Amherst Islander II makes first trip to Amherst Island with passengers as part of staff training

The Amherst Islander II. Photo from Loyalist Township website.

Adam Prudhomme

Though not its official maiden voyage, the Amherst Islander II made a historic crossing of the North Channel between Millhaven and Amherst Island on July 2.

The trip, which included about 200 Loyalist Township residents onboard, represented a crucial step as the ferry readies for regular car and passenger shuttle service.

“Today’s trip marks the beginning of a second phase of training where ferry crew are required to operate the new vessel with passengers,” explained Nathan Townsend, deputy mayor of Loyalist Township. “This next phase will extend through the summer and a full in-service date remains beyond this training, and a number of additional issues we are addressing with our partners at MTO. As I have consistently indicated, an in-service date will be issued and publicly communicated, closer to when we can reliably expect all outstanding tasks to be completed.”

Still, Townend noted the July 2 trip was a major milestone.

Passengers were invited to take a ride on the Amherst Islander II on July 2 as the crew of the new ferry continue their training. Photo by Loyalist Township.

“Regardless, today was an opportunity for residents and ferry users to experience crossing the North Channel on the Amherst Islander II for literally the very first time,” he added. “This trip was designed to facilitate friends and neighbours from Amherst Island and Loyalist Township sharing the experience in a social setting. Consequently, only walk-on passengers were permitted to board, so as many people as possible could walk the deck, tour the passenger facilities, and visit. Nearly 200 Loyalist residents were able to make the trip and share in this historic moment. Among those passengers were several people who were there when the very first Amherst Islander arrived some 69 years ago.”

Just as they did 69 years earlier on the original Amherst Islander, Ted Welbanks, Gord Miller, Roberta (Hitchens) Riel, Marie (Wemp) Ward, Keith Miller, Allan Caughey, Carol (Miller) Glenn, Beth (Caughey) Forrester took part in the first passenger ride of the Amherst Islander II. Photo by Trevor Cornelius.

First announced by the province in 2018, the Amherst Islander II was hailed as one of the first fully electric non-cable vessels in Canada and was expected to be operational by early 2020. Since then its been a series of delays that have left residents frustrated with a lack of updates from the Ministry of Transportation. Contributing to the delay was damage done to the Wolfe Island ramp, which was temporarily fixed by transporting the Amherst Islander II ramp to Wolfe Island while repairs were made to the original ramp.

In a post to their website earlier this year, Loyalist Township noted onboard crew training was to begin the last week of March and require a few months to complete. The training involved without passengers followed by training with passengers.

“The Amherst Island ferry service is locally operated and as the operator Loyalist Township has a critical understanding that the vessels in the service are more than just “boats.” These vessels represent history and continuity, connection, employment, sacrifice, community spirit, local culture, and so many more things. The Amherst Islander II is a ferry for future generations of residents and ferry users,” added the deputy mayor.

“Today belongs to so many people, but it would not have arrived without the incredibly hard work of ferry crew and Loyalist Township staff who continue to go above and beyond to bring the Amherst Islander II into full service,” Townend said of the July 2 crossing. “Loyalist Township also continues to work closely with our partners at MTO who provide vital support in the process of commissioning the Amherst Islander II. We expect to continue building and strengthening an even closer working relationship between Loyalist and MTO, one which reflects the long history of our partnership, as well as the complexity and innovation of its future.”

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