John and Luella Albin thought the Grand River
Navigation era was one that could be repeated in some way. They believed
they could see the potential held by the sleeping Grand.
On June 21, 1978, with the smash
of a bottle of champagne, they launched the Grand River Belle. It
took the help of about a dozen men and a crowd of friends and neighbours
to get their replica of the navigation days vessel into the quiet waters.
This launch was the beginning of more to come. To this day Caledonians
look to the Albinís venture as one of the areaís most successful
The Grand River Belle doesnít travel much faster
than those river boats of the century before. The best of them were
reputed to take an hour to travel ten miles, sometimes more if they were
going against the current. The Grand River Belle leisurely
sets the same speed while the captain informally relays interesting
history to passengers who are dining while they cruise. The year
1983 saw more than 100,000 people cruising the Grand
and interest continues to grow. The Albinís dream has come a long way
since the first launch in 1978.
By 1984 the Grand River
Belle had acquired "offspring" when the Grand River Queen
and Grand River Princess began cruising the waters of
the Grand. Visitors by the busloads were arriving from across the United
States as well as from Southern Ontario. The Big Creek Boat Farm was
re-establishing navigation along the Grand.
This success led to creating "The Loft" in a converted
century old barn standing on their property. With dinner theatre in a
rustic atmosphere, gift shops on one side and a bakery on the other, new
life was appearing as fun for the visitors and
employment opportunities for local people. Young people aspiring to
theatre careers staged the productions and waited on the tables. Until
1986, a special Christmas show attracted thousands
over its three week production.
Today Big Creek Boat Farm with a staff of thirty people
is a major attraction at Caledonia. The Six Nations Reserve plays a major
role in its appeal as well. A bus tour of the Six Nations Reserve can be
taken from Big Creek Boat Farm and the Lady
Onondaga is an added feature to the cruise line. A craft
shop on the Six Nations Reserve, across the Grand River from Chiefswood
Park, is a stop-over for passengers wanting to pick up souvenirs from the
area. The Grand River still attracts attention and contributes to the
livelihood of its towns and villages.
Big Creek Boat Farm entertainers, captains, and owners, John and Luella
Albin (centre front)