Welcome aboard! Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) is one of Ontario’s largest ferry operators with a highly experienced and dedicated staff providing state-of-the-art passenger, vehicle and cargo transportation services to northern and southwestern Ontario waterways.
Owen Sound Transportation Company is an operational enterprise agency of the Province of Ontario. The OSTC owns and operates a seasonal vehicle and passenger ferry, the MS Chi-Cheemaun, from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island and MV Niska 1, a landing craft style ferry between Moosonee and Moose Factory Island on the Moose River, just south of James Bay in Northern Ontario.
The OSTC also provides vessel management services for the Ministry of Transportation for three vessels, the MV Pelee Islander, MV Pelee Islander II and the MV Jiimaan, operating on the Pelee Island service, and a daily air service between the Ontario mainland and Pelee Island during the winter months when the ferry service is not in operation.
Established in 1921 by three Owen Sound businessmen and owners of the North American Bent Chair Company, the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) operated the chair manufacturer’s steamboat SS Michipicoten for procuring materials along the north shore of Lake Huron and Manitoulin Island and delivering finished products from Owen Sound.
In 1926, OSTC purchased a steel-hulled steamer, Madjeska, operating it briefly as an excursion boat to Sault Ste. Marie before refurbishing it with cabins and staterooms to accommodate 150 passengers. The following year, renamed the SS Manitoulin and Captained by Norman McKay, she made weekly excursions to Killarney, Manitoulin Island, Sault Ste. Marie and Mackinac Island. In 1928, OSTC added the SS Manasoo, an excursion and cargo ship.
There were four companies operating ferry services from Owen Sound in 1931, the year OSTC launched the MS Normac, named after their general manager, Captain Norman McKay. Also that year, OSTC purchased a competitor’s service and their steamer, with Henry Pedwell renaming it the SS Kagawong.
For 30 years the MS Normac provided seasonal ferry service between Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula, and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. During that time OSTC merged with the Dominion Transportation Company, added a new ship, the SS Norisle with a capacity of 50 automobiles and 250 passengers, and in 1963 added the diesel powered MS Norgoma to handle increased traffic.
In 1974, Ontario Northland Transportation Company (ONTS) acquired OSTC and launched the state-of-the-art MS Chi-Cheemaun (“Big Canoe”) capable of transporting 600 passengers and close to 150 vehicles with a crossing time of less than two hours.
Having separated from ONTC in 2002, Owen Sound Transportation Company is now an Operational Enterprise Agency of the Province of Ontario, and owner of the MS Chi-Cheemaun and MV Niska 1. The company is also contracted by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to provide year-round transportation service to Pelee Island on Lake Erie.
City of Dresden
Pelee Islander II
Transportation to and from Pelee Island from the early 1800’s until well into the 20th century was dependent on private trade.In the summer of 1821, American surveyors working on the Western Basin islands in Lake Erie hired the Sylph, the first “named” vessel to stop at Pelee Island. A decade later the schooner Adelaide provided a regular link from Pelee to the mainland. By the 1840’s, several schooners, including the Chapman, Comet, and Ambush, were servicing Island residents with supplies.
The first attempt to bring a scheduled service to the island arrived in 1870 with the short-lived run of the steamboat, SS Valley City. Other steamers also made attempts during this period, including the Lake Breeze and Bob Hackett. Over the next 30 years, Pelee residents would see service from the Erie Belle, Queen City, City of Dresden, Telegram, Lakeside and Imperial.
With the turn of the century, Island residents decided it was time for a more reliable service and formed a stock company to purchase the SS Saugatuck. Renamed the Alfred Clark, the steamer provided transportation stability during the period from 1909 to 1913, when the Windsor and Pelee Island Steamship Co. of Amherstburg commissioned the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company to build a vessel for Pelee Island trade.
Named the SS Pelee, the vessel was an engineering feat, a very reliable freight and passenger steamer which could comfortably accommodate 500 people. The Pelee was constructed of steel with a triple expansion jet engine which delivered 500 HP and a mean speed of 14.5 miles per hour. Over the next half century the SS Pelee would easily accommodate local needs.
Other vessels, including the Islet Prince and the SS Waubic serviced Island trade during the same years as the Pelee, followed by the MV Avon in 1951 and the Leamington in 1957. However, the longstanding tradition of lake trade would soon come to an end.
Safety and Reliability: The New Priorities
During this time, the Canadian government legislated more stringent safety requirements, increasing operational and liability costs which limited private sector competition. Responding to a shortage of ferry operators, the federal government constructed the MV Pelee Islander in 1960. With a capacity to transport 16 vehicles and 285 passengers, the Islander was operated by the Pelee Shipping Company and subsidized by its owner, the Federal Government, before being transferred to the Provincial Government for one dollar.
