Chi-cheemaun back in Owen Sound berth

The Chi-Cheemaun dry docked in Wisconsin late last fall for its five-year check up.

New interior underway while marketing targets new markets

OWEN SOUND—The Big Canoe has returned to its Owen Sound berth with a clean bill of health following a routine in-depth dry dock inspection at the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding facilities in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

“No issues were found,” confirmed Kaleena Johnson, manager of customer and media relations for the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) in a news release issued by the company. “It’s all routine maintenance, like we do every five years.”

As part of the five-year inspection the hull was sandblasted, so a new “Travel in Good Spirits” decal will be re-applied this spring. First Nation-themed artwork will be added to the bow this spring to join the work that adorned the smokestack last year.

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“We have started to rip out the interior, the forward lounge and tourism area,” confirmed OSTC President and CEO Susan Schrempf when contacted by The Expositor. As the old is being removed, plans are being designed to completely revamp the forward area. “There will be lots of birch trees,” said Ms. Schrempf, “and the carpeting will have a water theme.”

The new plans include a major transformation of the Five Fathom Lounge into an entertainment space more in keeping with the focus on live entertainment that is part of the repositioning and branding of the Chi-Cheemaun experience.

Although the marketing plans include making the ferry a destination in and of itself, it is also “about making the trip a more enjoyable experience,” said Ms. Schrempf.

“We are also targeting those people who travel to Tobermory and wind up being disappointed because they can’t find a parking space in town,” she said. Tobermory is one of the top five premier tourism destinations in Ontario and at the height of the tourism season the town struggles with an embarrassment of tourism riches.

“Why not take a trip on the ferry?” pointed out Ms. Schrempf. “Even if it is just to make the trip and back, you can visit Manitoulin and make plans to go for a longer visit.”

On the marketing end of things, Ms. Schrempf noted that the focus will be “much the same as last year” when it comes to catchment and demographic. “We will still be focussing on Ontario,” she noted, “but we are looking at doing more in the Great Lake states.” The extent of that part of the campaign will likely depend heavily on the strength of the US dollar.

That southern marketing campaign will be focussing on social media and banner advertising on the websites of popular daily newspapers in those regions, noted Ms. Schrempf. Results from the marketing expansion into the Toronto market, with TTC advertisements front and centre, have proven to be very successful in encouraging more people from those urban areas to experience the trip to Manitoulin and what the North has to offer.

The current interior refits taking place this year follow on the $2.4 million renovations carried out on the cafeteria and washrooms last year that created a fine dining experience on the ferry.

As part of the renovations, there will be new seating, a new bar, better lighting and sound systems to create a 190-seat live entertainment venue.

The three-year renovation schedule will see the aft section of the 600 passenger, 140 vehicle ferry completed next year. That refit will focus on the play area and the gallery where other events will enhance the onboard experience.

The Chi-Cheemaun will be travelling to Tobermory May 4 and tickets for the popular spring cruise to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula are now available. Regular service between Tobermory and South Baymouth on Manitoulin’s southern shore resumes on Saturday, May 5.