01/20/2012 10:49 EST

Maid Of The Mist: Fate Of Iconic Niagara Falls Attraction Unknown


The Maid of the Mist boats have been a staple of Niagara Falls since the 1800s. But the popular ferry service could soon come to an end, if the boat's operator fails to win an upcoming tender.

The Buffalo News reports that Ontario's Niagara Parks Commission will decide in approximately six weeks if the company that operates the ferry service will be able to continue doing so, or whether another company will win a 25-year lease to operate tour boats at the falls.

Commission members had hoped a decision would be made last year, but decided they need more time, the News reports.

The commission renewed the contract for the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. in 2008, without considering other bids. That angered a number of local businesspeople, including commission member Bob Gale, who resigned and complained about the bidding process.

In 2009, Ontario's Ministry of Tourism ordered the commission to revisit the contract. That resulted in the current bidding process.

The Buffalo News says 13 companies registered to submit proposals in August, 2010. But the commission has yet to reveal the companies' names.

Proposals were reviewed last year by the commission's evaluation team, according to The Toronto Sun. The newspaper adds that bidders are not permitted to comment about the process publicly.

"It's a complex process and it's something that needs to be done right," parks commission chairperson Janice Thomson told The National Post. "We have to be 100 per cent accurate, as this decision is one that will be made for a very long time."

Bidders are required to have a minimum of 10 years of experience with tour boats. They also have to pay at least $5.5 million to the commission every year, reports The Globe & Mail.

According to Niagara Parks' website, a ferry service crossing the Niagara River has been in place since 1818, but it wasn't until the mid-1800s that the first Maid of the Mist steamboat began operating. The original wooden boat was coal-fired and was later replaced with steel, diesel-powered ships.

Maid of the Mist boats, which carry between 300 and 600 passengers, have carried numerous prominent visitors to Niagara Falls over the years, including Marilyn Monroe and members of the Royal Family.