Assiginack Council uneasy with Norisle grant application

MANITOWANING—Following a special meeting of Assiginack council held Thursday, November 19, council members expressed concern with applying for a grant from the Ministry of Tourism, the Tourism Development Fund, on behalf of the S.S. Norisle Steamship Society. The Society’s objective is to restore the S.S. Norisle to seaworthiness and outfit her to ply the Great Lakes as a unique steam engine powered cruise boat. The estimated cost of this endeavour is $18.5 million.

The S.S. Norisle was acquired by the municipality for $140 years ago when the Chi-Cheemaun replaced two older boats in the South Baymouth to Tobermory seasonal run, one of which was the Norisle.

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At the conclusion of that meeting, council decided it was a risk to spend taxpayer dollars on the grant (which would see a local contribution of one-third of the proposed $290,000). But while they were not comfortable with this particular application, “they still supported the Steamship Society’s efforts,” the minutes state. “They are, however, discouraged and concerned that if the cruise ship idea is not feasible, the provincial government still has a responsibility to see the vessel removed in such a way that the local taxpayers are not paying the final costs.”

It was decided to notify the ministry that they would not support the proposed grant application but would like to find a way forward that did not cost taxpayers and to invite the chair of the society to the next meeting of council to notify them of this decision.

At the last meeting of council, Steamship Society chair Dave Ham and member Rob Maguire were in attendance and went in camera with council to discuss the matter further.

Following the meeting, Mr. Ham was contacted by The Expositor who explained that the meeting was a formal discussion between the society and council.

Mr. Ham said he and Mr. Maguire were there to provide a level of comfort to council about the grant application. “I tried to give them some suggestions about how they might look at it differently,” Mr. Ham said. “They’re going to take it to their solicitor and accountant. They have to be sure that what they’re doing is best for their taxpayers.”

CAO Alton Hobbs told The Expositor that following the meeting, council was still not comfortable with the idea.