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Annual Pottahawk boat party still going ahead, despite COVID-19

"We don't want Pottahawk to be seen as the source of spread of this disease," said Jim Millson, bylaw supervisor for Norfolk County. The Lake Erie party is going ahead this Sunday, despite COVID-19 restrictions.

Annual 'pissup' brings as many as 10,000 partiers from Canada and U.S. to Turkey Point

Known locally as the 'Pottahawk Pissup', the annual boat party off Turkey Point in Lake Erie has attracted partiers from both sides of the Canada / U.S. border for twenty years. (CBC)

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in its first wave and the Canada/U.S. border still closed to non-essential travel, Norfolk County officials are surprised and disappointed the Pottahawk boat party is going ahead.

The so-called 'Pottahawk Pissup' happens every second Sunday in July off Turkey Point, Ontario in Lake Erie, bringing as many as 10,000 partiers from across Ontario and the U.S.

"I wish it was cancelled this year," said Jim Millson, Norfolk County's bylaw supervisor and a retired OPP officer.

"Not to ruin anyone's fun, but why take a chance? We've seen what happened in the United States and how they've reversed course (on coronavirus cases). We've only gone forward so far in Canada and I think we should be proud of that.

"We don't want Pottahawk to be identified as a super-spreader of this disease," Millson told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive.

Hoping partiers remain 'socially responsible'

OPP vessels will be patrolling the water, and local bylaw officers will be at piers reminding people to social distance. Millson is also asking partiers not to pass food or drinks between boats.

COVID-19 adds complications to an event already known for its safety issues. In addition to charges related to assault and impairment, hitchhiking partiers have also end up stranded, calling out for help in a dark, remote location.

"Initially, it was a bit of a free-for-all," Millson said of his days policing previous Pottahawk parties as an OPP officer. 

"We've had assaults, sexual assaults, liquor license act charges out there..usually about 130 or 150 charges for one day for people operating with alcohol within their vessels, or impaired," he said.

Declining numbers

Millson adds that turnout has declined in recent years because of high water levels, fuel prices and the "antics from some of the partiers have scared away families who might go." He added that OPP is closely policing the event, so "people aren't taking the chances of drinking and boating that they used to."

Pottahawk is a point on Ryerson's Island in Lake Erie. But it's best known for its annual boat party, held the second Sunday in July each year. It draws thousands of boaters and partiers to Turkey Point. Despite COVID restrictions, the party is going ahead this weekend. Jim Millson knows the event well. He's Norfollk County's Bylaw Supervisor - and a former OPP officer. 7:47

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