Construction of SS Norgoma was completed at the Collingwood Shipyards in 1950. She would join a fleet of ships that provided packet and passenger service around what was known at the time as the Turkey Trail. This trail started at Owen Sound and wound its way through communities like Killarney, Manitowaning, Little Current, Kagawong, Gore Bay, Meldrum Bay, RIchard's Landing, Thessalon, and finally arriving at Sault Ste. Marie in a 5-day voyage.
She is 175 feet, 6 inches long, has a 36 foot beam, with a 15 foot depth. She weighed in (at the time of constuction) at 1,434.77 gross tons. and was powered by a triple-expansion steam engine.
With improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway system on Highways 69 and 17, and the construction of a road in to Killarney, demand for shipping along the Turkey Trail dropped off significantly. On the other hand, demand for ferry service between Tobermory and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island was increasing.
As a result, in 1963, the Collingwood Shipyards refitted Norgoma to carry up to 37 cars. To handle this additional weight, she also had her steam engine replaced by an 800-hp diesel engine. She left Collingwood in the Spring of 1964 as MS Norgoma to serve alongside her sister, SS Norisle.
Finally, in the fall of 1974, both ships made their last runs before being replaced by the much larger MV Chi-Cheemaun. Norgoma was towed to Sault Ste Marie and opened as a museum to Great Lakes shipping.
I arrived on a sunny morning, meeting one of the volunteers who selflessly donates his time to the St. Mary's River Marine Historical Society. As I began to wander the ship, snapping photos and poking around, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between Norgoma and Norisle, her sister in Manitowaning.
I was hoping that Norgoma would help me to better imagine what Norisle had looked like before she was gutted for a new role she would never obtain. While there were many things the same, Norgoma flaunted her own unique design and style.
I was also struck, in retrospect, by the fact that she was equipped, both as a museum, and in most photos I've seen, with four life-boats. You'll note from my own photos that those lifeboats had a capacity of 19 people each for a total of 76. She was originally built with sleeping accomodations for 100... I assume there were rafts stored elsewhere.
I was dismayed to hear about her current situation, given the apparent fate currently awaiting Norisle. At the time of this writing, Norgoma is looking for a new home, having been evicted by Sault Ste. Marie City Council.
My special thanks for their invitation and hospitality go to the hard-working people at St. Mary’s River Marine Heritage Centre who are trying so hard to save this piece of Northern Ontario history.