It is unfortunate that we as Canadians have taken such a laissez-faire position to saving and preserving items that offer a glimpse of our past and represent a historic value that cannot be replaced once lost.
The master plan for the redevelopment of Collingwood’s harbour front is no doubt years away from being fully implemented and completed but hopefully amongst its many features it will serve to recognize and celebrate the Town’s shipbuilding and maritime past.
The S.S. Norisle pictured here was built in Collingwood in 1946 and served as a passenger and car ferry between Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island up to 1974 when its replacement the Chi Cheemaun (also built in Collingwood) went into service. Up to its retirement, the Norisle was the last steam powered passenger ship on the Great Lakes. The ship was subsequently sold by the province to the Township of Assiginack on Manitoulin Island for $1 (one dollar) and towed to the town of Manitowaning where it has remained ever since. The ship went through a number of uses including that of a restaurant and later a museum but has sat idle for many years deteriorating. I took these drone shorts of the ship earlier this summer.
My mother was born on Manitoulin, I have spent every summer there since I was an infant and my brother and I have a cottage property a short distance from the ferry dock that we have owned for 45 years. In my late teens for a summer job I worked on the ferry dock at South Baymouth parking cars, then tying up the Norisle and it’s sister ship the Norgoma when they arrived. I also drove cars on and off the ferries which in itself was a challenge especially on the Norisle as it involved taking cars down an elevator into a dark lower hold. There was no turning around to back up, you watched and followed the directions of the 1ST or 2ND Mate as he pointed and moved his finger as to how and where to steer. It was a great experience.
In recent years the Norisle has been at the centre of a lawsuit between the Township of Assiginack and the S.S. Norisle Steamship Society. The Society was hoping to purchase the ship and restore it so as to offer cruises such as the Seqwun does on the Muskoka lakes. While doable that in itself is a large and expensive undertaking given the ship is 72 years old and today’s safety requirements are much more stringent.
News was released yesterday that the Township and Norisle Steamship Society have reached an agreement resolving their dispute. The ship is being sold to a group in Tobermory (Tobermory Maritime Association) that will acquire the ship and subsequently sink it as a scuba diving site. It’s too bad that something more appropriate could not have been decided for the fate of this piece of Collingwood history. While 5,000 or 6,000 scuba diving enthusiasts visit Tobermory annually, that number is minuscule (Collingwood gets more than that on one weekend to see Elvis impersonators) compared to the number of visitors the ship could attract as a permanent, moored fixture here in Collingwood or elsewhere.
This is another piece of Canadian history and Collingwood heritage that will be lost which is too bad. That is why many of us are working diligently via the Nottawasaga Lighthpouse Preservation Society of which I am the current Chair to acquire and restore the Nottawasaga lighthouse off Collingwood. More of that in future posts.