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By Sister Nancy Surma, OSF

I received two envelopes in the mail on the same day this week. The first one I opened was from Sr. Nora Klewicki, and it contained a newspaper clipping from the Sandusky Register that was captioned “Boblo Boat Floats Past Sandusky: A Piece of History.” The article, complete with two pictures, told of the S.S. Columbia, a ship which carried people from downtown Detroit to Boblo Island amusement park on the Detroit River from 1902 until the park closed in 1991.

The vessel sat deteriorating at a dock in Detroit for a number of years, but then got moved to a dry dock in Toledo for hull repairs when a preservation group became interested in restoring it. The Columbia is being towed to a new home in New York where it will undergo more repairs with the intention of having it once again serve as a day liner taking people through the Hudson River Valley.

Those of us who came to the convent from metro Detroit parishes have warm memories of rides on the Columbia or its sister ship, the Ste. Claire. We’d eagerly run down the gang plank at the foot of Woodward onto the boat, which seemed immense to us children. We’d scramble for a good seat on the wooden deck chairs, hold our ears as the ship’s whistle blasted us off, and then run around the various sights on the deck during the wonderful ride down the river to Boblo Island.

Once we docked there, our interest was held by all kinds of rides, and of course, a picnic lunch. All too soon the boat whistle would signal we’d better hurry and get on board again for the ride back. It was a magical time to be a child in Detroit during the summer going on one of these graceful steamships to an island full of fun. The clipping brought back a flood of happy memories. I felt glad other people would know the joy I felt when I was young, riding down the sparkling water on that beautiful ship.

I was still reveling in thoughts of Captain Boblo and the miniature train that circled the island when I picked up the second envelope, this one from my brother Greg. It too contained a clipping, this one from the Detroit Free Press and also about the other Boblo boat, the S.S. Ste. Claire. The headline read “Don’t give up the ship: Michigan must come together and save the last of the beloved Boblo boats.”

The article too had pictures on the page, but they told a different story. This one was a tale of woe. The Ste. Clair is tied up at the downriver community of Ecorse. While its current owner has dreams of restoring it to its former glory, he hasn’t marshalled the funds to make much progress. With the wood rotting and millions of dollars needed to restore the Ste. Claire to any semblance of her former glory, her fate seems tenuous at best.

The second envelope certainly put a damper on my pleasant memories, but who knows, given Detroit’s recent emergence from bankruptcy, maybe enough people in the area can be found to contribute to this former queen of the Detroit River to allow her to once again create memories for a new generation.

Sister Nancy Surma

Health and Human Services

surma-nancySister Nancy is a native of Detroit and was taught in grade school by the Sylvania Franciscans. Her early years were spent teaching and administering at the junior high and high school level. Life took a turn, as it so often does, and she served as administrator in four different Catholic colleges and universities, earning a doctorate in higher education administration along the way. She currently works for Sylvania Franciscan Health, the Sisters’ sponsored health and human service ministry, in the world of mission integration. Sr. Nancy lives with three other Sisters in a house that is filled with laughter and love.

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