The Canadian Empress is the right ship in the right place. With a 30-foot beam and 108-foot length, it looks a little chunky at first sight. But it has distinctly homey charm that some of the larger cruise ships would be hard pressed to beat. It was the dreamchild of its owner, Bob Clark, a Canadian business, who wanted to draw overnight visitors, not just day trippers, onto the upper river. Clark envisioned a vessel that resembled those in use in 1908, one equipped with all the up-to-date conveniences. The result is an aluminum ship, launched in 1891, bearing such nostalgic touches as pressed tin ceilings, etched glass doors and light fixtures, and thick floral carpeting. On our trip meals were prepared in a little galley by a Scottish chef and her one helper. Particularly memorable was a lunch of perch that had been freshly caught on the river, accompanied by loaves of incomparable bread.
The cruising season runs from May through October, with an itinerary of four- or six-day trips, some beginning or ending in Montreal. Plan to spend extra time there or in the other gateway cities of Kingston or Quebec. ( Canadian Empress , Ridean St. Lawrence Cruise Ships, 253 Ontario Street, Kingston, Ontario K71 2Z4 [1-800-267-0960].)
During the fall other ships head for Canadian waters. For more information contact the following cruise lines: Cunard, Royal Viking, Royal, Sitmar, Society Expeditions, Sun Line, and American Canadian.
As for reading up on the St. Lawrence, I searched without success for the perfect book—an up-to-date one that combines history, travel, and pictures. Until that comes along, try Henry Beston’s The St. Lawrence (1942) or Hugh MacLennan’s The Rivers of Canada (1962).