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Captain Richard “Ric” Hilliman embodied the Spirit of Buffalo

In a city like Buffalo, districts can sometimes be defined by a single person’s legacy. These people typically dedicate their lives to bettering aspects of our city, through unwavering vision and fortitude. We’ve seen it time and time again, and we will continue to see this type of inherent determination and grit as we rebuild this city.

When it comes to the waterfront, Captain Richard “Ric” Hilliman helped to define what we are now calling a renaissance. By bringing the classic 73 foot topsail schooner – the Spirit of Buffalo – to Buffalo’s harbor and wharf, Hilliman literally planted a flag (sail), which we saw continually raised throughout the summertime. That flag symbolized a rallying cry that the water was warm, and we should all jump in. But instead of jumping in, we hopped aboard his Spirit of Buffalo, then the Queen City Bike Ferry, and finally his latest dedication to Buffalo – the Harbor Queen.

Few people in this modern era have ever brought such visual delights and practicalities to Buffalo’s waterfront. For a city that once saw a harbor teeming with sailboats, dories, schooners, freighters, etc., it took one man’s longing for the sea and his love for his hometown, to spark that return to glory.

Upon his passing, we are witnessing a testament to his achievements through the outpouring of love from others who shared his passion for the waterfront.

“Ric and I formed a bond  from our first days at Canalside,” said Jason Davidson, owner of Liberty Hound and avid Lake Erie sailor. “We shared many afterwork rum drinks, stories, and laughs at Liberty Hound’s bar. He was a sailor’s sailor, true friend, and the heart of Canalside. He will be missed.”

“What the caterpillar calls the end of life the master calls a butterfly. Captain Ric was a visionary – and a pioneer in helping develop Buffalo’s harbor and wharf,” reflected Josh Ketry, Director of Operations Pearl Street Family. “The Spirit of Buffalo schooner and the water taxis became iconic symbols of progress along the Inner Harbor. His visions, along with the work of his family became staples in the rebirth of our great city. We have worked with Ric and his family for the past decade. It saddens all of us at The Pearl Street Family of Companies to hear of his passing. We are honored to have gotten to know him, and will do everything in our power to help make sure that his legacy is not forgotten. To that end, we will ensure that his legacy grows with the same immense heart and passion Ric put into everything. His family is in our thoughts. And his memory is fresh in our hearts.

On Monday, March 9, a funeral procession will be held for Captain Richard “Ric” Hilliman (approximately 10:45 am). The public is invited to attend the procession, as it makes its way through Canalside. On that day, flags will be temporarily lowered, paying tribute to the man who helped this city rediscover its yearning for the water. But come summer, the sails of the Spirit of Buffalo will be unfurled and hoisted into the air once again, signaling Captain Ric’s embodiment of the ship, the waters upon which it sailed, and the city that he held in his heart and soul.

Images courtesy Spirit of Buffalo Sailing Adventures 

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

Contact Newell Nussbaumer |

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