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Canadiana's giant engine is salvaged by history buffs

A piece of the Canadiana has been salvaged, thanks to the last-minute intervention of local history buffs.

The men beat a Friday deadline by raising $20,000 to save the giant steam engine that once powered people across Lake Erie to Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Ontario.

The Canadiana was built in 1910, the last passenger vessel assembled in Buffalo. It was 215 feet long, with three passenger decks, an enormous dance floor and an original capacity of 3,500 before its operation ended in the late 1950s.

After failed restoration efforts, the boat was scrapped in 2004.

"I just think this is one more important part of our history and our heritage, and every piece of that we can save is important," said attorney Michael Powers, who spearheaded the effort. "It will give future generations the sense of what lake travel was like and allow older generations to reminisce about sailing on the Canadiana."

Harvey Holzworth, the last sailing master of the ship around 1958, made a number of people aware of the engine's significance and the looming deadline.

Then, Powers developed a plan to save the engine with Orchard Park businessman Chris Alf and Mark Judd, owner of Bidco Marine Group in the Old First Ward. Bidco is the former Buffalo Dry Dock, where the Canadiana was built and the storage site for the ship's pilot house and a small part of the hull.

Powers agreed to set up an entity to raise money for the engine, Alf would loan the funds, and Judd would repair, refurbish and return the old engine to operation. Their plan met the deadline for moving the engine set by the company operating Sandrin Dry Dock near Port Colborne, which said it needs the space.

The sheer size of the 65-ton engine will require transporting it in three pieces across the Peace Bridge on a 32-wheel flatbed truck. It will be necessary to partially or totally close the bridge during the move, which is expected in the next two weeks.

Powers said he hopes the engine eventually can find a home in a museum, such as the Great Lakes museum proposed by Bass Pro.

John Conlin, editor of Western New York Heritage, also would like to see that happen. "I would like to see it as an educational attraction," he said. "They say there are only a few of these triple expansion steam engines anywhere. It would be a terrific exhibit."

In the meantime, Judd said he likes the idea of the engine coming full circle. "The fact this thing was built on my property makes me feel a little obliged to bring it back home," Judd said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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