Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Paddlewheel owner's journey is done

Captain declares his time at helm of Queen is finished

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Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press

Joshua Starchuk the main deck hand, unties the lines as the Paddlewheel Queen gets ready to cruise the Red River for the last time this year.

He's lugged more than 3.3 million passengers and made more than 10,000 passes up and down the Red River.

But those days ended Sunday afternoon for Paddlewheel Queen Capt. Steve Hawchuk, and they may also have ended for the riverboat.

Paddlewheel captain and owner Hawchuk is retiring -- again. Sunday afternoon marked his final cruise at the helm of the Paddlewheel, probably. Of course, he said the same thing two years ago.

"This time is for sure. I can't go on anymore," Hawchuk, 75, said Sunday afternoon, while a brisk wind rippled the river surface just enough to make the sunshine gleam off its waters.

The boat has been for sale for two years but Hawchuk said there are some interested parties. He would not say what he wants for it.

What if he doesn't sell?

"It will just sit in the slough" at Selkirk where it docks every winter, and where the MS Lord Selkirk has sat rotting since it was idled in 1990. "Nothing lasts forever. I'd hate to see that, though," said Hawchuk.

The Paddlewheel Queen made its maiden voyage in 1965 and the Paddlewheel Princess followed in 1966. Winnipegger Ray Senft designed and built both Paddlewheel boats, which earned him the nickname Red River Ray.

Hawchuk and half-brother Joe Slogan of Selkirk bought the boats from Senft in 1969, and Hawchuk has captained it for 44 years. Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, singer Frankie Valli and KFC founder Col. Harland Sanders were among his guests.

It hasn't all been lazing down the river as if on a log raft and watching the Red River shoreline go by.

There was the time a man jumped off the Perimeter Highway bridge onto the top deck of the Paddlewheel to get into a cruise social. In the old days, the cruise ship would make impromptu stops and deposit rowdy drunks on the riverbank.

"You couldn't do that today or you'd have the human rights people after you," said first mate Glyn Thomas.

Then there were the Rockin' River parties. One event saw 400 people start throwing chairs overboard -- including three three-metre picnic tables -- and smash 152 light bulbs.

Travelling by riverboat is still one of the prettiest ways to see Winnipeg, but too many Manitobans may have taken it for granted, said Hawchuk.

"I have people tell me, 'I was on there 15 years ago. I was on there 20 years ago,' " he said. But not since.

In the 1970s, they'd get more than 80,000 passengers a year. That fell to 60,000 to 70,000 during the 1980s and 50,000 to 60,000 in the 1990s. "We used to move a lot of people," Hawchuk said.

Last year, the Paddlewheel had just 15,000 passengers. Flood years that have repeatedly shortened the boat's season have also killed business.

Hawchuk offered discount prices of $12 per person for the final cruises this past weekend. Even the normal price, $17.75 for day trips and $18.75 for evenings, "is the cheapest in North America," he said. A good crowd of exactly 100 took the Sunday trip.

The Paddlewheel Queen still moves people in more ways than transportation. Nancy and Brian Drews had their wedding reception on the Paddlewheel seven years ago. Sunday, they celebrated their anniversary with a return visit.

"I just love this boat," said Nancy, who is originally from New Jersey. The Paddlewheel offers a unique experience, she said. "It's being on the water. It's seeing the city from a different perspective."

The riverboat travelled Sunday from the Redwood Bridge, where it moors, south to The Forks, then back again north all the way to Fraser's Grove on the east side, and Rainbow Stage on the west side before returning to the Redwood Bridge.

During higher spring waters, the boat will travel north as far as Grindstone Rapids just past St. Benedict's Monastery. Some special cruises will just go south as far as the University of Manitoba.

Hawchuk said his decision to retire also came after frustration over Ottawa's decision to off-load more navigation authority on the Red River. The Harper government sold the dry-dock facility at Selkirk recently to Peguis First Nation. But Peguis has stopped operating the dry dock, and the underwater rails have silted up.

Kyriakos Vogiatzakis, owner of the M.S. River Rouge, says he still plans to keep operating.

From the August 1st edition of the Winnipeg Free Press: Replica of a 19th century stern-wheeler strated regular cruises on the Red River Wednesday. The boat leaves its home dock near Nairn Avenue, in Elmwood, makes a trip to a point just past Middlechurch and returns in three hours. Tentative schedule calls for three trips on weekdays, four trips Saturdays and Sundays. There is a band on board for the last trip each day, at 10 p.m.; recorded music (via stereo) on other trips. Paddlewheel Queen - July 30, 1965 Winnipeg Free Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 A4


Updated on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 8:03 AM CDT: Adds photo

8:13 AM: adds slideshows

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