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Today's parade is a highlight of Canal Fest week

Onlookers for the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas parade sometimes start staking out their spots along the parade route as early as 3 or 4 a.m., said parade co-chairman Rob Grehlinger.

"When I arrive at 8 a.m. there's already people all over the place. There are already chairs set along the parade route. Some people have rugs and tape to tape off an area," said Grehlinger.

The parade, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, is expected to have about 110 units participating and draw about 35,000 onlookers, said Grehlinger who co-chairs the parade with his wife, Lauri.

Jim DelMonte, left, and Annette Englert, right, put chairs down to save their spot for the Canal Fest parade that starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 18, 2017. The popular parade had people setting out their chairs for spots on Webster St in North Tonawanda ond day early. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Also helping to get the parade off the ground each year are William and Melissa Davignon. The two women are the daughters of Bill Manth, who was chairman of the parade for many years. The Grehlingers and Davignons took on the monumental task last year after Manth's death.

"Our whole family does this," said Grehlinger. "Everybody chips in everybody does something and makes it a little easier."

The theme for the parade this year is a birthday party to celebrate both the 35th anniversary of Canal Fest and the 200th anniversary of the start of construction of the Erie Canal. The parade, which lasts about 90 to 105 minutes, begins in the City of Tonawanda and concludes in North Tonawanda.

"It just brings everybody together," said Grehlinger. "Whether you are in Tonawanda or North Tonawanda, the parade doesn't change."

But Canal Fest organizers did have to deal with some changes this year when two big community groups dropped out as food vendors and disappointed many folks. Our Lady of Czestochowa Church which had long featured its Polish platter with homemade pierogi and the Renaissance Club, which served fresh Italian sausage are not participating in the 2017 event.

But other top events are back, including the car cruise on Wednesday, the bike cruise on Friday and the arts and crafts festival on Saturday and Sunday. There is also a midway that runs until 11 p.m. each day and live music each night.

A full listing of events for each night of the event, which continues through Sunday, July 23, is available on

"It's some work," said Grehlinger. "By the end of the week we are already talking about what we are going to do next year. After eight days are over we are right on to next year."

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