“Do you think many Sarnia residents have seen their city from the St. Clair River?” radio host Peter Henderson asked a friend one day nearly 40 years ago.
And from that simple question was born the Sarnia Seniors Cruise, an annual day of food and fun aboard the Duc d’Orleans.
The latest installment embarks June 26 when hundreds of seniors will again enjoy a free outing on the water.
One of the organizers, Marni Thomas, remembers the early days and how Henderson would set things in motion by making a few phone calls, including one to friend Jacques Beauchamp, the owner of the original Duc d’Orleans.
The first Duc was a twin-engine former naval vessel with a capacity of 190 people. Friend Mary Mathers collected the food and refreshments and Jack Kennedy provided the music.
Through the years, CHOK Radio would broadcast live from the cruise ship, and if the buffet got low Henderson would put out a call and the community would respond with everything from pizza and chicken to paper plates to money.
These days, regulations have changed the way the cruise is done. Insurance has to be paid, permits obtained and food ordered from an inspected kitchen, Thomas said.
But volunteers continue to step up and make it happen. These days, Ken Bracewell, Kennedy’s nephew and the owner of the Duc d’Orleans II, provides the staff and gas, and Ron Tedball recruits the musicians, a duty he inherited from Kennedy’s son, Doug.
Thomas said she became a cruise volunteer in the ‘80s and has noticed many of same attendees returning every year.
“It has gained in popularity year after year after year,” she said. “It was so popular last year that all the tickets for the entire day were given out by quarter after nine in the morning.”
Sarnia Handicapped Aiming for Rehabilitation and Equity has since taken over the event’s organization and continues to honour the tradition begun by Henderson, who died in 2010.
The group is seeking volunteers and food donations and anyone interested can call 519-344-1763, ext. 306.
Financial donations can be made to S.H.A.R.E., P.O. box 782, Sarnia, N7T 7J9, or dropped off to S&R Corporate Offices, 265 N. Front St. Sarnia.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Sarnia Seniors Cruise
WHEN: June 26, with cruises starting at 9 a.m. and continuing at around 10:30 a.m., 12 noon,
1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
WHERE: At the river dock, 297 Front St. N.
TICKETS: The cruise and a light lunch are free. Tickets available dockside only, from 8 a.m.