The ceremony that marked the Centennial Celebration of the Cape Cod Canal featured thoughtful art, rousing music, historic speeches, and a letter from President Barack H. Obama highlighting the once-in-a-lifetime event.
The celebration activities were well attended by people from around the country and the world. On Tuesday the body of water that divides the villages of Bourne had a chance to define the Town of Bourne through the Canaliversary event.
Tourists from as far away as China came to celebrate with local residents. Two of those Chinese tourists were teachers. “We were eager to experience the area and the celebration and all it had to offer,” the teachers said.
They will return to China to share what they learned about the canal and how it was engineered and built with their students.
Familiar faces were also in the crowd. Local teachers from Bourne, Sandwich and Wareham were scattered among those gathered, and for a day they got to witness history instead of lecture and test on it.
Many locals avoided any traffic by walking and biking to the event on the very shores of the canal they came to celebrate.
“We rode our bikes from the Capeside and took the canal path in. Walking over the Sagamore bridge was not something we’ve ever done before but it gave us quite a view of the canal and the people gathering and was worth it to avoid the traffic,” Brittany Haskell of Sagamore said.
Families on vacation from Florida, Vermont, Rhode Island, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, Illinois, New York, Ontario, Tennessee, Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, New Jersey and New Mexico, as well as from all over Massachusetts, were at the celebration too and even though they blended into the crowd, the varied license plates on the cars parked in the Buzzards Bay Park lot and all along the road to Massachusetts Maritime Academy gave a hint that they were there.
Town of Bourne selectmen, Canal Region Chamber of Commerce, Centennial Committee members, Coast Guard Auxilliary members, Massachusetts Maritime Academy staff and students, Army Corps of Engineers, and veterans of the Navy and Marines were all well represented in the crowd enjoying the festivities, which included tall ship tours, music, a tugboat parade, and fireworks.
The speeches delivered at the midday ceremony celebrated the men and women who had the vision to create the canal, the money to get it started and the laborers who did the work. Brigadier General Kent D. Savre, the North Atlantic Division Commander, US Army Corps of Engineers, schooled the audience on the history of the Cape Cod Canal and the civil engineer who designed it, William Barclay Parsons.
General Savre also noted that the canal has many different meanings to many different people. “What happened 100 years ago still inspires us today,” General Savre said as he spoke to the economic importance of the canal as a merchant waterway but also a waterway for recreation for “three million visitors” that cross the canal each year.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army, Civil Works, who oversees the Army Corps of Engineers, shared her pride for the corps “The best part of my job is coming home and seeing the great work of the Army Corps, the department I am in charge of. George Washington had the vision to start the corps 239 years ago,” Ms. Darcy said. She also mentioned that the Army Corps of Engineers was created two days before the military Army was formed, proving its importance to the nation.
Ms. Darcy noted how impressed she was with the celebration and the positive energy of the proceedings. She received loud, long applause when she donned a Red Sox shirt and asked the crowd to channel that energy and send it to the home team.
Co-chairmen of the Cape Cod Canal Centennial Committee also had a chance to say a few words. Rear Admiral Richard G. Gurnon, commandant of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and Marie J. Oliva, president and chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce, both gave credit to the artists, musicians and committee members who helped to make the day a success. “I’m the uniform behind Marie and she is the horsepower behind this celebration,” Admiral Gurnon said.
Admiral Gurnon also had the pleasure of reading a letter from President Obama to the crowd, courtesy of Representative William R. Keating’s office. The letter expressed the president’s pleasure to be a part of maritime history and expressed the hope that the canal would “encourage us all to shape the currents of history in our time.”
Ms. Oliva addressed the crowd, “Change only happens when people take risks.” Ms. Oliva said as she also stated her pride in being a lifelong resident of the area, one whose father had emigrated from Italy as a mason to work on the canal.
The ceremony was concluded with music befitting a national ceremony. Music director and conductor Joan Landry celebrated the canal and the year 1914 through music played by the Canal Festival Youth Orchestra put together with musicians from the Cape, New Bedford, Duxbury and Dorchester. Special guest artist and Cape resident Siobhan Magnus of “American Idol” fame gave her version of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”
A mother in the crowd told her daughter why the canal celebration was so important. “This celebration will not happen again for a very long time. By the time they celebrate another centennial, you will be 107 years old,” the mother said.