The official unveiling of Le Boat’s Rideau Canal fleet on Feb. 6 marked a momentous day for Smiths Falls, said Mayor Shawn Pankow.
Local mayors, town staff, local MPP Randy Hillier and representatives from Parks Canada joined Le Boat’s Global Managing Director, Cheryl Brown, to introduce the community to the 16 houseboats that represent “the pride of our fleet.”
Custom-built in Poland for the Canadian market, the boats recently arrived at the newly-renovated maintenance facility at 41 Centre Street in Smiths Falls. The international company’s first year of operation in Canada will begin in May.
“I want to welcome Le Boat to Smiths Falls and to the whole area,” said Hillier. “Bon voyage. We’re going to have a wonderful time having you here.”
Le Boat operates more than 900 boats worldwide, with the waterways of France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium, England, Scotland and Ireland as its main markets. “We are the market leader, the biggest company in the world for self-driving boating holidays,” said Brown.
The story of the company’s decision to expand into Canada – and locate its North American headquarters in Smiths Falls – began in January of 2015. Brown was representing the company at the New York holiday show when she was approached by Noreen Cartwright, an official with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Brown recalled that Cartwright told her Le Boat has “an amazing product,” and added, “I would love to see your boats on the Rideau Canal.”
Intrigued, Brown and members of her team decided to see the canal for themselves, arriving in Ottawa in August of 2015, touring the canal and visiting Smiths Falls.
“Canada and the Rideau Canal just blew me away,” said Brown. “I was just amazed at how incredible Ottawa was.”
Brown couldn’t understand why no other company like hers was operating on the Rideau, but concluded, “There always has to be a first.”
Le Boat decided that the Rideau was definitely worth investing in, and opened its North American Headquarters at the old Lockmaster’s House in Smiths Falls in September. “It (the Rideau) is a real Mecca for anything that’s outdoors, and just so beautiful,” Brown said. The company is investing $16 million (Canadian) in order to offer Rideau cruises to clients.
Le Boat plans to operate up to 32 boats on the Rideau within five years. The company is already 53 per cent sold for its first season, with 40 per cent of the customers coming from Europe.
The 16 boats that are now ready for the 2018 season are two-, three- and four-cabin models. A five-cabin version will arrive in 2019. The boats are custom built at the Delhia Yachts factory in Poland, and are designed for inexperienced operators. Le Boat provides full training with their base staff so that those using the boats are comfortable and competent. No licence or experience are required to hire one of the company’s houseboats.
Noting that the arrival of Le Boat helps achieve two of Smiths Falls’ key strategic objectives – tourism and waterfront development – Mayor Shawn Pankow said, “This is a monumental day for our community.”
A team of VIPs removed the covering from one of the boats at the event to provide the community with a sneak preview. Although guests were unable to go onto the boat, Brown promised that another event will be held in warmer weather.
“We’ll see you again in May,” said Pankow.
This article was first published in the February 2018 issue of Hometown News. For more articles from our February 2018 issue, pick up a print copy at a local retailer (find a list of locations here) or read our digital version.