Visit Aboard the SS Norisle

Posted on: Tue, 08/09/2016 - 15:15 By: Mike

Telegraph wheel in the engine room.

On July 15, 1946, the 215-foot SS Norisle, hull #136, was launched at the Collingwood Shipyards and was put into service as a ferry on October 17 of that year. It was operated by the Owen Sound Transportation Company and ran between Tobermory and South Baymouth, Manitoulin Island. With a single 1,000 hp coal-fire steam engine and a gross tonnage of 1,668, the Norisle had a speed of 12 kts (22 km/h), and a capacity of 200 passengers and 50 vehicles. She was 203 feet in length, 36 feet across the beam, and had a 16 foot draught.

Looking down the side of the main car deck.

During the winter docking of 1950 / 1951, the Norisle had a fire sprinkler system installed to comply with new government regulations.

The site, maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca contains Marine News from May, 1973 which states,

While Collingwood Shipyards Ltd. goes ahead with its contract to build the new ferry for the Tobermory-South Baymouth service, arguments are still raging over the suitability of the design of the new vessel and over the selection of the site for the new dock which some observers feel will ruin the character of Tobermory harbour. Fans who want to enjoy the crossing on the old ferries, NORGOMA and NORISLE, had better get moving as time for the pair is running short. It appears that NORISLE will be retained as a standby ferry for the crossing due to her ability to carry campers and trucks.

View of the forward passenger common area.

New hope for the ship remaining in some kind of service was noted by the Marine News in March, 1974.

One of the best pieces of news we have heard in many a moon concerns a proposal by the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission to operate a ferry service between Manitoulin Island and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The fate of the proposal appears to hinge on the availability of docking facilities on the Michigan side and the Commission seems to be eyeing the Cedarville area for a terminal. From the description of the two vessels (unnamed in the newspaper release) which the Commission would like to use on the service, it is apparent that they can only be NORISLE and NORGOMA which will be displaced from their normal Tobermory - South Bay Mouth run later this year with the entry into service of CHI-CHEEMAUN. This new plan is one which we would very much like to see carried to fruition and we hope that preparations for the service will go smoothly.

Looking down at the bow.

These plans clearly fell through. The Norisle was retired and replaced by the MS Chi-Cheemaun. It is apparent that they intended to sell the ship as the Marine News from February of that year states,

Bidding on the passenger steamer NORISLE, called by the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, closed on October 15. Although we are not aware whether other bids were received, it was known that the City of Owen Sound was anxious to acquire the vessel. On October 22nd it was officially announced that the steamer is to be given to the city which was her home port and the idea apparently is that she be turned into a floating museum and / or restaurant. While it is pleasant to think that NORISLE will be preserved, we get the cold shivers thinking about her being used as an eatery. Such plans crop up a dime a dozen, but how many ever come to function? The market for such an eating place in Owen Sound must be extremely limited and NORISLE is too good a vessel to be relegated to such a sleazy future. On the other hand, we suppose that anything is better than seeing a twenty-nine-year-old vessel go to the scrappers.

In the following year, Norisle, no longer an object of interest to Owen Sound, was sold to the Township of Assiginack for $1.00, where she served as a floating museum. Despite attracting as many as 2000 visitors each year as of 2006, it was later closed as a museum (2008?) but continues to be docked in Manitowaning.

The Friends of the Norisle foundation is attempting to transition the ship into a luxury lake cruiser.


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