OWEN SOUND—Nothing says springtime quite like seeing the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry pulling into the harbour at South Baymouth and this season there will be plenty more to see inside, as the interior of the vessel has seen quite an overhaul—but not the fares, those will not be rising again this year.
Each year the inaugural cruise to the Tobermory docks was once again a fundraising event for the Scenic City Order of Good Cheer. The Owen Sound community group raises funds for good causes each year, things like splash pads and skating rinks, but this year the group had a special side mission. “They broke in our new dining room,” said Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) CEO and President Susan Schrempf.
The dining room has seen a major upgrade, the first real change in 40 years. “We took the dining room right back to the studs,” noted Ms. Schrempf. “There is a lot of colour and the scenes inside reflect the ship outside.”
New surfaces, new colours and a whole new layout will greet diners on the Chi-Cheemaun. “We are doing different types of food service areas than have been seen on the ferry before,” said Ms. Schrempf. In addition to a new, more open area, diners will be directed into two different areas. “To the right will be what we like to call the ‘grab and go’ section, with sandwiches and quick foods, and those wanting hot food will be directed to the left,” she said, “at the end of the area is the cashier where you can get beer, canned or on tap.”
While the beer is “not yet” craft brewed, that too is in the works. “We also are planning a craft beer event,” she said, “but the dates for that have not yet been firmed up.”
The ambiance of the dining will change as well, with a divider running between the two dining sections, consisting of a circular quartered settee featuring etched glass from balustrade to ceiling set in the middle of the dining room. Lighting, with seven different zones, will allow the creation of custom ambiances, particularly during the dinner cruises and port side, wait for it, “a lovely new bar,” said Ms. Schrempf. “We now have an actual physical bar.”
On the entertainment side of the journey, famed storyteller and Native elder Falcon Migwans has been confirmed for the season. “In addition to his storytelling, Falcon will be holding little workshops with making drums and dreamcatchers,” said Ms. Schrempf. “We will also be having our stargazing parties as well, starting in August.”
The evening cruises with dining entertainment are slated to begin at the end of June, with one in June, two in July and August and one, or two, in September.
As to the hiatus on fare increases, Ms. Schrempf pointed out that the OSTC believes that they have reached the upper limit of that avenue for raising revenue. “We have to remember that we are still in competition with the highways,” she said. “It’s a win-win for all of us if those passengers spend the money on the peninsula or the Island.”
The vote of confidence inherent in the provincial government not only continuing the service, but embarking on a major marketing study and campaign, bodes well, noted Ms. Schrempf. “It shows that they are still in the game.”
That faith would appear to be born out by last year’s stellar eight percent rise in traffic, despite a late start to the season.
Not only has the marketing push targeted the usual suspects, southwestern Ontario and Greater Toronto, there has also been a marketing program involving a five-night accommodation package that has been aimed at the Great Lakes states.
The spring schedule is slated to begin with an 8:50 am departure from Tobermory this Friday, May 6 (and 1:30 pm, 6:10 pm) arriving in South Baymouth at 10:50 am (and 3:30 pm, 7:55 pm), departing South Baymouth at 11 am (and 3:50 am, 8:15 pm, Friday only), arriving in Tobermory at 1:10 pm (and 5:50 pm, 10 pm Friday only). Additional sailings will take place on the Victoria Day holiday, Monday, May 23, leaving Tobermory at 6:10 pm, arriving in South Baymouth at 7:55 pm, and leaving South Baymouth at 8:15 pm arriving 10 pm that night.
The summer schedule begins June 17 and runs through to September 5. The full schedule and list of programs and discounts can be found online at www.ontarioferries.com.