Chi-Cheemaun ferry service delayed indefinitely

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The MS Chi-Cheemaun will remain docked in Owen Sound indefinitely amid the provincial shutdown.

The ferry service between Tobermory’s Little Tub Harbour and Manitoulin Island’s South Baymouth was scheduled to begin Friday.

All reservations affected by the delay have been cancelled, and the Owen Sound Transportation Company is reaching out to customers with reservations between May 7 and May 20 to reschedule.

“Ontario’s top priority is to continue to protect the health and well-being of all Ontarians and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” an Ontario Ministry of Transportation bulletin said. “The government is monitoring the situation closely and will provide an update by May 21.”

The OSTC was busy preparing for the early May departure date, but late last week came news of the delay from the ministry.

The OSTC online booking portal was overhauled, the company website said, and fares were updated.

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A full listing of updated fares is available on the OSTC website (www.ontarioferries.com).

Last year, the Chi-Cheemaun operated under the conditions of Transport Canada’s “Interim Order No. 5 Respecting Passenger Vessel Restrictions Due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)”.

Safety measures included health and recent travel-history screening, wearing facemasks while onboard the ferry, and a 50 per cent capacity limit. However, in the case of the Chi-Cheemaun, capacity was lowered below 50 per cent to 200 passengers in order to maintain physical distancing in the event that all passengers must vacate the exterior decks.

No food, beverage or retail service was available for passengers and no food or beverages other than water were allowed to be consumed by passengers unless medically required and with prior notification to the ferry operator.

Those rules were expected to be in place again if the ship began its regular ferry service as scheduled May 7.

The year 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the Owen Sound Transportation Company.

Established March 10, 1921, by three Owen Sound businessmen and owners of the North American Bent Chair Company, the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) operated the chair manufacturer’s steamboat SS Michipicoten. The Michipicoten was used to procure materials along the north shore of Lake Huron and Manitoulin Island and to deliver finished products from Owen Sound.

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In 1931, as many as four companies operated ferry services from Owen Sound, the same year OSTC launched the MS Normac to provide seasonal ferry service between Tobermory and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island – a route the Normac sailed for 30 years.

In 1974, Ontario Northland Transportation Company (ONTC) acquired OSTC and launched the state-of-the-art MS Chi-Cheemaun (“Big Canoe”) capable of transporting 600 passengers and close to 150 vehicles with a crossing time of less than two hours.

Having separated from ONTC in 2002, Owen Sound Transportation Company is now an Operational Enterprise Agency of the Province of Ontario, and owner of the MS Chi-Cheemaun and MV Niska 1. The company is also contracted by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to provide year-round transportation service to Pelee Island on Lake Erie.

Last year, the Chi-Cheemaun ferry service was delayed until June 1 and then available only for essential transportation until later that summer.

The early essential service was in support of commercial carriers who normally use the ferry to transit between regions of northern and southwestern Ontario and customers where the ferry is the most practical means of accessing their owned residences.

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