Canadian Port Marks Start to Season With Unique Ceremony

PortsToronto celebrated the official beginning of the shipping season with the 163rd annual Top Hat Ceremony.

Every spring, the Port of Toronto commemorates the beginning of the commercial shipping season by temporarily gifting the captain of the first international ship to arrive with a vintage top hat, which comes with 24 hours of special privileges. The shipping season opens just in time for the port’s busy cruise season to begin.

Top Hat Ceremony Held At Port Of Toronto

With the arrival of the first ocean-going shipping vessel of the year on March 24, 2024, the Port of Toronto’s shipping season is officially underway. The port, which is home to one of Canada’s largest inland harbors, is situated on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario and located minutes from Downtown Ontario. 

MV Wigeon, a bulk cargo ship measuring 199.9 meters in length (or approximately 656 feet) sailed a 30-day voyage from Recife, Brazil, to be the first shipping vessel of the season to arrive in Toronto. To commemorate her arrival, the ship’s captain, Sergiy Kobylyashnyy, was honored in a traditional Top Hat Ceremony on March 27, 2024, which is held annually by PortsToronto.

“The Annual Top Hat Ceremony is a longstanding tradition at the Port of Toronto, marking the opening of a vital transportation gateway that provides Canadian and international businesses with a convenient, sustainable and cost-effective way to bring goods into the heart of the city,” said RJ Steenstra, President and Chief Executive Officer of PortsToronto.

The Top Hat Ceremony began in the Spring of 1861 to celebrate the arrival of the first ocean-going shipping vessel of the season, or as the locals call them, “salties.” During the ceremony, the ship’s captain is presented with an antique top hat – the same one that has now been used for 163 years. 

Hugh Richardson, The Port of Toronto’s first ever Harbor Master, began the tradition in the 1800s as a way to lure ships carrying building materials to the port as early in the year as possible. At the time, the city of Toronto needed the materials to make progress on completing the burgeoning city.

Top Hat Ceremony
Top Hat Ceremony

“The first ship was given $100 in a briefcase, and the top hat, which served as the ‘key to the city’ for a 24-hour period enabling the captain and crew to eat and drink for free. The same top hat, now 163 years old, is used today, although measures are taken to protect and maintain it so it can be used for years to come,” read a press release from PortsToronto.

Read Also: Canadian Port Expecting 1.27 Million Cruise Passengers in 2024

Primarily functioning as a shipping hub, the Port of Toronto moves goods from all over the world, including Germany, South Korea, China, Brazil, Australia, South America, and the United States. In 2023, the port had a record year, moving approximately 2.3 million metric tons of cargo that was brought to the port by 189 shipping vessels from around the globe – generating between $400 to $500 million in economic activity. 

Cruise Tourism Thrives At The Port of Toronto

In addition to serving as a bulk cargo destination, the Port of Toronto also has its own cruise terminal. In 2023, the Canadian port welcomed a record number of cruise guests across 45 ships, carrying nearly 18,000 passengers. As a hub port, passengers often stay for several days before or after their cruise to explore the Great Lakes region, boosting the economic impact within the local hospitality and tourism sectors. 

2024 is also gearing up to be a busy one, with 36 cruise ships scheduled to call on the port between May and October, bringing an expected 18,000 visitors to the capital city of Ontario.

Cruise Ships in Toronto, Canada
Cruise Ships in Toronto, Canada (Photo Courtesy: Port of Toronto)

According to PortsToronto, the cruise port is expecting calls from Viking Cruises, Ponant, Plantours, Pearl Seas Cruises, and Hapag-Lloyd – all of which operate smaller ships that carry 500 or fewer passengers. 

Viking Cruises will kick off the cruise season in April, as they did last year, with sailings onboard Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis, both of which have a maximum capacity of 378 guests. 

Viking Polaris will arrive first, on April 17, 2024, when it will embark on the first of a series of 13-night “Discover Canada” cruises that will sail back and forth from Toronto to New York City and back again. Along the way, the ship will call on Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Canada; Quebec City, Quebec, Canada; Saguenay, Quebec, Canada; Sept-Îles, Quebec, Canada; Cap-aux-Meules, Quebec, Canada; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada; and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. 

Viking Octantis will arrive in Toronto on April 22, 2024, just a few days after its identical sister ship. She will then begin to operate a series one-way, 8-day cruises, sailing back and forth between Toronto and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which will be offered until September 15, 2024.

The itinerary, which is centered around “Niagara & The Great Lakes,” includes calls on Niagara Falls (Port Colborne), Ontario, Canada; Point Pelee, Ontario, Canada; Detroit, Michigan; Alpena, Michigan; and Mackinac Island, Michigan. 

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