Manitoba Historical Society
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Northern Prairie Ships: Paddlewheel Queen

In 1965, retired Lockport businessman Ray Senft commissioned Selkirk shipbuilders Bill Purvis and Ted Purvis to construct a modern recreation of a Mississippi sternwheeler, complete with imitation smokestacks and rear paddlewheel. Completed in under three months, at a cost of about $200,000, the Paddlewheel Queen had two decks with room for up to 400 passengers. It was launched at Selkirk in July 1965 and, with its shallow draught of 41 inches, began plying the shallow waters of the Red River, joined the next year by its sister ship, the Paddlewheel Princess.

The ship was equipped with full dining facilities, snack and sandwich bars, beer and wine service, and a dance floor for dinner-and-dancing cruises. It picked up passengers at the Redwood Dock in Winnipeg and travelled to the mouth of the Red River with stops at Lower Fort Garry and the St. Andrews Lock and Dam.

The ship proved so popular that, in late 1967, Senft had it sliced in two pieces and a 24-feet section added in the middle, increasing the ship’s total length to 116 feet. A third, promenade deck was added, increasing its height to 30 feet. A new 90-foot-long dance floor was added, and it now claimed the title of “Canada’s largest cruise ship”.

The novelty of river cruises waned through the late 1970s and 1980s. The ship’s third deck was removed in 1989. The last voyage of the Paddlewheel Queen occurred in 2013 and, after sitting abandoned in the Selkirk Slough for three years, it was dismantled and its metal was recycled.

Postcard view of the Paddlewheel Queen with its third promenade deck

Postcard view of the Paddlewheel Queen with its third promenade deck (no date)
Source: Gordon Goldsborough, 2011-0010

Paddlewheel Queen on the Red River near the St. Boniface Cathedral

Paddlewheel Queen on the Red River near the St. Boniface Cathedral (September 2007)
Source: George Penner

Paddlewheel Queen in the Selkirk Slough

Paddlewheel Queen in the Selkirk Slough (January 2016)
Source: George Penner

See also:

Memorable Manitobans: Raymond Martin “Ray” Senft (1921-2010)

Memorable Manitobans: William George “Bill” Purvis (1894-1970)

Memorable Manitobans: Edward Hubert “Ted” Purvis (1941-2016)

Northern Prairie Ships: Paddlewheel Princess

Northern Prairie Ships: River Rouge

Northern Prairie Ships: Lady Winnipeg

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Abandoned Manitoba

Remembering the Riverboats by Adrian Ames
Manitoba History, Number 49, June 2005

Sources:

“At your leisure,” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 June 1965, page 74.

“River boats rival for the pleasure of your company,” Winnipeg Free Press, 18 May 1968, page 63.

“Paddlewheel Queens: Passenger ships once ruled the Red River” by Bill Redekop, Winnipeg Free Press, 2 January 2016.

The sinking tourism on Winnipeg’s rivers,” Global News, 12 October 2016.

We thank George Penner for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 10 April 2022

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