Carl Kuhnke takes on president, CEO titles at Owen Sound Transportation Company

The Owen Sound Transportation Company's MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry is pictured here entering the locks at Sault Ste. Marie on its way to drydock for its five-year inspection in Thunder Bay, 2021. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Anstice.

OWEN SOUND—Carl Kuhnke was just settling into retirement when he was asked if he would be interested in taking on the job of president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC). He now holds both these titles as well as councillor for the municipality of Brockton.

“I like making a difference and I’m looking forward to this new position (with OSTC),” Mr. Kuhnke said. “I was going to relax and take things easy in retirement when I was contacted to see if I would be interested in taking on this position.” 

Mr. Kuhnke is a specialist in science and technology, “and I am extremely interested in making the Chi-Cheemaun and the company’s other vessels as technologically advanced as possible for safety of our employees and customer needs.”

He pointed out that while the Chi-Cheemaun will continue to sail for a long time, since it is “a 48-year-old vessel, breakdowns are going to happen. If you use the analogy of a cruise ship that goes 24/7 after 10 years, a cruise ship that would take $1 billion to construct will be retired after that many years. If it is 20 years old, they send it to a ship breaker in Africa.”

Mr. Kuhnke said that the OSTC organization, “has an amazing team in terms of technical and customer service staff to keep the vessel running and in customer service; they do an amazing job.”

The OSTC announced Mr. Kunnke as the new president and CEO on December 19. “The board of directors has appointed Carl Kuhnke as the president and CEO. Carl was identified through a competitive selection process and brings vast experience in diverse leadership to this position.”

Kaleena Sanford of OSTC said in the release, “Carl’s most recent role was CEO of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre (WCWC), where he oversaw the Ontario government’s research, technology, and training agency for the province’s drinking water system. During his WCWC tenure, Carl also directed the centre’s new priority First Nations initiative-training drinking water operators and managers of the 134 First Nations in Ontario. Carl has also worked in government and non-profit corporations, and he was a senior Canadian diplomat serving in five countries.”

“I had just finished five years with WCWC, so I am familiar with the same laws and regulations ferry services have to follow,” said Mr. Kuhnke. “My wife and I were going to relax in retirement, when I was asked if I was interested in taking on this position.” 

Mr. Kuhnke explained as CEO at Walkerton, he worked at training 134 First Nations water management plant managers. This is normally a federal responsibility, but Ontario has an agreement to help Canada.”

Mr. Kuhnke said that the WCWC worked with 10,000 drinking water operators yearly (including municipal and First Nation communities) of the 30,000 water operators in the province. We started working with all 134 First Nation water operators in the province, an initiative which was one of my personal crowning achievements. “There is no reason to have a $20 million water treatment plant if no one can operate the water plant.” 

“So we designed a special program with Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation, working with them and First Nation band councils,” said Mr. Kuhnke. “When I left, I had trained 135 First Nations water operators through vigorous training on how to operate their water plants.”

Prior to WCWC Mr. Kuhnke had worked in Saskatchewan for four years, at the University of Saskatchewan in the Centre of Excellence for Infrastructure. “I was a Canadian diplomat for 22 years, working in Japan, China, Germany, Canada and Seattle, Washington,” said Mr. Kuhnke. 

In October, Mr. Kuhnke was elected as a councillor to serve on council in Brockton. “At that point this (OSTC) position hadn’t been confirmed. It was important to me to clear this with the Mayor (Brockton) and the Ontario government if I could serve on council in a small community and take the position for OSTC.”

“One of my goals as president and CEO is to have much more engagement with our First Nation brothers and sisters,” said Mr. Kuhnke. “I think there is a lot of opportunity for young First Nation people who are interested in having a great career in this industry. The world has a total shortage of qualified mariners,” he stated.  

Mr. Kuhnke replaces Susan Schrempf, who had been with the company since 1984 and served as president and CEO of OSTC between 2002 and January 2022.