Edmonton

Meet the new king of the Edmonton Queen

Jay Esterer is relishing his role as the new captain of the Edmonton Queen.

'My father said a boat is a hole in the water where you dump money. But it hasn't been that bad'

Jay Esterer, the new owner of the famed riverboat, says the paddle-wheeler adds to the beauty of the river valley, even if it doesn't move anymore. 1:12

Jay Esterer is relishing his role as the new captain of the Edmonton Queen.

The Edmonton businessman purchased the iconic river boat in April for $553,000 after its long-time caretaker decided to put it up for auction.

And although he now owns one of most mammoth crafts to ever cruise the North Saskatchewan River, Esterer is hardly a hardened sailor.

It's only the second boat he has ever owned. The first one, a modest 20-foot cruiser, he bought on a lark last July.

"It was a very, very hot summer day and I thought it this would be a really nice time to have a boat to use on our beautiful river," said Esterer, who is in his early 50s.

"So I went out and looked on Kijiji and asked a few friends and got a boat."

Esterer — who makes his living in the paint manufacturing business — admits the purchase of the Queen was also made in a moment of wild spontaneity.

"Like some of the other best decisions in my life, it was very, very impulsive," he said.

He admits that he didn't bother to investigate the status of the boat, regulations for its use on the river, and what the cost of renovations might be before putting his money down.

"I had no clue. I just took a chance," said Esterer, who plans to start renting the riverboat out to the public for special events by the end of the summer.

"I thought, if worst comes to worst it's still a nice boat in a nice location and it can stay where it is."
Jay Esterer takes a look inside his new purchase. (Zoe Todd/CBC )
Having lived in the river valley for years, Esterer had taken many rides on the Queen, and had grown to love it. When it hit the auction block, he worried the mighty boat might vanish from the riverfront.

When the bidding began, the call of the Queen was hard to resist.

"I was worried that somebody might be buying it for salvage so I jumped in with about 10 minutes left to go in the bidding period."

Unbeknownst to him a friend — another local businessman — had also jumped into the bidding.

"Ironically I found out that I was bidding against a fellow that I know, which was pretty funny. We didn't really talk about it, but we did a pretty good job of jacking the price up between the two of us."

Esterer spent the last six weeks renovating the boat's plumbing and electrical systems, upgrading the bow thruster and repairing its rudders. He's now working on refurbishing the interior.

"It hasn't received the best love and attention in the last five or six years," Esterer said.

"My father said a boat is a hole in the water where you dump money. But it hasn't been that bad.

"There is nothing catastrophically wrong with the boat."

Although the vessel it is now in working order, there are a few issues threatening to sink Esterer's riverboat fantasy.

The Queen needs to be hauled upstream to the Whitemud Park dry-dock to complete its necessary safety inspections, but water levels in the river are too low.  And the city has yet to approve a licensing agreement which would allow for public events on the boat.

A one-time race car driver, Esterer says the track has lost its lustre, and he's happy to be on the water, even if he's somewhat landlocked for now.

The Edmonton Queen Riverboat hit the auction block in April. (CBC)

"I used to be really into racing, road-racing cars, but that has waned. I do a bit of it now, but I like social activities involving people, and less focused, competitive things."

And he's already started celebrating his new nautical life.

He held a private fundraiser on the boat last week, featuring another one of his new passions — Argentine Tango, "as ridiculous as that sounds.

"I'm not really a dancing kind of guy. I was a real motorhead, car-racing guy and the tango is a nice offset to that.

"It was great. It was really fun. It went off very well.

"There ended up being a couple hundred people on the boat, so the boat was listing a little bit.

"It was an interesting challenge, the sloped dance floor."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca