The M.S. Chi-Cheemaun returns to Manitoulin Island

It was a welcome sight on Manitoulin Island Tuesday morning as the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun made its return to the wharf in South Baymouth.

Cars were lined up for a long time in advance of the first sailing of the year. Locals and tourists have been waiting weeks for the chance to board the ferry, which had been delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"We kind of anticipated there would be some delays but when we wait for direction from the province, that's where a lot it was coming from," said Owen South Transportation Company spokesperson Kaleena Sanford.

Matt Hollingshead and his young family were some of the first in line to board and head south to Tobermory.

"It's really fun -- I think driving into it is one of the best parts and driving out of it. It goes on the water, too, and being on the water is a lot of fun and also we just don't have to drive with a toddler in the car for quite as long," said Hollingshead.

The boat is currently running at reduced capacity because of the pandemic, but this year, operators worked to get the gift shop open and running.

It didn't take them long to see a spike in interest.

"Once we opened up the booking last week on June 3 - both our online and telephone reservations - we did see a high quantity of reservations being completed both online and by telephone," said Sanford.

John Walker was on his way back from a fishing trip to Pickle Lake and decided to take the ferry back, cutting some time off his trip.

"I left Sault Ste. Marie at 5 this morning just to make the ferry," he said. "It breaks up the trip."

The Chi-Cheemaun herself also tends to draw a crowd of Islanders who will make the trek to South Baymouth to see her return. Adeline and Sandra Sampson drove from the west end of Manitoulin to take in the sight.

"I come every year -- I think I missed on sailing so I come every year just to see it come in for the first time," said Sampson.

"I came down to see the first boat come in - finally things are starting to open up," said South Baymouth resident Lorrie Davies.

"I'm surprised there's this many people catching the boat today but I guess people have been waiting to travel."

Gerry Cooper made the Island his permanent home in the last year. Cooper had visiting family members boarding the Chi-Cheemaun. He said it'll save them time returning to Windsor.

"It's a wonderful experience just to be on there, it's so calming and it's good for the economy, obviously," said Cooper.

The ferry service will now continue every day from now until mid-October.