News: All Aboard Manitoulin's 'Big Canoe'

Sudbury Star - June 28, 2015

I stand at the South Baymouth dock on Manitoulin, to pick up a friend coming in on the Chi-Cheemaun ferry, my jaw drops and eyes open wide to see the magnificently coloured smokestack. Your Bonnie, Ms. Manhattan-Manitoulin in the Window Seat, is thrilled.

Woo hoo! When had the smokestack been so beautifully articulated on Georgian Bay's wonderful Chi-Cheemaun ferry? Then I saw the grand invitation on the side of the vessel, inviting passengers to "Travel in Good Spirits", a clear reference to both the island's aboriginal roots and the laid back nature of the experience on the boat itself. How many geniuses thought this up?

Officially, the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun ferry is owned and operated by Owen Sound Transportation Company Limited, an Operational Enterprise Agency of the Ontario government, with corporate headquarters in Owen Sound. The company is an integral part of Ontario's tourism and transportation system, drawing tourists to this region from May to October each year.

I've sailed many years and admire captains Rob Schreiber and Kerry Adams, and the friendly crew. Eagerly, I phone Kaleena Johnson, manager, customer and media relations, in Owen Sound. "The Chi-Cheemaun has undergone the first phase of a major facelift and we're delighted. You've obviously seen the colourful vinyl decal on the smokestack. It was designed by Cleansheet Communications, printed by, and installed by 3M."

"How did your rebranding begin?"

"Our campaign was created by the Toronto-based ad agency, Cleansheet Communications," Kaleena told me. "Working under the direction of Dennis Mayer, account director, we've been able to create an amazing new branding of the ferry. We're featuring print, radio, collateral, animated video, new merchandise, and an entirely new website and mobile app (to come) that will guide passengers both on the boat and the island.

"The uniquely Manitoulin aboriginal art is central to the campaign, and was integrated into the vessel itself with the smokestack being turned into a stunning canvas for the new designs. We're thrilled. Do talk to Dennis."

Happily, Dennis Mayer has time for me. "Bonnie, what an opportunity to think about this offering. A totally authentic big ship, open-water experience to an island with a very rich and significant cultural history in our country. All this just a few hours from the GTA; there really is no experience like this in-land in Canada."

"Bravo, Dennis." Already I know he's smart, knowing my next questions.

"Our team took a trip on the Chi-Cheemaun and explored the island, stopped at markets, drove winding roads," he said. "We checked campgrounds and sat on docks. What would people identify with, when aboard? We became aware that being on a boat is completely foreign to what we live day-to-day. It slows you down and forces you to take a breath, to take a good look at the beauty surrounding us on the water. Combine that with a big boat experience, and there's something magical about being on the Chi-Cheemaun."

"Everyone I know loves the smokestack: how did the work of Ojibwe artist Norval Morrissau inspire you?"

"As a First Nations Ojibwe from Northern Ontario, Mr. Morrissau founded the Woodland style of painting, characterized by bold colours and vibrant outlines. When we were at the Conference Centre in Little Current, we saw other works by local artists like Duncan Pheasant, who were inspired by him. It seemed natural to emulate this style and work it into the over-all direction of the Chi-Cheemaun. To pay homage to this style."

"Bravo, Dennis, you surely have honoured this concept. While I own four of Duncan's paintings, I think every visitor who steps into a Manitoulin or Tobermory art gallery, comes home with something wonderfully Ojibwe," I gush. "How did you incorporate this?"

"For us, the bird symbolizes humility, the bear is truth and the fish is wisdom. We needed to reach out to those whose roots are truly embedded on the island. We worked with Susan Schrempf, president and CEO of the OSTC, to offer ideas to the leaders at the Great Spirit Circle Trail, making sure their knowledge, history, art and spirit enabled us to navigate the design process with respect."

"As a traveller, and a longtime student of everything Manitoulin and Anishnabe art, I'm deeply aware how you have incorporated brilliance into this presentation."

I can hear Dennis smile. "Credit goes to Denny Kurien, our digital art director, Dennis Fuentes, our designer and Neil McOstrich is our creative director; we have a fantastic team."

"Here's more. Inspired by learning about the deep history of the aboriginal people and First Nations on Manitoulin Island and the lands surrounding it, we learned that the name Chi-Cheemaun is Ojibwe for The Big Canoe. We wanted to show respect to history. It had to trigger people talking about all the changes going on inside. To illustrate this, we dressed up the boat in the same vibrant 'woodland' style graphics and carried the same theme through for its website, sailing schedule, posters and print ads."

I talk to Kaleena again. "Our Sunset Dinner Cruise is offered Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays during peak season, with departure from Tobermory, and every Thursday from South Baymouth. Once a month, we have performers on board to add something special to our dinner cruise experience. On Aug. 19, the popular aboriginal folk artists, Digging Roots, will be performing on the ferry as part of our All-Canadian Dining and Entertainment Cruise series.

"Also new this year, Chi-Cheemaun hosts a floating craft show and sale, titled Crafters on the Crossing. Organized by Morag Budgeon and Kate McLaren. The first show features seven local artists from the Grey Bruce area. We're working on organizing another show specifically highlighting our Manitoulin Island artisans. Events like these offer an entirely new element to the ferry passage. We're also fortunate to have Falcon Migwans, a well-known Manitoulin Island-based traditional storyteller, drummer and singer, performing on board daily. That's Wednesdays through Sundays through the month of August."

"Falcon's one of my favourite storytellers," I sigh. "What a gift from the Great Spirit Circle to have him aboard."

Magic words: summer, sailing, cuisine, art, breezes, relaxation, sights, and shopping. The Chi-Cheemaun.

I wonder if I can move aboard for the summer? OK, round trips will have to do.

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