03/06/2012 04:41 EST | Updated 05/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Maid Of The Mist Returning, Contract Or No Contract


NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. - Operators of the Maid of the Mist say the popular tour boats will be back in the water this year on both sides of the Niagara River Gorge.

The news comes after the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company — which lost the contract to run the boats after 165 years — had warned the attraction might not open this year.

The Niagara Parks Commission announced last month it had awarded a 30-year agreement for boat tour operations in the gorge to Hornblower Canada, a California-based company.

With Hornblower's service scheduled to start in 2014, the Maid of the Mist company said it wasn't sure it could stay in business for this summer's tourist season.

But after talks with the commission, it was agreed the company will go ahead with this year's tours, starting April 12.

It was not immediately known what would happen next year.

The Maid of the Mist boats ferry people from both the Canadian and American sides of the Niagara River to the base of the Horseshoe Falls under separate agreements with New York state and Ontario.

The first Maid of the Mist began operating in Niagara Falls in 1846, and the boats have been drawing more than two million passengers annually in recent years.

The new service will include upgraded passenger facilities and new boats.

Ontario's Liberal cabinet ordered the commission to open the tour boats to competitive bidding in 2009 after complaints about the unfairness of the untendered contract.

The new deal is expected to generate more than $500 million in revenue for the parks commission over the life of the contract, an increase of more than $300 million from previous contracts, including $67 million in the first five years.