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Duc’s new owner on board for annual seniors cruise

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Cathy Dobson

As a long-time Sarnia resident, the new owner of the Duc d’Orleans II is really familiar with the popularity of the annual free seniors cruise day.

So he didn’t hesitate to donate his ship and crew for this year’s seniors cruise scheduled for June 26, rain or shine.

The Duc’s Bill Turner. (Cathy Dobson photo)

Bill Turner is a veteran Sarnia firefighter and bought the Duc with his son, Keagan Turner, nine months ago.

“I’ve been here lots of times volunteering to help everyone get aboard on seniors day,” he said.

“I’ve seen how many love to come enjoy a cruise on the river.”

It’s been 45 years since the late radio personality Peter Henderson spearheaded the first free cruise day for thousands of seniors and people with disabilities on Sarnia’s local cruise boat.

Each year, about 1,500 people pour onto the dock in Centennial Park the last Monday in June to enjoy lunch, entertainment and a cruise on the St. Clair.

It’s a tradition that Bill Yurchuk, voluntary chair of the new Sarnia Seniors Community Organization, thinks is worth preserving.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s an event that is completely unique and, I think, very important,” says Bill Yurchuk who is general manager of Wellings of Corunna, an independent living residence for people 55 and older.

He assembled a large group of volunteers and donors who chip in sandwiches, drinks and music.

After Henderson’s death in 2010, local resident Marni Thomas stepped up to voluntarily organize the cruise. In 2018, when Thomas ran into health problems, Yurchuk became involved. At the time, he was executive director at Lambton Elderly Outreach (LEO) and didn’t want to see a fabulous tradition end for seniors.

“I believe the senior demographic is one of the most overlooked groups when it comes to social activity,” he said. “A trip on the river is something many seniors may not have the opportunity to enjoy otherwise.”

Seniors Dat on the Duc. (Dragonfly Media Inc.)

The Sarnia Seniors Community Organization was founded as a non-profit in 2018 specifically to hold the annual seniors cruise with support from Wellings, Steeves & Rozema Group, LEO, and The Eye Guy.

Yurchuk hopes that the organization will ultimately hold other events for seniors, but for now the focus is on cruise day.

Between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., the Duc will head out onto the river every hour with a new load of passengers. 

The free tickets are available in-person only on the day of the event, starting at 8 a.m. at the dock. First come, first served.

Escorting all those people on and off the boat, as well as feeding them, requires about 25 volunteers but the committee never has trouble finding people to help, Yurchuk added. “Everyone wants to be a part of it.”

For years, Turner volunteered. This year, he will be captain.

His decision to buy Sarnia’s only cruise ship from original owners Ken and Sherry Bracewell, was made quickly, said Turner.

“A mutual friend told me Ken was retiring. We sat down over a beer and Ken told me he wanted it to stay in Sarnia.

“Over the years I’ve partied many times on the Duc and I could see it is a good business and a really clean boat, so we bought it,” Turner said. “Besides, I love it on the water. I’ve had a boat since moving to Sarnia 28 years ago.”

He anticipates retiring in the next few years and leaving son Keagan to operate the Duc on his own.

Duc d’Orleans II Captain Bill Turner. (Cathy Dobson photo)

Last summer, both men assisted Bracewell and earned their hours required by Transport Canada to captain a vessel. Then they studied navigation, radio and marine first-aid to qualify for certification over the winter.

The Turners’ first season launched May 25 and it looks like a busy one.

Every weekend until mid-September is booked by either a band or a party. Twenty-five lunch cruises are scheduled, catered by The Crown Café, Bar and Grill on Exmouth Street.

Two weddings and a celebration of life are also booked.

For more information on the seniors cruise, visit the Sarnia Senior Cruise page on Facebook, email [email protected] or call Caryn at 519-344-1763 ext. 306 and leave a message with your phone number.

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