The Black Hawk is one of Canada’s oldest lake boats with a history of service spanning 108 years. Built in Buffalo, New York and originally christened the ‘Alert’ she sailed as a tugboat and freighter under U.S. registry on the Great Lakes until 1916 when she was transferred to British registry and a new base of operations at Southhampton, Ontario.
In 1944, a year before the end of World War 11, she became a tugboat at Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), Ontario, a career that lasted until 1951 when her hull was transported overland by rail to Selkirk, Manitoba. The hull and superstructure were re-built by Riverton Boat Works and she was renamed the ‘Douglas M’ for her new assignment as a Lake Winnipeg freighter for Northern Lakes Fisheries Co. Ltd.
The original hull was riveted steel and Riverton Boatworks made significant structural changes to the vessel. All rivets below the waterline were welded, 3/8 inch steel plate was added below the water line, and waterproof grease pumped between the two plates. This gave the ‘Douglas M’ virtually ice-breaker capabilities.
By the end of the 1950’s the ‘Douglas M’ seemed to be at the end of a long and industrious career that had seen her serve on most of Canada’s largest lakes. The commercial fishing industry was in recession and Lake Winnipeg was closed for fishing for a couple of years because of a mercury poisoning scare.
The vessel was laid up on the beach at Hnausa Harbour, north of Gimli, until it was spotted years later by Ray Senftt, builder of the Paddlewheel riverboats in Winnipeg. Senftt bought the boat in 1972, completely re-outfitted her as a private yacht, and renamed her the ‘Black Hawk’ after a yacht based in Ft. Lauderdale and owned by Mr. Wirtz of the Chicago Black Hawks.
Senftt was the owner of the vessel for five years, then sold to Dr. Irvin Olafson, the present owner. The Hawk was put into charter service on the Red River and operated by his four children.
Irvin Olafson and his wife Lois were naturals to become guardians of the Black Hawk. Both were born in Riverton with families actively involved in fishing and transportation on the lake for several generations. They developed a love of the lake early on in their lives. Lois spent her summer holidays at the fish station on Georges Island while Irvin fished at Spider Island, Big Black River, and Black Bear Island during his high school years.
The sea-going love of the parents was inherited by their sons Steven and Eric and daughters Kristin and Laurie. Steven–the captain and the oldest son–was a Master of Minor Waters, Kristin was the caterer, Eric looked after marketing and public relations, and Laurie was the social director. They were a wonderful team and the family gained invaluable business experience and life skills.
After their schooling was over, they moved on to other occupations and professions; Steven, who had his captain’s papers, served in the Canadian Coast Guard. The Hawk was again completely renovated to become the family’s floating cottage in Gimli Harbour and Lois recalls the upper deck was often filled with playpens for the grandchildren. Lois was affectionately referred to as the ‘boat lady’ by the people of Gimli.
Black Hawk Events at Gimli
• 1984. Icelandic Festival—Black Hawk acted as finish line for the Labatt’s White Rock Challenge. Also Hospitality Ship for the Festival
• 1985. Dockside at the Islendingadagurinn Building to act as Hospitality Facilty for Presidents Reception, etc.
• 1986. Hospitality Cruises at Festival for 31 guests from Iceland, Festival members and local senior Icelanders. Nephew Glenn Sigurdson is the President.
• 1986. Two days later sailed with another 30 guests.
• 1986. Choir from Iceland performs on the upper deck and Black Hawk ship’s bell is presented to the Festival Committee.
• 1986. Sailed out to watch fireworks and hosted a reception for Frederik Olafsson, Grand Chess Master (from Iceland to give the ‘Toast to Canada’ at Festival.
• Firefighters were always invited aboard for hot chocolate after setting off fireworks.
• 1986. August 23- Reception on the Black hawk to show our appreciation for the goodwill shown our family over many years of boating from Gimli
• 1987. The Lieutenant Governor and his party set sail on the Black Hawk to rendezvous with the Goldfield and numerous fishboats at 10 AM. The Black Hawk led the flotilla back to the harbour to a huge crowd awaiting our return.
• 1987. Black Hawk is again part of Festival Hospitality functions.
