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Voyage Into History of the Niagara Falls Boat Tours

Reading Time:  5 minutes -

The ice boom on Niagara River began its removal on Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 meaning that the reopening of the Hornblower Niagara Cruises on the Canadian side, and the Maid of the Mist on the US side is very near! Both of these Niagara Falls Boat Tours are tremendously popular tourist attractions. This article features a timeline of the start of the Maid of the Mist (North America’s oldest tourist attraction), progressing to our current date which includes the addition of the Hornblower.

1846 – Maid of the Mist Launched

Niagara Falls Boat Tours

Crossing the Niagara River in order to transport people was unheard of until the introduction of small boats in 1834. On May 27th, 1846, the very first Maid of the Mist boat was first introduced, but not as a tourist attraction. It ferried people, cargo, and mail across the river for a small fee. However, making money in this regard was short-lived after the first Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge was completed. 1848 saw a temporary bridge introduced, and in 1854 a lower deck was opened for pedestrian and carriage purposes. Taking money away from the ferry, it was decided to turn the Maid of the Mist into a tourist attraction, allowing people to get as close to the Falls as possible. On July 14th, 1854, the second Maid of the Mist I was launched. This one was 72 feet long and featured a paddle boat engine rather than a sidewheel steam engine.

Maid of the Mist II – From a Ferry to a Tourist Attraction (1854-1860)


With business dwindling mainly as the result of the onslaught of the American Civil War (1861-1865), the boat was sold at a public auction to a Montreal firm in 1861. However, the boat had to be successfully delivered to Lake Ontario, which meant it had to be navigated through the Great Gorge Rapids, the Whirlpool, and the Lower Rapids. Captain Robinson undertook the frightening task on June 6th, 1861, and successfully made it through the rapids (although lost the smoke stack in the process).

Service was not restored until 1885 under a new partnership, “Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company”.

Maid of the Mist III and IV – Launched 1885 – 1955

Niagara Falls Boat tours

Maid of the Mist III was launched in June of 1885 which reached closer to the Horseshoe Falls than its previous counterparts. Then, an additional boat, Maid of the Mist IV, was unveiled in 1892 on the American side. These boats sailed until April 22, 1955, when they burned in an accident on the Canadian side.

Maid of the Mist I and II – Introduction of the New Steel Boats After Fire (1955 – 1990)

Niagara Falls Boat Tours

On July 28th, they were replaced by a new ship — this time, it was made of steel and powered by diesel engines. Maid of the Mist I was introduced, followed by in June of 1956, the sixth boat in the Maid of the Mist fleet was launched. It was christened Maid of the Mist II.

Maid of the Mist I: 1955–1990

Maid of the Mist II: 1956 – 1983

On July 9th, 1960 the Maid of the Mist II contributed to the heroic saving of 7 year old Roger Woodward, the boy who became the first person to survive a plunge over the Horseshoe Falls wearing only a life jacket. The Maid of the Mist II was just making its turn below the Falls when a crew member spotted the boy. Captain Clifford Keech maneuvered the boat so that the crew could successfully save Roger who luckily only sustained a minor concession and was in hospital for only three days (see photo of the rescue). In 1983, the Maid of the Mist II was sold and it served as a Missionary ship on the Amazon River.

Maid of the Mist III – Maid of the Mist VII (1972 – Current)

Maid of the Mist III: 1972–1997 (65 feet and carried 210 passengers)

Maid of the Mist IV: 1976-2013 (72 feet and carried 300 passengers)

Maid of the Mist V: 1983-2013 (72 feet and carried 300 passengers)

In 1990, the Maid of the Mist VI was launched into service. The all steel double deck boat is capable of carrying 600 passengers at a time! This made it the 10th Maid of the Mist boat to contribute to the Niagara Falls Boat Tours — and the largest, which is still running today. Accompanying boat VI was the addition of the Maid of the Mist VII on July 11th, 1997 (also still running today) at 80 feet and with the capacity to carry 600 passengers as well.

Hornblower Niagara Cruises (May 15th, 2014-Current)

Niagara Falls Boat Tours

On Thursday, October 26th, 2013, the Maid of the Mist did its final boat tour on the Canadian side. The business continues to operate from the US side of the gorge and departs from its dock just beyond the Rainbow Bridge. Now, the Canadian side was replaced by Hornblower Niagara Cruises, a California-based company at the start of Spring of 2014.

The Hornblower offers two catamarans that carry approximately 700 people, and a third charter boat reserved specifically for private functions that carries approximately 150 passengers.

The Hornblower Niagara Cruises official ribbon cutting ceremony took place on Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 which showcased speeches by the Hornblower Niagara Cruises CEO, Terry MacRae, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, Mory DiMaurizo, General Manager of Niagara Cruises and the Niagara Parks Commission chair, Janice Thomson. It officially opened the following day to excited crowds. Wearing their red ponchos, locals and tourists alike flocked the Hornblower Plaza to become a part of history on its grand opening day. The distinct differentiation between the Hornblower and the Maid of the Mist docked on the US side, is the identification of the red (Hornblower) and blue (Maid of the Mist) ponchos.
Both these Niagara Falls Boat Tours are anticipating another exciting season for 2018. This past Winter season saw quite a bit of ice form on Lake Erie, which flows into the Niagara River. We can expect a predicted opening date in late April.

This is the 5th season for Hornblower, and — wait for it — the 172nd year for Maid of the Mist.

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