NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. - The Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. is threatening to halt its boat tour operations on the Canadian side of the Niagara River this year, but the new operator says it might be able to save the day.
After the Niagara Parks Commission announced Wednesday it had awarded the boat tour contract to California-based Hornblower Canada Company, Maid of the Mist president Chris Glynn released a statement saying the future of his company is "uncertain."
The new deal with Hornblower Canada will see that company start operating boat tours at the base of the falls in the spring of 2014. The 30-year lease will earn the parks commission more than $500 million.
"The implications of this decision are very complex and impact on many parties and create many uncertainties, including whether or not a boat tour service will be offered in Niagara Falls, Ont., in 2012," Glynn said in the statement.
"We are carefully assessing our position and will be consulting with other affected parties as we attempt to address the many serious issues resulting from this decision."
Maid of the Mist, which has been running boat tours on the river since 1846, is on a month-to-month contract and has the option to continue running its boats in Canada until Hornblower takes over.
There is a deadline for the company to tell the commission whether it will continue its operations here, but commission chair Janice Thomson said it was confidential.
Hornblower marketing director Tegan Firth said her company could potentially launch its service earlier if Maid of the Mist pulls out.
"You can't build a boat in six weeks, but we're innovative and pretty creative, so we would do everything we could if we were faced with a situation like that," she said.
"We don't ever say anything is impossible. We want there to be a service this year and next year. If it's them or if it's us, we need to wait and see how that plays out."
Hornblower CEO Terry MacRae said he doesn't expect it to come to that.
"We wouldn't want our newest partner to be left without service," he said. "But I don't think that will happen. Sabre-rattling is great, but at the end of the day, there's an economic benefit and a community benefit for (Maid of the Mist)."
The two companies will have to work together and negotiate on a number of issues.
Maid of the Mist still has a long-term lease with the New York State Parks department to operate tours on the U.S. side of the river, but there's no room for boat storage on the American side. It currently stores its boats on the Canadian shore during the off-season.
Thomson said it will be up to Hornblower to decide if it wants to make room for the Maid of the Mist boats.
MacRae didn't rule it out, but also didn't seem warm to the idea.
"We support New York state having a boat tour attraction,” he said, “but I think it will be complicated to have two operators in the gorge.”
There have also been questions raised about whether Hornblower will try to buy the world-famous Maid of the Mist name.
The company operates boat tours to the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz Island which it calls Statue Cruises and Alcatraz Cruises, respectively.
MacRae said it's too early to know what the falls tour would be called, but said sticking with the current name isn't important.
"The Maid of the Mist name might have value to someone here, but it has no value to the guy in India who is trying to buy tickets to go on a boat tour ride in Niagara Falls," he said.
In his release, Glynn said he would not comment further.
Calls to the U.S. and Canadian Maid of the Mist offices Thursday went unanswered.