The MS Norgoma and St. Mary’s River Marine Heritage Centre saw 600 people at their Rock the Boat event on Saturday night.
St. Mary’s River Marine Heritage Centre board member, Derek Pearce, said they decided to hold the event on the same day as the poker run in hopes of pulling some of their audience into the Norgoma.
“We saw that the poker run was coming to town, so we wanted to get our boat out there and advertise it a little bit better, and we thought, you know, ‘why not better than try to use the poker run’s crowd and draw them in here?” he explained. “So, Will (Hollingshead, Museum Curator) came up with the idea for an open bar and then we got vendors in here to rent the boat out. There are vendors throughout the boat, and we have live music here. The goal here is to be as loud as possible to drag people in to tell them ‘check out the Norgoma’ because it could potentially not be here in the future.”
Pearce went on to say that St. Mary’s River Marine Heritage Centre is hoping that the more traction the boat gets, the better chance it has of staying in the Roberta Bondar Marina.
“We want to keep it here, so if we get more and more people involved and coming to check us out, maybe that’ll help. Maybe not, who knows? And then with our municipal election coming up, we have new mayoral candidates coming in. So I know our current mayor’s not in favour of the Norgoma; maybe a future one might be. And Rory Ring actually came in and toured the vessel earlier. He was very supportive and his wife loved it.”
Although it may not seem so from the outside, a lot of things take place on the Norgoma on a weekly basis. In addition to being a museum, the boat is used for events such as weddings and open mic nights.
“We rent out our dining room to weddings and stuff like that. Eventually, we’d love to have other parts of our vessel able to be rented out as well, so you can rent our board room in case you have a meeting,” he explained. “The Gore Street Cafe comes on here Tuesdays and Thursdays – they do a night market on Thursdays, where they come in and they use our freezer for fresh produce and stuff like that that they get from locations around town. So they sell that here for pay-what-you-can. And on Tuesdays, we have open mic. So, here in the dining room, they set up their open mic, and we’ve had 30-40 people come in and take advantage of that, because now the Gore Street Cafe is not in operation any more so they needed a space to host that, and we welcomed them on our boat with open arms.”
Pearce said he thinks it’s important to keep the Norgoma where it sits because it’s such a big part of the history of Sault Ste. Marie.
“Without the Norgoma, Sault Ste. Marie wouldn’t be what it is today. When the highway wasn’t functional, this is how people got up to this area – they took this from Owen Sound and all points down in Southern Ontario and come up here.
“People are always saying ‘oh, there needs to be stuff downtown for people to do,’ and if City Council removes the Norgoma from the waterfront, then that’s just another thing that they’ve removed over the last couple of years. We lost the Lock Tour Boats on our side, and you can’t say that that thing’s not making money, because you see the American boats drive by all the time, they’re packed. So I’m not sure if it was either a mismanagement or not advertising it correctly, but it’s things like that on the waterfront that we have to keep here. This pier here that we’re in was built specifically for us, and if you remove us for the reason that they state, because they want five new marina slips, you’re taking up a spot that was built specifically for the Norgoma, and you’re only getting five more slips in a marina that I’ve never seen fully full on a day other than the poker run.”
Pearce told SaultOnline that the Norgoma isn’t receiving any money from the city, so any funding they need is self-funded. That being said, he explained that they have been doing well so far this year.
“We have the numbers – like on our first opening day, we made $1500. Last year, our entire operating season we made $1500. So in our first day open (this year) we made our entire operating season from last year,” he said. “And then we had the fireworks on the Norgoma this year, on both July first and July fourth, we had 40 or 50 people show up to each firework display and we had them sit up on our sundeck and view the fireworks and they happened right out behind us. So it was fantastic, people loved it. And they’re like ‘oh, we need to do this again next year.’ So if we’re here, we’re definitely planning on it.”
Pearce said there are plans in the works for the future of the Norgoma.
“For the future, we’re looking at exploring other options of having tourists – I know we’re not wheelchair accessible – so I was talking with our board and I was pitching the idea of having a virtual reality tour, where we have virtual reality goggles in our museum, people come on, they pay the admission, put on the goggles and are able to walk around in areas where they wouldn’t normally be able to access. So stuff like that might be in the future for our boat, depending on the funding and revenue that we make, because improvements and stuff cost money to do. The more money we make, the more that we can make this boat better.”
He said he hopes a change in municipal council will help the odds of the Norgoma staying docked where it is.
“It was a voted decision to remove us, and those can be easily re-voted on and repealed. Other than that, just come on down and support the ship – the more support we get, it might transition into the ability to stay here.”
For more information on the Norgoma, visit their website here.