In a press release dated May 2, 2019 Chicago-based Entertainment Cruises announced that it had acquired the Gananoque Boat Line. Neil McCarney, the current General Manager of the Gananoque Boat Line, said that the seven permanent staff and the many seasonal employees hired by the company will not be affected by the change in ownership. He further stated, in a conversation with Brockville Recorder reporter, Wayne Lowrie, “If there’s any change, it will be that we’ll become more successful and maybe hiring a few more people.” Mr. McCarney will remain with the new operation in the role of Chief Operating Officer and as a director in the company. The business will remain headquartered in Gananoque and will continue to operate under the name of Gananoque Boat Line. No financial details of the transaction were disclosed.
According to their website, Entertainment Cruises, “is the nation’s largest dining and sightseeing cruise company with a fleet of 48 ships in cities that include: Alexandria, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, National Harbor, MD, Norfolk, VA, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C. and Weehawken, NJ.”
In 2018 the company expanded their operations north of the 49th parallel when they purchased Mariposa Cruises in Toronto, Canada, which included their six vessel fleet. The purchase of the Gananoque Boat Line will add a second Canadian-based company to Entertainment Cruises’ business portfolio and will expand their total fleet by an additional five boats. Last year, Entertainment Cruises served more than 2.6 million guests from their twelve locations in North America.
In the press release issued by Entertainment Cruises, CEO Kenneth Svendsen stated, "Gananoque Boat Line is more than just a boat company; it is a cornerstone of the local community. As a company, Entertainment Cruises prides itself on our involvement in, and partnership with, the communities we serve, so the bringing together of our two organizations felt like a natural fit. The acquisition of Gananoque Boat Line marks another exciting step in our company's growth strategy and is a sign of our continued commitment to the cruises and events industry."
Paul Sanett, Vice President Marketing & Growth of Entertainment Cruises was also quoted in the press release as saying, "The 1000 Islands region, with its endless shorelines and spectacular natural beauty is an area best explored on water. We are excited to have found such an enticing opportunity on the idyllic St. Lawrence River, and together, look forward to extending our offering and provide extraordinary experiences to our guests in this market."
Gananoque Boat Line
The Gananoque Boat Line began operations close to seventy years ago when three local businessmen, Art Bringloe, Grant Lucy and Walden Beckstead purchased “Sedgwick’s 1000 Island Boat Line” from Sam Sedgwick. One of the first orders of business was to have some new wooden, single deck tour boats built to modernize the fleet. Among the new boats were Jewel and Lynda VII. Several more Lynda boats were added in the following years.
Over the years, Grant Lucy acquired Art Bringloe’s shares and Robert (Bob) Beckstead inherited his father’s shares after Walden passed away. In 1962 the Gananoque Boat Line purchased the Rockport Boat Line and in 1970 Mr. Lucy struck a deal to take over the Rockport operation and sell his shares in the Gananoque Boat Line to Hal McCarney and Harry Clarke. By this time the GBL fleet included two split level double-decker tour boats, “Miss Gananoque” and “Miss Gananoque II”, which had been built to capitalize on the surge of tourism in the area created by Expo 67.
The new trio of owners of the Gananoque Boat Line had ambitious plans for expanding the operation, and in 1972, launched the worlds’ largest all aluminum passenger vessel, “Thousand Islander”, which had been built locally in Gananoque.
Over the next few years four more aluminum triple-deckers were added to the fleet and, collectively, they carry 350,000 passengers each season. Bob Beckstead passed away in 1998 and his shares were purchased by Mr. McCarney and Mr. Clarke. Hal McCarney passed away in 2008 and his son, Chris, assumed his role as owner.
"Gananoque Boat Line has come a long way since 1951 when three Gananoqueans began operating the Lyndas on the St. Lawrence," said Harry Clarke and Chris McCarney, owners of GBL, in the press release. "The company's success over the last 68 years is due, in no small part, to the support of the town and people of Gan. As part of industry-leading Entertainment Cruises, the boat line, its team, the people and town will benefit from an engaged partner that understands the importance of community, is committed to protecting the waterways on which it sails and can bring a level of scale and scope that secures the boat line's future for many years to come. This is a bittersweet day, but we feel excited for Gananoque Boat Line under their leadership."
By Tom King
Tom King and his wife Marion have lived in Milton, Ontario for the past 30 years, where they both worked and raised their family of three children; Kris, Mike and Becca. Tom still has a strong attachment to the Thousand Islands, having grown up in Gananoque and being a “river rat” from a very early age. The family tries to return to the islands every summer and for the past several years have been renting a cottage on Sampson (a.k.a. Heritage) Island, just out from Gananoque.
Tom and I wish the new company a bon voyage as this proud boat line is well known around the world - making Gananoque proud.