Luxury canal boat service launches in Smiths Falls

A new luxury self-drive boat service that allows tourists to cruise along the Rideau Canal is now up and running in Smiths Falls, Ont.

Millions of taxpayer dollars brought the tourist attraction to fruition

International luxury boat rental company Le Boat launched its first vessels in Smiths Falls, Ont., on Sunday, marking what local officials have called the beginning of a new tourism era. (Le Boat)

A new luxury self-drive boat service that allows tourists to cruise along the Rideau Canal is now up and running in Smiths Falls.

Le Boat launched its first boats Sunday, marking what local officials have called the beginning of a new era for tourism in the area.

The United Kingdom-based yacht company is most popular in Europe, where hundreds of their vessels float down waterways in countries like France, Italy and the Netherlands.

On Sunday, tourists from as far away Austria were visiting the small town 80 kilometres south of Ottawa to take the boats for a spin. 

'International attention'

Prices range from roughly $1,400 for four-night trips to nearby communities like Perth and Merrickville, to more than $10,000 for longer journeys to Ottawa and Kingston.

Renters are given lessons on how to navigate the vessels. They're equipped with beds, bathrooms and a kitchen, enabling renters to both cruise the canal and explore the communities that sit along it.

Depending on the model, the boats can sleep up to 10 people.

Nicola Thomson, owner of a canoe and kayak rental service shop in Smiths Falls, said she hoped Le Boat would give small businesses in the area an economic boost. 

"I am very aware of the benefits of having such a large tourist operation come into our town," she said Sunday.

"They are able to bring international attention to our small town, which is ultimately going to benefit everyone."

Public funding is helping with a marketing campaign to promote the Rideau Canal to an international market. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Millions in public funding

After investing millions of taxpayer dollars, Smiths Falls managed to encourage the boat company to settle in their once-struggling town in hopes that the new service will boast tourism. 

Everyone's talking about it. They're here, they're beautiful.- Coun. Jay Brennan

All levels of government offered incentives after Le Boat expressed interest in expanding to North America — from financial help shipping the boats across the Atlantic Ocean to new docks along the canal in Smiths Falls.

The Ontario government is directly investing $2 million, while Le Boat is also benefiting from roughly $3.6 million in federal government work that was already going ahead on the Rideau Canal.

Not everyone supported the use of public money to fund a private enterprise like Le Boat, but Smiths Falls Coun. Jay Brennan said Sunday the investments were worth it.

"Everyone's talking about it. They're here, they're beautiful. I had an opportunity to go on [a boat] a few days ago," he said. 

"Lots of good things happening in Smiths Falls."

Le Boat invested $16 million itself to launch its operations in Smiths Falls. The company said its crews in Smiths Falls were too busy for an interview Sunday.

With files from Leah Hansen and Joe Lofaro