Ontario commits $293,000 to upgrade federal docks

chi-cheemaun-rally-1

Manitoulin sends message to feds through rally at South Bay dock

SOUTH BAYMOUTH—The call to action and public outcry from Manitoulin residents—which culminated in a rally at the South Baymouth ferry docks on Friday morning, urging the provincial and federal governments to work together to see a relatively small issue fixed in order to save the season’s ferry service—has seen a step in the right direction, with the Friday announcement during the rally that the Ontario Liberal government has pledged the $293,000 needed to fix the federally-owned fenders in both South Baymouth and Tobermory.

All that’s left now, however, is the go ahead from the federal government, which owns the wharves under jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Looking through the crowd on Friday, faces from across Manitoulin could be seen: farmers from across the Island, representatives from Island stalwarts such as the Bondi family, D.A. Williamson and Sons, Manitoulin Tourism Association, Purvis Fisheries, Manitoulin Transport, De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre, Gordon’s Park, Ham’s Marine, the Great Spirit Circle Trail, The Manitoulin Expositor as well as the South East Manitoulin Lions Club, just to name a few. Politicos showing the flag for their respective municipalities also dotted the audience.

Nathalie Gara-Boivin, proprietor of the Auberge Inn in Providence Bay, took the lead in organizing the morning rally, and acted as emcee of the event. She addressed the crowd at 11 am, explaining that the time chosen to rally was symbolic of the fact that the Chi-Cheemaun should have made her first arrival of the season at that same time, had she been running.

“Where is that ferry?” she called out. “This should be the kickoff to our tourist season.”

“Where is that ferry?” she called out. “This should be the kickoff to our tourist season.”

Ms. Gara-Boivin spoke of the devastating effect the shortened ferry season will have on tourist operators and the Island as a whole. The crowd booed in response, calling out “shame!” to the federal government.

Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha also spoke, noting the identity of the North and how its people step up to look after one another, pulling together, with this rally being just such an example of Northern cooperation.

“When you talk about Manitoulin Island it is no different,” he continued. “This boat is part of who we are and I am so disappointed that it is not here this morning.”

Mr. Mantha spoke of the federal government’s responsibility for the South Baymouth and Tobermory wharves and how it hadn’t apparently seen the critical need of having the Chi-Cheemaun sailing. “The federal government has not heeded your calls,” he said plainly.

The MPP said he was also representing federal member Carol Hughes, who has been bringing the issue to the forefront in the House of Commons, as has Trinity-Spadina NDP MP Olivia Chow.

“This is the province’s responsibility as well, and we’re not going to let them off the hook,” Mr. Mantha added.

He then announced that he had learned from the province that morning that $293,000 was “freed up” to fix the wharves and that a local contractor had been hired to do the job.

“It’s such great news that the province has stepped up to fix the docks,” Mr. Mantha said, adding that he appreciated the great turnout for the rally.

Ms. Gara-Boivin urged the crowd to not give up until the dock is fixed and the ferry is again running.

One member of the crowd yelled out, asking why Minister Lebel was not in attendance. “If they spent as much as they did just trying to get out of it, it would already be fixed by now,” the MPP responded to the approval of the assembly.

“If they spent as much on this as they do on Trudeau attack ads…,” the crowd added.

Maja Mielonen, chair of the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates and proprietor of Maja’s in Mindemoya, thanked Ms. Gara-Boivin for her work on the rally. She noted the millions of dollars spent on infrastructure for cyclists recently (for which the ferry is a crucial part of their visits to Manitoulin), and what that means to Manitoulin.

“We need the ferry to move healthy into the future,” she said.

Central Manitoulin Reeve Gerry Strong also spoke, saying the issue affects each of the municipalities.

Marg Hague, representing Manitoulin Transport, told The Expositor she was there representing one of Canada’s largest trucking companies as the Smith family supports the issue fully, she said.

South Baymouth resident and Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) board member John Greenway told The Expositor that the OSTC has been aware of the fender situation since June 2012 and that despite repeated meetings with the federal government, no action has been taken.

He said the board supported the OSTC’s decision to release this information to the public when they did. “The board recognizes the economic importance of the ferry and encourages the public to continue to put pressure on the government,” he added.

Ken Ferguson, president of the Manitoulin Tourism Association, said he was pleased that province had come through with the funding, “We just hope the federal government will come through with the permission.”

“Coming down to this rally, I passed a myriad of places that would be devastated without the ferry service,” Mr. Ferguson added, noting that he just got word that a long-time seasonal resident at one of Manitoulin’s family-run campgrounds had called to cancel for the season, specifically due to the uncertainty of the Chi-Cheemaun’s service—one of Manitoulin’s fears realized.

For video of the event, please visit our website, www.manitoulin.ca.

Alicia McCutcheon