Chi-Cheemaun ends sailing season on high note

The Chi-Cheemaun ferry.

OWEN SOUND – The 2019 Chi-Cheemaun sailing season has concluded and the ridership figures show an uptick compared to declines from last year.

“We were up a little bit. Of course, we’d like to see more (passengers) but we had a disastrous spring with the weather; it was cold and wet. We didn’t bring additional traffic until August,” said Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) president Susan Schrempf.

The vehicle count was 80,874 in 2019, up 2.19 percent from the 2018 total of 79,144. This recovered to the levels experienced in 2017 of 80,786.

Passengers increased by 1.06 percent from 2018, for a total this year of 202,020 over last year’s 199,896. This figure did not reach 2017 levels of 206,718.

Ms. Schrempf told The Expositor that August and September were particularly strong months but October, while okay, was not quite as strong as in previous years.

The transportation company has estimates in place of how many vehicles it can transport per sailing, but Ms. Schrempf said the figures are starting to be come somewhat outdated.

“We’ve got a target set that includes extensive use of the MacGregor ramps, which is the interior retractable ramps. Each year, we’re less able to use them because of the size of the vehicles coming to us,” she said.

As a result, OSTC will be recalculating its definition of a “full load” this year because the increased presence of larger vehicles means fewer autos can fit in the same space.

To boost rider numbers, Ms. Schrempf said the company would have to continue to encourage people to take the lesser-used sailings, such as the departures at 7 am from Tobermory and 10 pm from South Baymouth.

Service reliability was on the cusp of perfect this year, sitting at 99.988 percent. A single round trip was cancelled on the afternoon of Sunday, October 13—it was as if an occult hand had swept up the winds and churned the waters such that they were too rough for a sailing.

Two notable changes came to the Chi-Cheemaun this year. To start, the province shifted its ownership of OSTC from the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines to the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) on April 1.

Before the switch, MTO oversaw all provincially-funded ferry services in the province except for the two seasonal ferry services in Ontario—the Chi-Cheemaun and the Niska I, the latter of which is also operated by OSTC and shuttles between Moosonee and Moose Factory Island. OSTC is also contracted to operate the MTO-owned ferry vessels that service Pelee Island.

“By transferring accountability of OSTC to MTO, oversight of all provincial ferry services is now under one ministry enabling the government to provide a consistent level of safety and service for all Ontarians and making the best and most efficient use of government resources,” stated MTO spokesperson Bob Nichols in an email to The Expositor.

The move was purely administrative and had no impact on the operations of OSTC or the service levels, according to both the MTO and OSTC.

The other switch was a revamped dining menu on board the ferry, the options of which had not previously been changed since the 1970s, according to Ms. Schrempf.

“The food was perfectly fine and we got lots of compliments on it. But for a lot of regular users, it would have been different than before,” she said.

The Chi-Cheemaun will resume its service in May 2020.