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Iconic riverboats return to Red River
What better way to celebrate one of life’s memorable occasions than by cruising down the lazy Red River on a hot summer’s day on Winnipeg’s iconic version of an early Mississippi riverboat.
There’s something magical about the lure of the water that has drawn passengers for almost half a century now to embark on a slow-moving cruise on Winnipeg’s own royal couple — the Paddlewheel Queen and Paddlewheel Princess.
And memories linger. My own wedding celebration was hosted onboard one of the boats. Thunder storms in the morning mercifully gave way to clear, sunny skies in the late afternoon and the nostalgic trip down the Red with our eight beautiful kids, family and friends ended majestically with a Manitoba sunset just above the shoreline.
The recent fire on board the once grand MS Lord Selkirk is another poignant reminder for Manitobans of how much we almost lost with the recent one-year absence of the two paddlewheel boats.
Built in Selkirk in 1965 by Purvis Boat Works, the Paddlewheel Queen was actually the brainchild of Raymond Senft, who was also known as Red River Ray. It was built in 80 days.
"Senft wanted to recreate the atmosphere of the early riverboats," Captain Steve Hawchuk said recently.
The 74-year-old Hawchuk, along with his brother, purchased the royal pair from Senft back in 1969.
"He (his brother) is retired now like I should be," Hawchuk quipped.
"I was working for concrete people and farming then.....and I wanted to do something different," he said.
Some 42 years later, after a brief one-year hiatus, Hawchuk decided to take the wheel and set sail on the Red once more.
"I retired in 2010.....because of new regulations and the huge cost involved and the weather." He ended up getting a lot of feedback from the public and the crew that had been with him so long. "Hopefully we’re going back into a dry season."
The boats have returned to the Redwood Docks, once the home port of long ago. They’ve been forced to move around a lot, explained Hawchuk, from one dock to another all over the city.
But they’ve managed to stay afloat. "We’ve hauled over three million people from all over," Hawchuk said. "VIPs, royalty, Col. Sanders, Trudeau, premiers....."
The popular boats have hosted countless weddings, reunions, grads, and dinner cruises over the years.
Shedding light on the inspiration behind the riverboats, Senft told a Winnipeg Free Press reporter in 1965, "I admit I’m copying from the Mark Twain in New Orleans and the Huck Finn in St. Louis. The how is all my own, though." The energetic entrepreneur passed away in 2010.
"It’s been very expensive to get started this year," said Hawchuk, adding the Princess may not even run.
To hop aboard, see www.paddlewheelcruises.com or phone 942-4500.
Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg-based writer who loves to write about all things Manitoban.
Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in The Metro area and would like to contribute to this column, contact email@example.com.
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