Guests aboard the Grace Anne II receive royal treatment while cruising on one of the province’s most scenic lakes

It’s abundantly clear to anybody who lays eyes on her the Grace Anne II is the unquestionable queen of vessels on Lake of the Woods; a vast body of water that stretches from northwest Ontario south into the state of Minnesota. This elegant motor launch constructed of solid mahogany and built in 1931 at a then enormous cost of $75,000 is a poster boat for vintage, classic-design yachts that never go out of style.

“It would cost a fortune to build a boat like this today,” says Brad Doerksen, the Grace Anne’s general manager.

This summer I had the pleasure of cruising aboard this awesome 85-foot gem that offers customized cruises of varying durations.

Departing from its home port at the waterfront town of Kenora, Ontario, myself and five other guests embarked on a three day journey on scenic Lake of the Woods where its 65,000 miles of pristine shoreline and nearly 15,000 islands–together with hundreds of acres of surrounding virgin wilderness – has earned the area a reputation as an outdoor paradise for vacationers, boaters, fishermen and hunters.

Life onboard

Accommodating a maximum of eight guests, comfortable staterooms are mahogany lined and each of them has a window onto the great outdoors. However, the bulk of time on the boat is typically spent either in the combination main lounge and dining room or the topside deck. The yacht’s mahogany-clad public space features upscale furnishings, Persian rugs, leaded glass windows and dinner is served on elegant Spode china. A dumb waiter delivers food from the galley where Nicky Dartiailh, a chef extraordinaire from Bordeaux, France, prepares three outstanding meals a day including five-course gourmet dinners.

It’s not unusual to catch the wafting aroma of Chef Nicky’s home baked bread, croissants and desserts, together with other tantalizing smells emanating from a kitchen that looks far too small to be the source of such outstanding cuisine. A dining room liquor cabinet is stocked with an excellent selection of wines and spirits which are liberally doled out and are part of the Grace Anne’s all-inclusive packages. Also part of the onboard indulgence is a service level I have seen only in ultra-deluxe, five-star hotels. Two young uniformed stewards are constantly on alert for any small need a passenger might have and they perform their roles in a gracious and accommodating manner.

Functioning more like personal butlers than stewards, they strike a fine balance between exemplary service and a sincere desire to please.

Life on the water

While many guests aboard the Grace Anne simply enjoy the yacht and cruising among the islands, fishing on Lake of the Woods is a huge attraction where it’s widely known for clean water and abundant fish.

There’s no need to go home with a fabricated fish story because this lake provides the real deal. Grace Anne’s fleet of auxiliary motor boats is used to take guests on fishing excursions led by expert guides who know where to find the big ones. On a single morning, I and two other guests reeled in more than 50 walleye, pickerel and northern pike–and that’s no fish tale. There’s also angling for prize muskilunge. All fishing equipment is provided and Chef Nicky will turn the catch of the day into a gourmet dinner. Also, Grace Anne staff will pack and freeze caught fish for guests to take home.

Private island

Like many of the big cruise ships the Grace Anne also has its own private island where a rustically luxurious, five-bedroom lodge that can be used for one- or multi-day visits. My particular cruise itinerary involved a half day on the island where activity options included sport clay shooting, ATV riding, nature walks, bird watching, a golf driving range, water sports, hot tub and sauna. Typically, however, the biggest hit with guests is what the cruise company refers to as its shore lunch. Over an open camp fire, Grace Anne guides cook fish caught by guests a mere few hours earlier. The meal also includes freshly cooked skillet potatoes, corn and baked beans. The shore lunch is a cruise highlight, and take it from me, nothing can compare to a campfire-cooked fresh fish meal.

Looking back

Part of the mystique of the Grace Anne II is its history. Folklore has it that the owner of the first Grace Anne yacht, John Forlong, won the 52-foot boat in a poker game in 1913 and used it for pleasure cruising on Lake of the Woods. In 1930 he commissioned the building of a larger boat as a birthday present for his wife, Grace Anne, hence the Grace Anne II. Built by an esteemed boat building company in Orillia, Ontario, the new yacht was enjoyed by the Forlongs for many years until they sold it to the Minnesota-based 3M Company that used it as a corporate retreat. Today it is owned by Winnipeg business man, Morris Chia, who is committed to maintaining this rare and exceptional boat to the highest standards.

Travel Planner

Information: Call 1-800-987-3857 or go online at
Getting there: Fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba; where Grace Anne II staff meet guests and transport them in a luxury coach to Kenora. The trip takes about 2.5 hours.