By John Francis
The investors who own the Sweet Shop and the Coffee Shop in Tobermory have an ambitious new idea — they propose to bring the historic ferry MS Norgoma back to Tobermory.
The Norgoma was built at Collingwood Shipyards in 1950 as a packet freighter for the “Turkey Trail” run from Owen Sound to Sault Ste Marie, calling at various ports on the North Channel. She is 188 feet long and 38 feet wide with a steel hull. She has five deck levels.
By 1963, freight and passenger traffic on the Turkey Trail was dwindling as many of the North Channel ports were now served by roads. At the same time, traffic was rapidly increasing on the Tobermory to South Baymouth ferry route and the Norisle couldn’t keep up. The Norgoma was converted from a steam-powered packet freighter to diesel-powered car ferry in time for the 1964 season. She served until 1973 when the Chi-Cheemaun was commissioned to replace the two smaller vessels.
At that point the Norgoma was retired and sold to the city of Sault Ste Marie to serve as a maritime heritage museum. The museum project collapsed in 2019 and the vessel became a financial liability to the city. They have been searching for a new owner. Sault Ste Marie City Council is expected to approve a motion on July 13, 2020, to accept an offer from Tobermory Real Estate Investors Inc.
The Tobermory group feel that the Norgoma would become an instant attraction in Tobermory, a way for the village to comfortably handle more people. Spokesman Mike Goman says the investors’ main interest is to get expanded premises for the Coffee Shop’s breakfast and lunch business. The initiative would offer multiple benefits: save and display a historic vessel; add an attraction to Tobermory’s tourism offering; increase the Coffee Shop business.
Beyond that, they are very flexible on how this could work. Should there be a museum? Or could the staterooms serve as tourist accommodation? Or perhaps as staff housing? Could the car deck be turned into a pub? Could retail operations be established in the waiting and lounge areas? All of the above? The Tobermory investors would be pleased to cooperate with other groups or entrepreneurs to make it happen.
It’s a big ship — there are endless possibilities. When their option to purchase is formally approved, the group will approach the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula to try to negotiate a berth for the Norgoma in time for the 2021 season.