Ferry’s ridership picks up another two percent

From left, Chi-Cheemaun Captain Kerry Adams and Kaleena Johnson, manager of customer and media relations, Owen Sound Transportation Company, right, present Sheena Wassegijig of the Wikwemikong Heritage Organization with a cheque for $3,283.10 for their fundraising efforts.

Please note: This article has been corrected as of Thursday, October 19, 2017

OWEN SOUND—“We pulled it out of the fire,” an enthusiastic Susan Schrempf, CEO of the Owen Sound Transportation Company, told The Expositor of the 2017 Chi-Cheemaun’s sailing season.

“July was absolutely dismal,” Ms. Schrempf admitted, adding that the remainder of the season more than made up for July with the Chi-Cheemaun meeting its goal of a two percent increase in traffic.

This year, the Chi-Cheemaun carried 80,786 vehicles, a 2.02 percent increase over 2016, and 206,718 passengers, a 1.96 percent increase over 2016.

Ms. Schrempf said that while the cool and wet weather of June and July may have had something to do with the numbers (certainly regarding the number of motorcyclists, who were down from 6,474 in 2016 to 5,735 in 2017), the plethora of Canada 150 events across the province also meant that the Chi-Cheemaun was facing some stiff competition this summer.

Every one of the dining and entertainment cruises hosted by the ferry was a sold out affair, and the once-a-month Sunday folk music in the forward lounge, in partnership with the Georgian Bay Folk Society, was also a big hit among passengers. Other events included a Craft Brews Cruise; weekly Sunset Dinner Cruises; weekly interpretation programs with Parks Canada Falcon Migwans and Wikwemikong Tourism; the soft book launch of Mark Zelinski’s photobook ‘Heart of Turtle Island’; and the Stargazer’s Delight Tour. In addition to the event series, OSTC’s passengers were entertained by nine different professional performers who provided impromptu concerts through the “Play for Passage” program. Finally, art exhibits by the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation and Owen Sound’s Tom Thomson Art Gallery were on display in the Aft Lounge throughout the season.

“This year (for 2018) our target will be another two percent,” the CEO said. “I think it’s a reasonable increase.”

Ms. Schrempf noted that the OSTC’s ongoing marketing will continue to push the ferry as a destination in and of itself, not just a connecting link.

While going over the ferry statistics, the OSTC was happy to see an increase in child passengers. “This means that families are travelling again, which is really nice to see.”

Ride-on cyclists were up slightly in 2017, from 1,078 in 2016 to 1,167. “The peak month for cyclists was June,” Ms. Schrempf noted.

Over the winter the Chi-Cheemaun will see another renovation, this time of its Aft (rear) Lounge that will see a new a children’s play area and Parks Canada area. When asked if the renovation will see the return of the video games, Ms. Schrempf responded with an emphatic “Never!” The children’s area will, however, include some information fun provided by Parks Canada.

Monday saw the Chi-Cheemaun sail into its home port of Owen Sound on its annual Fall Cruise. As part of the annual event, a fundraiser is held with this year’s recipient the Wiikwemkoong Heritage Organization and its language revitalization program. Fundraising events included a 50/50 draw and a silent auction.

“We won the sponsorship to fundraise and promote the family immersion cultural camp,” said the WHO’s Sheena Wassegijig. “Normally the camp is held in Wiikwemkoong’s downtown core, but this year we’re mobilizing it. Because of the size of Wiikwemkoong, there’s a need for the camp to be on the go. We will now be bringing the camp to our satellite communities like Rabbit Island and Kaboni. This,” she added, “comes at a cost.”

The camps run for a week at a time, four times a year.

All of the items found on the Chi-Cheemaun silent auction table were made by Wiikwemkoong craftspeople or donated by the community as well as Rainbow Ridge Golf Course and the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. Ms. Wassegijig was very pleased with the plethora of great items on hand, especially as it was pulled together on short notice—they got the okay from OSTC last Friday.

The grand total of the WHO’s fundraising efforts was $2 shy of $4,000.

“It usually takes a lot of time to raise that kind of money, so it was a great opportunity for us to both fundraise and promote our language revitalization program and Manitoulin tourism as a whole,” Ms. Wassegijg said.