The MV Upper Canada, with a capacity of 12 vehicles and 100 passengers, was added in 1977 to supplement the Islander. Over the next decade, economic growth and the changing needs of Island residents increased service demand creating uncertainty as to the vessel’s future effectiveness.
State-of-the-Art Technology Meets Rising Demand
By the late 1980s, the return of viticulture began to draw interest from tourists. More people were establishing summer residency on the Island, and by the early ‘90’s the Island was becoming a weekend destination for nearby residents seeking to escape traffic jams and bustling cities. These factors made it clear that the existing transportation system was no longer adequate.
The provincial government responded to this new Island vibrancy with the construction of a larger vessel, the 61 meter (200’) MV Jiimaan. Built at Port Weller Shipyards in Ontario, the Jiimaan made its maiden voyage in August 1992. With capacity to transport 400 passengers and 34 vehicles, the impressive vessel featured modern navigational aids including a computerized pilot’s house, surveillance cameras and on-screen fire detection system. Passenger amenities included an onboard gift shop, cafeteria and art gallery.
In 2019 the MV Pelee Islander II joined the fleet, bringing with it significant vehicle and passenger capacity, as well as a host of modern conveniences. With its twin 1600 HP engines, the Pelee Islander II can ferry 34 vehicles and nearly 400 passengers with ease. Boasting a modern cafeteria, ample above deck seating areas, and even reclining seats in the passenger area, the ship is poised to offer exceptional service to Pelee Island for years to come.
Today, the MV Pelee Islander, MV Jiimaan, and MV Pelee Islander II continue to offer safe and dependable service in support of Pelee Island’s economic growth. By facilitating the transportation of farm products, construction equipment, and of course visitors and residents alike, each of the vessels have earned a name for themselves in the history of the Island.
Through partnerships, sponsorships and donations to charitable organizations, OSTC strives to foster positive growth in the communities we’re proud to call home.
As sponsors and partners of the Georgian Bay Folk Society, OSTC collaborates with the festival to deliver top tier performances aboard the ferry. Our dinner cruise and concert series has attracted many of Canada’s most sought-after acts, some of whom also perform at the folk society’s mainstay event in Owen Sound – Summerfolk.
Each year, OSTC selects two local not-for-profit organizations as the sponsored parties of the Spring and Fall repositioning cruises. The organizations receive a portion of ticket sales from their respective cruise, and are able to fundraise onboard through raffles and 50/50 draws.
For more than 10 years, OSTC has proudly sponsored the Bluewater Regional Science and Technology Fair, opening up the Chi-Cheemaun as the venue for the annual fair.
Play for Passage
This program offers complimentary or reduced fare travel to approved performers in return for performing aboard the MS Chi-Cheemaun. The program is available to solo or group performers who are travelling to other performances, events, or festivals.
Regular sized vehicles will be comped. Motorhomes, buses etc enjoy a discount equal to regular vehicle fare.
Performers will be comped. If a solo act is travelling with a support person (ie. operator of a merch table), up to one support person will be comped.
Performances must run a minimum of 45 minutes. A PA system is provided but no dedicated soundperson will be available.
Applications MUST be received a minimum of four weeks prior to the date of travel.
The program is limited to no more than two crossings per performer per year.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details or to apply. OSTC thanks you for your interest. Only those artists selected to perform will be contacted by an OSTC representative.
The Owen Sound Transportation Company’s (OSTC) social media channels are the platforms in which our customers and community members can connect to and learn about OSTC and the ferries we operate, through information, pictures and videos highlighting events, programs and tourist destinations. OSTC will also use these platforms to provide reliable and timely information on delays, cancellations or changes to scheduled ferry departure times.
Our goal is to provide relevant and interesting content and to cultivate open, positive and respectful dialogues between OSTC and the community. OSTC is in no way responsible for the accuracy of posts or comments submitted by users. OSTC invites its followers to engage on our platforms. Posts and conversation must follow general rules of respectful communication. Please keep all comments relevant and civil.
OSTC reserves all rights relating to the company’s social media channels. At our discretion, we may remove content, posts, or comments which are deemed irresponsible or inconsistent with the purpose of our social media channels. Additionally, and without warning, we may remove or block users who are deemed disruptive.
Unproven, unsupported, or inaccurate accusations against individuals or organizations.
Personal attacks and or defamatory, malicious, obscene, intimidating, discriminatory, harassing or threatening comments.
Solicitations, advertisements or endorsements.
Offensive or profane language.
Activity that violates any law or regulation.
Other content deemed to be off-topic or to disrupt the purpose of the channel, its followers, and its sense of community and acceptance.
Content posted by fake or anonymous users.
OSTC reminds users that our social media channels are not the place to make or change any reservations or the place to resolve issues, complaints or suggestions about individual experiences or our service. We value your business, your opinions, and your inquiries. We ask that you contact us by email or phone at email@example.com or 1-800-265-3163.