cue to extend his steering mechanism” (p.18). The year’s event was full of entertainment despite its low turnout, with various heats and races, which provided many opportunities for prizes, including ‘best-dressed sailors’. Just imagine walking by and seeing a moose paddle a bathtub starting from the Pine Street Marina and travelling up to the Locks before heading back down to Bellevue Park. It was a sight to be seen.

However, the annual ‘Bathtub Race and Anything that Floats Rally’, put on by the Sault Ste. Marie Bathtub Society and Sault Conservation Authority was not the first such an event in Canada.

Nanaimo, British Columbia, the proclaimed “Bathtub Capital of the World” held its first bathtub derby in 1967. The Nanaimo organizers had a couple of ‘crowning’ moments in their history as well. In 1971, the ‘Bathtub Capital’ hosted a bathtub derby with a couple of special guests in attendance to catch the spectacle. Queen Elizabeth and her husband were in Canada for a ten-day Royal Tour, in which they took the time to take in “people floating around bathtubs” (Sault Star, May 1971, p.1).

The following year, in the sixth annual ‘Nanaimo International bathtub race’, new records were set on their course. The event had 220 starters, where “14-year-old youth [David Lyle] churned across the Strait of Georgia…in an hour and 50 minutes to win” (Sault Star, July 1972, p.4). The course ran between Vancouver Island and the Mainland and hosted competitors from around the globe. David Lyle in his event, beat the previous record by an impressive 11 minutes.

Anyone up for a bathtub or giant pumpkin race? Don’t forget your rubber duck.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provide SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more "Remember This?" columns here.

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