THE History of Whirlpool Jet

Although commercial operations at Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours didn’t begin until 1992, the origins of the company can be traced back over 40 years.  Our experience in whitewater tours started in 1975 on the Ottawa River when Joe Kowalski, co-owner of our company, founded our parent company Wilderness Tours. Since 1974, Wilderness Tours has grown to be the premier whitewater resort in Canada and has taken over 1 million guests on the Ottawa River, the most popular whitewater river in the country.

As the popularity of whitewater grew throughout the late 1970s rafting companies started to pop up on dozens of whitewater rivers in North America, however most of these rivers were located in remote areas far away from major population centers.  The rapids located near big cities were either too mild to be exhilarating or so ferocious that commercial operations seemed impossible.  The Lachine Rapids on the St. Lawrence River in Montreal and the Devil’s Hole Rapids on the Niagara River possess this ferocious character.

In 1978, Wilderness Tours started operating motorized rafts during springtime high-water levels on the Ottawa River.  A test run was conducted on the Lachine Rapids in 1979 using one of these 30 passenger inflatable boats.  Although the raft made it through the rapids, it quickly became apparent that rafts were not suitable for these ferocious currents and that a faster, more powerful boat would be needed.  A jet boat was the only alternative.

Commercial jet boating on the St. Lawrence River began in 1982 and was the only whitewater jet boating operation in North America.  Lachine Rapids Tours began with two specially designed jet boats in 1982, and many improvements were made to the boats over the years, the most significant being the switch to turbo-charged diesel engines.  Sections of the Lachine Rapids that were previously thought to be completely unnavigable were now a part of the standard trip!

Niagara’s Devil’s Hole Rapids boast 15′-20′ (4.5m-6m) waves, currents with speeds approaching 20 mph (32 km) and a solid class 5 rating.  Class 5 rapids are defined as “approaching the limits of navigability, should only be attempted by whitewater experts after taking every available precaution.”  In the early 1990s, one of the Lachine Rapids Tours boats came to Niagara to test out the Devil’s Hole Rapids.  In 1992 we began commercial operations, and now in 2019 we have more guests in a single day than we had in the entire first season.  Our fleet now has 9 custom-built vessels, we run from 3 operating locations, and employ a staff of over 200!