DETROIT - You will soon be able to board the historic Boblo Boat once again, but it won’t actually take you to Boblo Island. Restoration has come a long way in the last year in an effort to turn the boat into a museum.
There are actually two Boblo Boats and both of them are being restored. MLive has been updating you over the years on the restoration efforts of both the S.S. Ste. Claire, built in 1910, and the S.S. Columbia, built in 1902. You can see photos above from our rare tour of the Ste. Claire from a year ago.
The ferries, which could hold around 2,500 passengers, used to take people on an 18-mile cruise on the Detroit River to Boblo Island Amusement Park.
The Columbia is being restored in New York and will stay there for good, but the Ste. Claire is being brought back to its old glory at Riverside Marina in Detroit and the plan is to keep it in the area.
“We are currently working on getting the last deck complete,” Stephen Faraj, the restoration project manager wrote on Facebook. “Our plans are to have the entire fourth deck done by the end of September. The final addition will be the pilot house - either in the fall or spring. We have the original blueprints and will recreate it with the walkways that were on both sides of the pilot house.”
By next spring, Faraj says the museum will be complete on board the Ste. Claire’s main deck. It will feature dozens of artifacts and historical pieces collected over the years. There will also be a souvenir stand with new items available for purchase.
“We want to give people a chance to come down and walk the decks, reminisce, and see our plans for the future.”
The Ste. Claire’s restoration was almost derailed after fire significantly damaged the boat in 2018. The fire set the restoration team back by about a year.
“What was really lost was the irreplaceable pieces we won’t be able to bring back, but we know that we have enough of the boat preserved for it to still be the Boblo Boat and we’ll be able to recreate what was lost,” Faraj told MLive when we toured the boat a year ago.
He says one example is the boat’s 110-year old Mahogany walls. “It’s still going to look like it was with new Mahogany walls, but it’s not THAT wood. The bottom line is, all of that wood would have had to come down and been replaced regardless. It was just too rotted to keep up there.”
The restoration team plans to make the boat look as much like it did when it took people to and from the amusement park, located across from Amherstburg, Ontario, for decades before it closed in 1993.
The first deck will have that same gray, steel floor. The second deck will once again have a DJ booth and ballroom with dance floor. Deck three will have the beer garden where parents used to hang out while their kids ran around the boat. The boat simply won’t move. It will remain docked to keep it from being damaged.
Despite that, Faraj says visitors will still get to feel and see the engine just as they did when the boat took them to and from the island.
“If we were to try and re-power this ship with something other than steam, we would have to take so much of the Boblo Boat out of it, it wouldn’t be worth it. We’d rather preserve the original steam engine. We will run it on an electrical motor so it will spin and you’ll be able to look, just like you did as a kid, down into the engine room and see it move, but we feel it will be much more beneficial to preserve the original steam engine than to gut it and try to make the boat go up and down the river.”
And about the fourth deck. Way back when, passengers weren’t able to go on it. That will change once restoration is finished.
“The steel will allow us to have people on that level. That’s one thing you weren’t able to do back in the day. Now, you’ll be able to walk on the top level and go right up to the pilot house and look at it closely.”
Faraj says he hopes the millions of dollars spent and the countless hours it has taken to restore the Ste. Claire will not only allow people to relive a part of their childhood, but give those who never went to the amusement park a chance to experience what it was like to ride on the old ferry.
“It will be loaded with nostalgia from Boblo and you’ll really get a feeling of what people used to experience. That’s what we’re going for.”
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