Hope floats: Edmonton Queen owner determined to cruise the river this summer

The owner of the Edmonton Queen is confident the vessel will sail down the North Saskatchewan River this summer.

The riverboat has been moored at Rafter's Landing for nearly 3 years

The owner of the Edmonton Queen riverboat hopes it will be in operation this summer. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

The owner of the Edmonton Queen is confident the vessel will cruise down the North Saskatchewan River this summer after years of remaining moored at Rafter's Landing. 

Jay Esterer bought the riverboat two years ago and said he has received regulatory approval to sail.

The City of Edmonton confirmed Friday that it has given Esterer permits to operate for the next two summers.

Esterer spent last summer renovating the interior — installing new flooring, fixtures, furniture and a new bar. He overhauled the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and upgraded the kitchen. 

The necessary repairs were in addition to the $550,000 he paid for the boat in 2016.

"I'm in it for the long haul," he said Friday. 
Jay Esterer has spent thousands of dollars renovating the Edmonton Queen since he bought the riverboat in 2016. (CBC)

Esterer calls the Edmonton Queen an icon for the city — a vessel he wanted to salvage.

"I think it showcases the river valley. It gets more people down on the river and it's really beautiful here."

Last summer, he was waiting for a development permit from the city to open the dining area and have a floating restaurant.

To sail last year, the 25-year-old vessel needed an inspection by Transport Canada. Esterer said that would have required a costly move to dry ground.

But Transport Canada has given him permission to sail this summer and do the hull inspection in the near future, he said Friday. CBC News has not yet confirmed the boat has cleared that hurdle.

Edmonton Queen's dining area can seat 150-200 people. (CBC)
 Esterer is banking on water levels being high enough to travel up the North Saskatchewan and back to dock at Rafter's Landing. Low water levels have prevented the vessel from sailing in the past.

Esterer says he's looking for a captain, a first mate and a riverboat engineer, who will be part of a minimum crew of 11 that includes servers and cooks.

There have already been two serious applications for the captain's job, he said. "The Prairies aren't exactly teeming with these professions," he said. "But I'm confident we'll be on the water soon."

If he is able to get the crew in place, he hopes to have the boat running Thursdays through Sundays by the end of May. 
Two paddle wheels at the stern of the Edmonton Queen propel the 750-tonne boat while diesel engines inside power it. (CBC)

In 2015, the boat had to stop cruising the river in July due to low water levels but it continued operating that summer as a floating restaurant and bar. It has been docked since then, in 2016 due to water levels and in 2017 because it needed regulatory approval. 

Cryptic on cuisine, ticket prices

Esterer said he's talking with a few people about the potential menu and style of cuisine. "Delicious food," he said. "Probably not hamburgers and hotdogs."

He also held back on the price he'll charge people to sail on the Edmonton Queen.

"Initially they'll be low to get people on board," he said. He said he hopes to bring ticket prices up to a level where the boat can "have an opportunity to be profitable."

"Because right now, it obviously just costs a lot of money."

The Edmonton Queen will also be available to host private functions. Esterer said a number of weddings are already booked. 



Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.


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