'We do love Canada': Americans aim to repay Sarnia for $8K rescue of floating partiers

Rescue teams on both sides of the border helped pull an estimated 2,500 tubers to safety when high winds interrupted the annual Port Huron Float Down event.

Joe Wiedenbeck didn't expect anyone to donate to his online fundraising campaign to pay back city

Rescue teams on both sides of the border helped pull tubers to safety when high winds interrupted the annual Port Huron Float Down event. (Sarnia Police Service/Twitter)

Americans are showing Canada some love by offering to repay the City of Sarnia, Ont., for the cost of rescuing hundreds of people from the St. Clair River when an annual tubing party went wildly wrong, leaving 1,500 drifters stranded on Canadian shores. 

The neighbours to the south are rallying behind an online fundraiser designed to repay the kind southwestern Ontario city and its taxpayers.

High winds interrupted the annual Port Huron Float Down, prompting a costly international water rescue that left several government agencies and police departments scrambling to pluck the wayward drifters from the water and shoreline. 

Joe Wiedenbeck, a pipefitter from Marysville, Mich., joined the online conversation and on a lark created a campaign to raise money to cover Sarnia's rescue costs.

"I feel like, since all these people ended up in Canada, and Canada had to incur the cost to haul everybody back, then maybe everybody should step up and cover the cost," he said.

In the first 19 hours of launching his GoFundMe account, he had raised $1,300.

Sarnia officials estimate the city spent more than $8,000 for its part  in Sunday's massive rescue, which included sending tubers back to the U.S. border on 10 city transit buses escorted by Sarnia police cruisers.

City of Sarnia staff were also left to clean up after the revellers, who left garbage, coolers and even a picnic table behind.

Joe Wiedenbeck started an online fundraiser to pay Sarnia, Ont., for rescue costs. (Joe Wiedenbeck/Facebook)

News of the rescue, and the cost, made international headlines, with some criticizing Sarnia's decision to ship Americans home on city transit buses. 

Those criticisms inspired Wiedenbeck to do something about it.

An estimated 2,500 floaters hit the water on Sunday, running into windy weather shortly after passing under the Bluewater Bridge, just south of the starting point. Rescue crews were soon out tethering to the tubers and getting them to safety.

Some partiers managed to stay in the U.S., but 1,500 were left stranded in Sarnia, landing in places like a chemical plant and gravel pit. 

The rescue involved efforts from groups on both sides of the border, including the U.S. and Canadian coast guards, multiple police services, firefighters, paramedics and Sarnia Transit.

Sarnia police worked with border security and sent 20 bus loads of Americans back across the border without any identification and wearing not much more than the swim suits they wore on the river.

About 1,500 of the people who got on the St. Clair River in Port Huron, Mich., on Sunday ended up in Canada. (Ernie Jacobs/Facebook)

Wiedenbeck read about the response and felt people involved should try to help cover the rescue costs.

He is overwhelmed by the response.

"I wasn't expecting a dollar from anybody," he said. "The Internet is full of trolls who like to complain, but don't like to really do anything about it. I feel like I was proven wrong, and I'm just really amazed."

'We do love Canada'

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley supports the Float Down event, which sees daredevil tubers jump in the river in Port Huron, Mich., and coast down about 12 kilometres to Marysville. But Bradley hopes people can find a way to make the event safer.

He plans to meet with his city staff to discuss possible solutions. He supports the decision to provide Americans a ride home on transit buses, but recognizes that some taxpayers have criticized the city for making that call.

Wayward Americans


5 years ago
About 1,500 partying Americans had to be rescued from the St. Clair River and returned to the U.S. on the weekend after wind blew them to Canada. 0:22

"I think it was the right call to do that by police," Bradley said Tuesday about taking the the unexpected visitors home. "In many cases, they had no money and they had no identification."

That kind of hospitality resonated with Wiedenbeck. He hopes the city realizes how much Americans respect their Canadian neighbours.

"I hope they appreciate it," he said. "We do love Canada. Every Canadian I've ever met has been the greatest person."


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