Harbor Queen debuts as popular Canalside boat tour company expands

Aug 12, 2016

A fourth vessel has been added to a fleet of boats that serve visitors to Buffalo's Inner Harbor. Dignitaries joined members of the Hilliman family Friday morning to christen the Harbor Queen.

The vessel, a custom-built two-level catamaran that measures 63 feet long and 24 feet wide, can carry up to 149 passengers and will host daily 90-minute tours of Buffalo's Inner and Outer Harbor.

It's the fourth vessel to be introduced to Buffalo's waterfront by Buffalo River History Tours. It's the largest of the fleet, which also includes the Spirit of Buffalo sailing ship, River Queen and Queen City Bike Ferry.

Captain Rich Hilliman of Buffalo River History Tours explained that the Harbor Queen will allow the company to use another within the fleet as a second ferry. He revealed the family had pondered adding a fourth boat, but originally planned to acquire it next year.

But with business already booming, the opportunity to introduce a bigger tour boat was too good to pass up.

"How could we not?" Hilliman said during opening remarks at a Friday morning christening ceremony in Canalside. "With the rich history that we have here, from the Erie Canal to over a hundred years of the biggest grain port in the world, and the structures (grain elevators) we have standing behind us."

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul had the honor of breaking the ceremonial champagne bottle on the hull of the Harbor Queen, while Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation chairman Robert Gioia celebrated what he called the latest success story of public-private partnership on Buffalo's waterfront.

"It will be part of the history tour which is continuing to be an exciting attraction both in and around the Inner and Outer Harbor," Gioia said.