Boblo Boats

Ferry service between Detroit, Windsor, and the islands in between dates back to the early 1800's. Bois Blanc, an island on the Canadian side of the Detroit River near Amhertsburg was a popular destination for picnicers and daytrippers. The company that owned the island commisioned the construction of the Columbia in 1901 and the Ste. Claire in 1910 to ferry passengers from Detroit to the island.

At 208 feet long and 45 feet wide, the Columbia and the Ste Clair were two of the largest excursion vessels built, able to carry over 2,500 passengers each. Both ships were designed by Frank Kirby, a noted naval architect. Collectively known as the "Boblo boats," the Columbia and the Ste. Claire ferried passengers to the Bob-Lo amusement park on Bois Blanc Island for 74 years until service was halted in 1991 due to declining park attendence, which closed a few years later.

For years various plans to renovate the ships came and went while they deterioated at a dock in Ecorse, Michigan. The Ste. Claire was sold in 2001 and moved to Cleveland for renovation, returning a few years later before being sold again. In 2006, a group from New York bought the Columbia with plans to restore it for use on the Hudson River. In 2014, the Columbia was towed from its berth in Ecorse to Toledo for restoration work before relocating to Buffalo, N.Y., where renovation is continuning.

Unfortunately the Ste. Clair did not have a similar happy ending. After moving to a dock near Belle Isle in Detroit in 2017, restoration work procceeded slowly until a fire caused by welders broke out on July 6th, 2018. The wooden superstructure of the boat was quickly engulfed in flames, leading to the loss of the ship.