New Brunswick

New Mississippi-style riverboat will soon grace St. John River

The age of steamboats has come to an end in most parts of the world — but a blast from the past will soon be once again chugging grandly along the St. John River.

After the Saint John Marina decided to demolish its riverboat, it began its search for a replacement

The staff of the Saint John Marina sailed the boat, currently sporting the name James C. Echols on its hull, from Virginia. They returned to the Saint John harbour last week. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

The age of steamboats has come to an end in most parts of the world — but a blast from the past will soon be once again chugging grandly along the St. John River. 

After the Saint John Marina decided to demolish the Voyageur II, the city's only old-fashioned riverboat, it began looking across the continent for a replacement.

The marina recently found an authentic paddlewheel Mississippi-styled riverboat in Virginia, which arrived in its new home last week.

While the operations manager for the marina said sentimental attachments made it hard to replace the Voyageur, reaction to the new passenger cruiser was overwhelmingly positive as it entered the harbour.

"Starting at Partridge Island, we had boats coming up to meet us," said Sarah Williams. "The tugboat captains had a well received horn toot for us. Everyone on the radio was excited. The [Reversing] Falls lookout was just filled with spectators."

"When we got home to the Saint John marina, again, full of spectators."

Sarah Williams said she had a personal connection to the Voyageur II, but thinks it's time to forge a bond with another passenger cruiser. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Paddlewheel coming off

While the boat did come with a paddlewheel, Williams said she's taking it off in order to make room for more passengers.

"We're going to make a patio in the back," she said, adding the paddlewheel didn't work in the first place.

With the added space, the boat will be able to transport approximately 100 passengers.

In addition, Williams said the vessel is getting major work done inside and out, including getting the two smoke stacks hooked up to the exhaust.

"It's going to look so fresh and new."

Holly McKay, who lives in Grand Bay-Westfield, describes the new boat as "cute."

The marina purchased the replacement boat four weeks ago. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

She had a strong connection to the Voyageur, often stopping to photograph it, and believes this new riverboat has the potential to live up to its predecessor.

"I'm really happy to see the old riverboat style cruising up and down the river again. It breathes a new kind of retro revival that we just don't see on the St. John River," she said.

"Harkens to the past, yet bringing laughter, lights and music to those who want to experience the river in a new way."

Bonding with the new boat

Williams said the marina, located on the Westfield Road, purchased the new vessel four weeks ago.  

She and others sailed it, currently sporting the name James C. Echols on its hull, from Virginia.

While she'll always love the Voyageur, describing her bond with that boat as being "ingrained" into her soul, she said the long trip helped open herself to a new chapter.

"I had to spend five days and nights on this boat on air mattresses," she said. "I certainly bonded with it.

"I'm starting to feel like we can move on."  

About the Author

Joe Tunney reports for CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at joe.tunney@cbc.ca

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