Our free and inclusive Erie Canal Ride this coming Monday, October 26th – the 195th anniversary of the Erie Canal’s opening – will start at Resurgence Brewing (1250 Niagara Street, 6pm, see below for many pandemic-induced changes to Slow Roll) and end at Canalside with a tour of the Buffalo Maritime Center’s brand new “Longshed,” a 4,000-square-foot, year-round facility where the BMC will recreate a 73-foot Erie Canal packet boat, in keeping with its mission to “promote traditional hand skills and a craftsman-like attitude while advancing knowledge and appreciation of our Western New York maritime heritage.”

We first partnered with the BMC after one of our riders who volunteered there, Tom Leed, suggested it was exactly the kind of place that Slow Roll loves to go – off the beaten path in a residential part of the Riverside neighborhood lies its Arthur Street headquarters, a welcoming place that provides fun and profound community service with little recognition. Through many rides over the past few years since, Tom was proven right. Learn more below from the BMC’s Executive Director, Brian Trzeciak.

View from the Maritime Center roof before Slow Roll’s first visit in 2017 – photo by Clay Davies

How do you explain the Buffalo Maritime Center to folks who’ve never been or heard of it?

I talk about it as a 28,000 square-foot learning facility, where we promote craftsmanship and advance the knowledge of our Western New York maritime heritage. Which is essentially the mission statement, but I do add that the one thing were incredibly proud of is our student hand-to-hand boatbuilding program, that’s using boatbuilding as a tool to help students practice life skills and STEM principles while gaining the pride and accomplishment that comes with building something that they’re actually going to use.

I want people to walk into our building and understand right away that this is a place where people learn and exchange ideas.

What inspired you to want to lead the BMC?

I started at the BMC on the shop floor, and got to know the staff and a lot of the volunteers, got to know the machines and how the place was running, long before the opportunity came to lead it all.

Now, to me, the Maritime Center itself is the boat that I’m building. I’d love to be down in the shop working as a craftsman, but I think where I am in life and where I believe the vision is for community input in the future of our organization, for education mostly, that ties in with this role I’m in now. I’m a former toy designer, teacher, and community organizer, all of which helps put me where I’m at right now as the director.

So I think that we can really have a positive and historic impact on our community, and we have an obligation to do that.

What are the most challenging the fulfilling parts of working for the BMC?

I make a to-do-today list every day I get into the shop. But the challenge – and, frankly, the cool thing about this work – is that you never know where the day is going to go. So, for example, I’ll start off the day writing a proposal, but then I’ll walk through the shop, and the crew needs an extra hand flipping over a 28-foot-long boat. A delivery of lumber comes in and I’ll jump on the forklift. Then I’ll help out in a student boatbuilding class, and eventually get back to that proposal. I do have days where I plop myself in front of the computer and admin out, but I like the challenge of the variety, too. I think in general it helps to have flexibility and know that it’s good to have a plan, but that plan will most likely change and try to be cool with that.

There’s so much work to do as a small organization, so I’m lucky to be surrounded by a great staff and so many volunteers – this place would not run without them. We have a team mentality and collective desire to have our vision fulfilled – it takes a lot of work and patience as well, and we’re getting there.

How does the work of the BMC align with that of Slow Roll?

What I know about Slow Roll is that it’s all about community engagement, encouraging people to join together, and I think that’s something we’re trying to do at the Maritime Center, so we’re learning from Slow Roll in that way. We hope we can keep the partnership going, because the people who wanna get out on the street on their bikes might wanna come learn about boatbuilding and the history that goes along with it.

How has the pandemic affected the BMC?

Initially it was very bad for us. We pride ourselves in providing hands-on education, but it’s hard to have a program called “hand-to-hand” in the time of Covid. At first, we didn’t know how to run programs like that.

Now, just like everyone else going through this, we’ve adapted and evolved to make it even safer than it was before, so people can come in and participate, still work on the projects they wanna work on, they just have to be masked up and go through the protocols. We’re not 100% back to normal at all – it’d be better if we had more people in here. We had to reduce our numbers.

We also had to pause construction of the Longshed building that is now housing the packet boat – we’re very lucky that it was just a delay and we were able to continue with that, and now we’re excited to welcome people into it.

What should people expect to see on Monday at the Longshed?

They’re gonna see a beautiful building that you might not think initially would belong at Canalside, but once you walk in, you’d say this thing has always been there. To me, it fits exactly in that spot – with the timbers that the whole frame is built of it, and the keel of the packet boat in the middle of the floor that everyone can sign, you can get a feeling that this place is gonna be a staple on the waterfront for years to come.