top hat ports toronto

Toronto holds a bizarre annual ceremony where top hats are given to sea captains

From our bagged milk to the fake houses that hide electrical transformers, Toronto has a way of making the mundane feel just a bit weird.

A lot of that weirdness predates the modern era, like an annual ceremony held by PortsToronto that has welcomed the first vessel of the spring for 161 years now.

The annual Top Hat Ceremony has been a Toronto tradition since the spring of 1861, crowning the captain of the first ocean-going vessel or "saltie" to arrive at the port each spring with an antique top hat.

Already strange enough, the ceremony looked even weirder this year, as social distancing had PortsToronto Assistant Manager of Harbour Operations Helen Oel "crown" Captain Dorde Perovic of the MV Chestnut from roughly 70 metres away, standing at Sugar Beach with the ship moored at the nearby Redpath Sugar facility.

In reality, this looked like a person holding a top hat in forced perspective against a distant ship, a painfully awkward photo-op that underscores our odd and dated traditions.

The idea traces back to the Port of Toronto's first Harbour Master, Hugh Richardson, who wanted to incentivize shipments as early in the season as possible.

Back in the 1860s, the first ship to arrive in the port was given $100 in a briefcase along with the stylish top hat, which served as the "key to the city' and allowed the captain and crew to dine and drink free for 24 hours.

Times have changed, and over the years, the tradition evolved to celebrate only the first ocean-going vessel to arrive. This year's honouree arrived from Maceio, Brazil, laden with 19,000 metric tonnes of sugar, marking the start of the shipping season.

Never stop being weird, Toronto.

Lead photo by

CNW Group/PortsToronto


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