A popular tourist attraction on Georgian Bay may be in its final season.
The Georgian Queen is nearly 100 years old and the family who operates it says it's time for a change.
“It's special because you know what time of day it is, you can almost set your watch by the ship leaving and coming ashore,” says Penetanguishene Mayor Gerry Marshall of the ship’s signature fog horn.
The Georgian Queen has been a fixture in Penetanguishene for more than 40 years. Captain Steve Robillard inherited the ship from his father.
“I was very young when my brother said dad bought a boat,” says Robillard. “Thinking it would be some 24 foot that we would have fun on, we drove to Port McNicoll and there was this big hull on the shore which basically looked like a 120-foot canoe.”
The ship operated as a steam tug boat in 1918 and also as an icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. For the past three decades, Robillard has been using it as a cruise ship, taking people on tours and providing a running commentary on the landscape just like his father did before him.
“He started the tradition – and I've continued it – of doing a live tour,” he says.
The crew says they've transported close to half a million people. For the town it's a source of pride and a big draw for tourists.
“You don't want to lose tourism assets such as this one,” says Marshall. “It's a great asset that's come to town but you know in the absence of Captain Steve and his ship, more opportunities will come up.”
Robillard says he will either sell the ship or keep it and use it as a house boat, because he wants summers off and a chance to have his own adventures.
“My father who started it, he unfortunately passed away in 2007,” he says. “He had been diagnosed with a pancreatic cancer so he had a week to live and in the middle of that week he did say, ‘Don't think you have to run the boat in my memory. When you're done, you're done.’ And we're done.”
The last day the ship will run is October 20. Robillard says it will be a full summer of cruises and after that he plans to enjoy his retirement.