MS Norgoma finds new hope in Owen Sound

MS Norgoma no longer rests at Roberta Bondar Marina after failing to secure a purchaser from the City of Sault Ste. Marie, but she may yet find a new lease on life in Owen Sound.

SAULT STE. MARIE – The former Owen Sound Transportation Company ferry MS Norgoma seemed destined for the breaking yard when a proposal to dock the vessel as an office complex cum coffee shop expansion on the Tobermory waterfront fell through, but an eleventh hour pass by Tobermory Real Estate Investors Inc. (TREII) to the City of Owen Sound may yet keep the 188-foot historic vessel afloat.

Michael Goman and his business partner Dr. George Harpur made the pitch to turn the vessel into a marine heritage site, coffee shop and base for marine studies through Georgian College. The presentation was put in front of the March 12 meeting of the Owen Sound community development, tourism and culture advisory committee by the proponents.

TREII’s own feasibility study had revealed that repurposing the vessel on the Tobermory waterfront was a non-starter and could not be accomplished without “significant disruption” to the existing docks—a point that was identified by both Tobermory and TREII as a deal-breaker.

“We are trying to figure things out,” said Mr. Goman when contacted at his home in Connecticut recently. 

This time, staff at the City of Owen Sound have recommended council support the relocation of the MS Norgoma to the Owen Sound waterfront.

“When we were in talks with Tobermory I received a call from a councillor in Owen Sound to say he was interested,” said Mr. Goman. “He told me to get in contact with him if things didn’t work out in Tobermory.”

When things didn’t work out, and despite having no interests in that marine community comparable to those in Tobermory where TREII operates a gift and coffee shop, Mr. Goman decided to see whether he could save the Norgoma by pitching a concept for the Owen Sound waterfront.

Meanwhile, the MS Norgoma continues to languish at the Purvis shipyards beside Algoma Steel, where she has been berthed since being evicted by Sault Ste. Marie city council from the Roberta Bondar Marina in 2019.

The executive summary of the proposal to the Owen Sound committee reads: “Today, we ask that council consider endorsing the scope and intent of this proposal with the following general understanding: that TREII engages a professional firm to conduct a detailed engineering study of the available dock space and configuration; that TREII work with municipal staff to determine; the scope of that study; that the study must include accurate depictions and information necessary to permit the municipality to thoroughly evaluate any suggested locations; that a primary goal of the study is to accommodate Norgoma within the harbour without a reduction in the number of available dock slips; and that, if it is determined that Norgoma can be accommodated within the harbour, adjacent to the marine museum and any agreement to do so must have a financially positive outcome for the municipality.”

Mr. Goman shared that his group’s aim was to “create a unique hands-on tour experience highlighting Norgoma’s historic marine heritage and to provide an opportunity for local historians and interested sponsors to participate in her restoration and operation while providing for a secure financial future of Norgoma as a museum ship.”

“For me that’s the key, it has to make good business sense,” said Mr. Goman. “There has to be a set-up with a reserve fund to look after the maintenance of the ship so we don’t wind up in the same boat again.”

Built in the Collingwood Shipyards in 1950, the MS Norgoma spent 13 years carrying passengers and cargo between Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie on a run known as the “Turkey Trail.” The vessel then served as a ferry between Tobermory and Manitoulin before being purchased by Sault Ste. Marie in 1975 to be used as a museum ship.

In 2019, the City of Sault Ste. Marie took control of the vessel and sought a purchaser, but that effort failed to attract any bidders.