Canal boat is making a comeback

Friends of the Rivers unveils touring boat to launch by June

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Dan Wire speaks about Canal Boats
Dan Wire speaks about the canal boat unveiled by Friends of the Rivers Inc. on March 24. Wire, a longtime river advocate, came up with the idea for the boat. PHOTO BY MEGAN KNOWLES

After a more than 100-year hiatus, canal boats are returning to Fort Wayne.

Friends of the Rivers Inc. announced the launch of a 21st century canal boat on March 24 that is be capable of giving tours along Fort Wayne’s eight miles of downtown rivers.

The boat can seat as many as 40 people but can also be arranged for dinner cruises and parties, said Dan Wire, river advocate and the man who came up with the idea for the canal boat.

The boat is modeled from a canal boat housed at the Wabash and Erie Canal Museum in Delphi, Ohio, Wire said.

“They were real sticklers to try to recreate this to be as much as a canal boat as possible,” he said.

However, unlike its early counterparts from the 1800s, this boat will be powered by a 55-horsepower diesel engine and be equipped with stereo and Bluetooth speakers – all hidden away inside the walls of the boat.

This boat will also be wheelchair accessible thanks to funding from the AWS Foundation.

The $550,000 price tag for the boat was supported through fundraising by the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne. Board treasurer Johnathan Hancock emphasized the funds were raised “through, not from, the community foundation.”

The boat is expected to launch by June 1, with docking for the 2017 season at Headwaters Park West, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department Executive Director Al Moll said. As riverfront development continues, additional docking locations will be considered.

Fares, routes and hours will be discussed with Fort Wayne Outfitters, which will be operating the boat under a management agreement with Friends of the Rivers, the organization’s President Irene Walters said.

“This first year is really going to be learning by doing. … I’m asking all of you to indulge us in learning,” she said.

Those details should be announced at the nonprofit’s next presentation in May, when the name of the canal boat will also be released, Walters said.

Five names have been selected as potential candidates – Sweet Breeze, Johnny Boat, Kekionga, John Brown and Big Chief. The names will be whittled down to three via voting by Allen County schoolchildren.

The final three will be announced April 22, after which the community will have until May 10 to pick its favorite.

“Because this boat is your boat, the community’s boat, we want everyone to help in naming it,” Walters said.

In addition to the name, Wire encouraged the community to come up with ideas to best utilize the vessel.

“It’s your canal boat to use, enjoy and share and I encourage all of you to think outside the box, dream big and share the excitement,” he said.

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry also spoke, saying the canal boat fits well into the overall efforts of downtown revitalization.

“If you haven’t experienced the momentum, the passion, the drive that people are having in our city about what our city can be, then you must not live in our city,” he said. “This can only add to the quality of life of our community.”