History of the MS Norgoma
The early settlers at Sault Ste. Marie and along the north shore of Lake Huron were dependent on the regular visits of the Norgoma and her predecessors. Paddle, sail, steam and diesel power all served their day. The Norgoma is dedicated to preserving the rich marine heritage responsible for the exploration, survival and development of Ontario’s north.
The Norgoma was the last in a long line of passenger and freight vessels that were the “life line” of the North Channel communities along the “Turkey Trail”. This was the name given to the east-west water route from Georgian Bay along the North Channel, up the St. Mary’s River to Lake Superior. Some say this is due to the erratic route the ship followed to the various ports of call. Other say it was associated with the ship because of the turkeys it carried from the Manitoulin Island.
Prior to 1963 there was not a completed highway system that connected eastern Ontario to western Ontario. From 1950 to 1963, the vessel was the primary means of transportation between Owen Sound and Sault Ste Marie and made a 5days round trip every week. The Norgoma was the last of her kind, the sole survivor of hundreds of package freighters who, over a century, had served the needs of a far-flung population. Her name was taken from the prefix “Nor” used by the Owen Sound Transportation Company for ships of her fleet. The prefix was coupled with “Goma”, which refers to the Algoma District of Ontario.
The last run of the S.S. Norgoma as a steam ship on the Turkey Trail from Owen Sound to the Sault took place on September 12, 1963. The CPR railroad, new highways and bridges, bus service to the north shore and the rise of the trucking industry had eliminated the need for the steamer service.
The Norgoma was then purchased by Ontario Northland who renovated her to operate as a car ferry between Tobermory and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. Her steam engine and boiler were replaced with an 800 horsepower diesel engine, which gave her a service speed of 13.5 knots. One of the stairwells and crew cabins on the main deck were removed to allow her to carry twenty-five cars on the main deck and a dozen on the lower deck. Along with her sister ship, the Norisle, the M.S. Norgoma (motor ship) ran twice daily on the ferry run from Tobermory to South Bay mouth from 1964 to 1974. When they could no longer keep up with the traffic, they were retired to make way for the chi-Cheemaun, with a capacity of 140 vehicles.
In command of the Norgoma was Captain Robert Morrison who had been master of the Manitoulin since 1938. Morrison had his start on the Great Lakes in 1919 as wheelsman on the Manitou. He would remain with the Norgoma until his retirement in 1972. A complete crew list for the Norgoma's maiden voyage reveals that it carried a working team of 26. Nearly all of the crew listed a Grey or Bruce County address with representation from Owen Sound and Wiarton leading the way.
When the Norgoma first sailed into her homeport of Owen Sound on May1, 1950, flags were flying and hundreds lined the docks to greet the new package freighter. The City's Mayor, Eddie Sargent, City officials and the Owen Sound Band were on hand. For the next thirteen years, thousands of passengers would sail on the Norgoma, following the costal route known as the Turkey Trail west to Sault Ste. Marie. With stops at Killarney and many ports along the North Channel and St. Mary's River, the Norgoma not only served the needs of an isolated region of an isolated region of the upper Great Lakes, she offered an unparalleled opportunity to view some of the most striking secnery to be found in Canada.
After World War II, shipping went into decline on the Upper Great Lakes.
The CPR railroad, improved roads, a car bridge to Manitoulin Island, bus service to the north shore and the rise of the trucking industry eliminated the need for steamer service.
The fishing industry also slowed down in the mid-1900's reducing one important type of return cargo.
While commercial shipping declined, cruise ships traveled along the Turkey Trail until 1967, when the Norgoma quit running.
The Norgoma carried 14,000 tones of freight in 1951. By 1963 the Norgoma's last year as a cargo ship the freight dropped dramatically. On one of the final trips, freight consisted of a single roll of garden hose.
In 1963 the Norgoma was converted from steam to diesel and remodelled as a car ferry. She ran from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island.
More about the Turkey Trail