Glacier Park Boat Company dates back to 1938, when Mr. Arthur J. Burch, a banker in Kalispell, purchased the contract to provide tour boat services in Glacier National Park from J.W. Swanson. Captain Swanson was a prolific boat builder on Flathead Lake and was one of the first to build and operate boats for transportation and scenic cruises on the lakes in Glacier National Park. He operated his own boat concession and provided boats and assistance for the Glacier Park Hotel Company, the Great Northern Railway’s tourism subsidiary in the park, and the Glacier Park Transport Company on Lake McDonald.
This historic tour boat company, which stemmed from Captain Swanson’s masterfully built tour boats, has remained in the Burch family for more than 75 years. Glacier Park Boat Company, while going through a series of evolutions, has now been passed on to the third generation of the Burch family to keep alive the long tradition of exceptional visitor services on historic tour boats in Glacier National Park.
The boats are part of the family, too. As you can imagine, these classic wooden boats take endless hours of work to maintain their original splendor. Most of this work has to be done in spring and fall in boathouses on Glacier National Park’s lakes. While the scenery is great, spring weather in Montana is often unpredictable, many lakes are more than 5000 feet in elevation and the boathouses are unheated. The amount of pride and determination it has taken for the Burch family to keep our fleet afloat is immense. Experience living history on one of our beautiful historic vessels this summer!
Captain Swanson built the tour boat Sinopah in 1926 for the Glacier Park Hotel Company, the tourism subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway. The boat was originally named Little Chief and operated on St. Mary Lake. It was bought by the Glacier Park Boat Company in the 1940s, moved to Two Medicine Lake and rechristened, Sinopah. The 45-foot carvel planked launch with cedar on an oak frame is authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with Certificate of Inspection.
In 1926, Captain Swanson built the tour boat, Little Chief. Her original name was Rising Wolf and she operated on Two Medicine Lake. After an extensive restoration in 1990 she was launched on Saint Mary Lake taking the name Little Chief. This vessel is a 45-foot carvel planked launch with cedar on an oak frame authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection. In 2016, Little Chief became the first boat from the state of Montana to be placed on the National Register of Historic Vessels!
In 1930, Captain Swanson built the tour boat DeSmet for the Glacier Park Transport Company. She was constructed to carry passengers on Lake McDonald and this lake has remained her home ever since. The DeSmet was named after Father Pierre DeSmet, a prominent Jesuit missionary in the area. This vessel is a 57-foot carvel planked launch with cedar on an oak frame authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 70 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection.
In 1945, Swanson co-built with Arthur J. Burch (founder of Glacier Park Boat Company, Inc.) the tour boat Morning Eagle. She was first named Big Chief and was placed on Swiftcurrent Lake. In 1960, her name changed to the Morning Eagle and she was transferred to Lake Josephine. This vessel is a 45-foot carvel planked launch with cedar on an oak frame, authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection. In the fall of 1974, the Morning Eagle was driven out of the park for repairs and replaced on Lake Josephine by the Chief Two Guns. That winter, an avalanche swept down from Grinnell Point destroying the boathouse and launching the Chief Two Guns out onto the frozen lake. The hull survived the avalanche and was floated down the creek to Swiftcurrent Lake for repair. Putting the Morning Eagle back on Lake Josephine was not an easy task, and likely not one that will happen again. In the spring of 1975, six college students took six days to hand-winch the Morning Eagle against the current, up the one-half mile stream because the old logging road was flooded and impassable. It has been stated many times that moving a boat this large between the two lakes would likely not be possible again as the road has grown over with large fir and spruce trees. Since the Morning Eagle re-launch on Lake Josephine, it has never been removed. All maintenance is done on-site.
Chief Two Guns
In 1960, Arthur J. Burch built the tour boat Chief Two Guns for Glacier Park Boat Company. She was placed on Swiftcurrent Lake where she has remained ever since. This vessel is a 45-foot marine plywood hull launch with batten seam construction authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection.
In 1984, Art M. Burch (son of the founder of Glacier Park Boat Company) built the tour boat Joy II for Glacier Park Boat Company. She was first named the Vessel International II and operated out of Waterton, Canada, in support of the Prince of Wales Hotel. In 1986, her name changed to Joy II and she was transported across the border to St. Mary Lake, where she has remained ever since. This vessel is a 41-foot marine fiberglass hull launch authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection.
It is of historic note that most of the boat houses built for these tour boats were designed and constructed with the specific boat in mind. Each fall, these boats are lifted on a cradle and track system and moved into the boat house. The doors are then closed tightly for protection from the winter months. Every spring we come back and do it all over again in the spirit of those boat men and women who got it all started.