• 1989. Black Hawk is Festival Hospitality Ship and hosts the following events:
1. Reception for Vigdis Finnbogadottir, President of Iceland
2. Reception for donors to the Icelandic Festival Fund
3. Reception for David Oddsson, the Mayor of Reykjavik, and his wife Astridur
4. Luncheon hosted by Reykjavik’s sister city Winnipeg. Eric Stefanson and Maurice Eyolfson official hosts.
5. Entertained by the Choir from Iceland
6. Hosted many guests to a magical display of fireworks.
• 1989. Reception dockside for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
• 1991. Participated in Boat Parade with Lieutenant Governor George Johnson and family as guests.
• 1993. Arthur Kilgour writes” Thanks Irvin and Lois and family. Your hospitality was very much appreciated by us all. The visitors from Iceland were given a great thrill on your yacht. Thank you. Thank you again” Sincerely…
• 1994. Black Hawk extends a warm welcome to Salome Thorkelsdottir, Speaker of the Althingi (Parliament) and a close relative of the family. This stately lady was guest of honour at a reception on the boat and was a guest on the cruise to watch the fireworks.
• 1994. The Festival Program includes a picture and a wonderful article of the Hawk. In part it says, ‘ We see this picture (of the Hawk) and many of us feel we are seeing an “old friend”, a fellow traveler that shares with us a fondness for this place Gimli…
‘Time and space does not allow for greater exposition in this year’s program. We intend to continue the history of this remarkable craft in future issues of the souvenir program’.
‘The Black Hawk has participated in every Islendingadagurinn since 1969 except one when extremely low water denied her entry to the lake from the river. The owners, Irvin and Lois Olafson continue this tradition of service to the community. The Icelandic Festival of Manitoba wishes to thank the Olafson family for their many kindnesses and thoughtful consideration’.
• 1994. Black Hawk part of Parade of Homes Tour sponsored by the Gimli Women’s Institute.
• 1995. Black Hawk part of the Fishermen’s Tribute Ceremony and hosted all the extras on board during the ‘flotilla’. Wonderful thank you from David Olson.
• 1995. Afternoon Cruise. Premier Gary Filmon and friends celebrate David Filmon and Catherine’s wedding.
• 1995. Celebrated Canada Day with guests from far and wide.
• 1996. Black Hawk hosts Hordur Sigurgestsson, Chairman of Eimskip, and executives from Icelandair. Hordur is the honourary guest at the Festival to present the ‘Toast to Canada”
• 1997. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the President of Iceland comes to the Festival. Irvin Olafson is the Honourary Parade Marshal and as President of the Board of Betel Home Foundation, invites the President and his wife Gudrun Katrin Thorbergsdottir to visit the residents after the parade.
• 1998. David Oddsson, Prime Minister of Iceland on boat for a reception.
• 1996. Reception on board for Bishop Bolli Grimolfsson, and his wife Margret. Honoured guests from Iceland to give ‘Toast to Canada’ at Festival. Watched fireworks with guests from dockside.
• 1996. 100th Anniversary Celebration for the Black Hawk- Black Tie.
• 1996. Senator Janis Johnson Birthday Party
• 1997. BlackHawk stars in movie-‘My life as a Dog’
• 1998. Black Hawk vandalized and sinks. Culmination of a series of acts of trespass and vandalism.
• 1998. Article by Roger Newman in the Town and country section of Winnipeg Free Press-‘Ancient Mariner Sails Again’.
• 1999. Local yachting crowd invited aboard to check out and celebrate the ‘new’ Hawk.
• 2002. Reception for the Gimli Film Festival for 70 guests.
• 2003. Reception for the Snorri West Participants- students from Iceland here for 6 weeks.
• 2003. Reception for the Lois Club International
• Other events include two cruises for movie producers from Hollywood, TV crews filming the Pan Am Games with interviews on board with Mayor Barlow and Senator Janis Johnson.
We have hosted Prime Ministers of Canada and Iceland, the President of Iceland, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, Premiers of Manitoba, Mayors of several cities, Ministers of the Crown, Ambassadors, political and business leaders, Canadian and Icelandic Bishops, and many representatives from the Government of Iceland.