New owner of M.S. Norgoma has no definite plans for ship

PORT COLBORNE—Jeff Dwor, the new owner of the M.S. Norgoma (which at one time plied the waters of Manitoulin Island as a ferry), has no definite plans as to what he is going to do with the ship at this time.

“I like its lines, this vessel could be converted into something else,” said Mr. Dwor, who lives in Port Colborne, after having purchased the ship from the City of Sault Ste. Marie. “The ship is not too big, but not too small either. It is about 185-188 feet in length and 38 foot wide. It is a substantial vessel.”

“It is in good enough shape with ample space. I was thinking of turning the ship into living quarters for now, but I’m open to any kind of idea,” said Mr. Dwor. “I really don’t know yet what I am going to do with the ship. But I am open and flexible to any ideas.”

“One thing about it, I can’t move anything on the lakes until May,” quipped Mr. Dwor. 

Earlier this month, Mr. Dwor, a retired ship salvager, purchased the Norgoma for $2,500 from Sault Ste. Marie. City council approved the sale of the 188-foot former package freighter/passenger ferry/museum ship. Tom Vair, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for community development and enterprise services told Soo Mr. Dwor has sold his business (Dwor Metal Co. Ltd. of Port Colborne) but is looking at the M.S. Norgoma as a personal project and renovating her for private use. Recently, Mr. Dwor came forward with interest in acquiring the vessel. He flew to Sault Ste. Marie, toured the vessel and expressed interest in purchasing it.

Mr. Vair told The Expositor, “council approved the sale of the ship to Mr. Dwor. “The agreement was reached January 31 and concludes in May, so there is a bit of finalization to be done. Part of the decision by council was so the marina by the Roberta Bondar Park marina can be redone. Council had to force the decision and have the Norgoma moved, and currently it is parked at the docks at Algoma-Steel and the town has been paying $40 a day in docking fees (since 2019).”

The city had planned to sell the Norgoma to The Sweet Shop in Tobermory but that deal fell through when the potential owner couldn’t find a berth in the municipal marina there.

Mr. Vair told The Expositor that since then, city staff has been looking for a new location for the Norgoma while also obtaining estimates to decommission the vessel.  A recent updated budget revealed decommissioning the vessel would have cost between $275,000-$325,000.

Mr. Dwor will take possession of the Norgoma some time in May. “If someone has a great idea for the ship that I can explore, bring it to me and I will listen. I’m not opposed to anything. Maybe people on Manitoulin could find things that it could be used for.”

MS Norgoma was a Canadian package freighter and passenger ferry that could also transport automobiles on a limited basis. Originally constructed as steam-powered ship in 1950, SS Norgoma primarily sailed the route from her home port of Owen Sound to Sault Ste. Marie, providing a five-day round trip, once a week, serving isolated communities along the North Shore. After conversion to a motor ship, Norgoma was transferred to the Manitoulin Island ferry route between Tobermory and South Baymouth along with her sister ship SS Norisle, replacing the smaller ferry, MS Normac on that route.

Norgoma, owned by Owen Sound Transportion Company Limited, was built at the Collingwood shipyards in 1950. She replaced the SS Manitoulin, which was retired in 1949.

Norgoma travelled mainly on the North Channel route until 1963. Improvements to Ontario’s highways, such as the Trans-Canada Highway (Georgian Bay route) completed in 1962, brought about stiff competition for the company. In that year, a 60-kilometre road was constructed into Killarney from Highway 6, the first port of call for the steamer. At the time, increased traffic on the Manitoulin Island-Tobermory route demanded a greater automobile capacity than her sister ships SS Norisle and MS Normac could handle.

In 1974, both Norgoma and Norisle were replaced by the much larger and more modern MS Chi-Cheemaun which could accommodate more vehicles than both sister ships put together. Norgoma was berthed as a museum ship in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. In 1981 the ship was transferred to a charity, the St. Mary’s River Marine Heritage Centre. The Norisle was purchased at the same time. By Assiginack Township and is still berthed at the Manitowaning Marina.