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Part of Detroit History Gone!!

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Fire destroys historic Boblo Boat Ste. Claire


The Boblo boat Ste. Claire, seen here moving from its dock in Ecorse to one in River Rouge in 2015, had a fire break out inside the ship on June 19, 2017, but its owner said it was minor and would not impede ongoing repair work. Photo courtesy of Boblo Boats: A Tale of Two Sisters

A piece of Detroit area history has gone up in flames.

The Ste. Claire, one of two boats that ferried passengers to Boblo Island amusement park for decades, was destroyed by fire early Friday afternoon.

The boat was docked at Detroit’s Riverside Marina, but for many years was moored at U.S. Steel property in Ecorse.

Published reports state that firefighters were sent to the scene at about 11:30 a.m. and that the fire was already out of control. Firefighters could not reach all areas of the boat with their hoses, so took a defensive posture to keep it from spreading.

The Ste. Claire, built in Toledo in 1910, has a sister ship, the Columbia, which was built in Wyandotte in 1902. Both ships took generations of Detroit-area residents to and from Boblo Island, 18 miles southwest of Windsor, Ontario.

The Columbia and Ste. Claire were last used as Boblo boats in 1991, a couple years before the amusement park shut down.

The fate of the two boats is vastly different.

An organization known as the S.S. Columbia project purchased the Columbia several years ago and took the boat to New York state, where an estimated $18 million is being spent on its restoration.

The Ste. Claire was purchased in 2006 by Ron Kattoo, a physician at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and business partner Saquib Nakadar.

On several occasions over the last decade, Kattoo announced that the boat would be restored.

Kattoo and Nakadar had big plans for the Ste. Claire, including private suites, a concession stand, a ballroom, a restaurant, bars and even a collapsible movie screen. However, they encountered a number of obstacles along the way that set back the timeline by many years.

Sam Buchanan, a Brownstown Township resident who serves as captain of the J.W. Westcott II, a mailboat that delivers boats to freighters, has a connection to both Boblo boats that goes back decades.

For many years he served as ship keeper for the Columbia, as a non-paid volunteer. He also was a caretaker for the Ste. Claire.

“I took care of her for 5 years, no fires,” Buchanan said. “That boat and her crews was my inspiration for my career. A sad day for sure.”

A Facebook page for former crew members and Boblo employees, The Bob-Lo Crew Reunion Group, has several comments posted from members expressing their grief over losing something they held so dear.

“I will always treasure the days I walked the SS Ste. Claire decks as an employee and later as a volunteer,” said Karen Clement Winkler, who used to work security on the boat.

Some former Boblo employees described the ship’s loss as “sickening and sad,” and another called it “heartbreaking.”

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Very sad to see a part of history be destroyed.  My husband was on that boat many years back.  Thank you so much for the article Scalise 12!


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