Grand River Dinner Cruises sails three boats all season. The Grand River Belle, Grand
River Queen and Grand River Princess all have the same general layout. Each can comfortably
hold a busload of passengers with each table arranged along a window in order to
give all passengers a great view. The promenade deck, that surrounds the dining
area, allows everyone to stroll the deck or sit and enjoy the river scenery. All
boats are wheelchair accessible, as our docking facilities, and have accessible washrooms.
Each boat is completely enclosed enabling us to sail rain or shine.
All boats are inspected annually by Transport Canada and are fully equipped with
life saving equipment, life jackets, fire fighting equipment and radio communications.
All crew members are specially trained in emergency procedures and CPR. Safety of
our passengers is our top priority.
Each boat is also licensed under AGCO to serve wine, beer and mixed drinks.
In 1972, John Albin and wife Luella built a home along the banks of the Grand outside
Caledonia. The property ran along a creek and had a century old barn that had been
a prosperous cattle farm in its better years but had been vacant for many years.
John and Luella both grew up in farming families and had plans in turning this property
back into a prosperous farm. However, in 1976, John built a houseboat for the
family and there sparked the idea of introducing riverboat cruises on the Grand River.
From the knowledge John gained from constructing his own house boat, he designed
a larger boat that would seat 35 people. The boats would dock on Big Creek and would
include a petting farm, and John & Luella came up with the name Big Creek Boat Farm.
In 1978, the “Boat Farm” opened with the Grand River Belle being the first boat.
During the first few years, John and Luella were trying to target a market for the
cruises. The century old barn was named “Old MacDonald’s Farm” and school groups
would come to pet animals and then take a nature boat ride up Big Creek to “The Lost
Forest” on a boat named “The Tinkerbelle”. Bus groups would come and take a lunch
cruise on the Grand River Belle.
More demand was from bus groups looking for day trips than from school groups so
in 1982, John converted the “Old MacDonald’s Farm” into “The Loft” that held a Music
Theatre, Bake Shop and Craft Shop. Luella produced and accompanied the music show
as well as working in the office, John looked after the boats and the day to day
operation. This package become an ideal day trip for groups. By 1987, John had
built two more boats the Grand River Queen and the Grand River Princess and started
to offer evening dinner cruises also. The name “Grand River Dinner Cruises” was introduced
in the mid-90’s as this was the direction the business took.
In 2000, the current building named “The Landing” was constructed housing the auditorium,
office, and craft shop. The tour wagon and Tinkerbelle were then retired to pasture
and the century old barn was converted into a hobby farm for the family. Today
Grand River Dinner Cruises has a staff of 40 people from the community and offers
a variety of cruises from Brunch to Sunset Dinner Cruises to Private Charters. The
name “Boat Farm” is still used by longstanding customers and staff.
John and Luella’s son, Blain, and daughter, Dana Johnson, have been managing the
business since 1998. Luella is retired from the every day business but maintains
an advisory position in the family business. John passed away in 2006 leaving a
thriving, entrepreneurial enterprise for future generations.
Grand River Belle
Grand River Queen
Grand River Princess
Photograph by Yvon Ipperciel
Interior of Grand River Queen and Princess. Tables seat 6 people on port side and 4 people on starboard side.
Interior of Grand River Belle. All tables sit 6 people