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Manitoulin ferry season 'full steam ahead,’ says operator

Manitoulin Island's MS Chi-Cheemaun sets sail on May 5
The MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry sails between Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island.

The MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry has set May 5 as the kickoff to its 2023 season.

Sailing Lake Huron between South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island and Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula, the vehicle and passenger ferry runs between May and October annually.

It serves as an important transportation link for commercial traffic transporting goods between southern Ontario and the northern part of the province. But it's also a popular attraction for visitors exploring the area during the summer tourism season.

The first sailing of 2023 will take place on Friday, May 5 at 8:50 a.m. out of Tobermory. Reservations are now being accepted through the ferry's online portal, and telephone reservations will be taken starting on March 15.

The Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC), the Ontario government agency that operates the ferry, said in a news release that the 2023 season would be “full steam ahead,” following the easing of restrictions introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That starts with the Spring Repositioning Cruise, scheduled for May 4. The four-and-a-half-hour pleasure cruise has seating for 400 passengers, who are treated to a buffet lunch and live entertainment during the voyage.

OSTC said after just one day of sales, half the tickets had been sold.

“The thrills don't end there, though, as OSTC anticipates many onboard event favourites will gradually resume during the 2023 sailing season after being suspended while operating under COVID restrictions since 2020,” the agency said in its release.

Among the events planned are a presentation by the Owen Sound Field Naturalists and a networking event hosted by Grey and Bruce Counties.

The Chi-Cheemaun is known to host a range of on-board activities, including musical entertainment and educational presentations, and on-board passenger amenities include a cafeteria and a gift shop.

Much of this activity had been suspended at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when leisure travel on the ferry was restricted, although operations have slowly been returning to normal over the last three years.

The ferry suffered a minor setback last March when fire broke out in the ship's boiler room while it was docked in Thunder Bay for scheduled maintenance.

Overall, OSTC reported a successful sailing season in 2022, the first year without COVID-19 capacity restrictions.

Vehicular traffic was up 21 per cent, while 31 per cent more passengers took the ferry last year, and 28 trips had to be cancelled — 10 due to weather and 18 due to mechanical issues.

The OSTC also welcomed a new CEO in late 2022.

Carl Kuhnke joined the organization in December, following the retirement of Susan Schrempf, who had helmed the OSTC for 20 years.