By John Swartz
The Island Princess was supposed to leave the Port of Orillia when the Trent Severn Waterway opened as usual on the May holiday weekend. Then it was delayed because the province didn’t open the system until well into June. Now it’s not going anywhere.
Two of a trio of new owners of the boat were in town today to formalize agreements with the Port of Orillia and to say it’s staying put.
“It didn’t become feasible or legal for us to move the boat. Plus Alan (Lafontaine) came in and we fell in love with this town in the mean time. This boardwalk, the people here, we’ve got a new appreciation of this town and we’d like to keep it here. We like the tradition and the loyalty to the boat and we want to stay and support the town,’ said co-owner David Scoffield.
Orillia District Camber of Commerce managing director Alan Lafontaine worked hard to find a way for the new owners to keep the boat here.
“When you called me and wanted to do a story on the Island Princess I kept saying to you I wanted to ruin your story, in a nice way. The fact that we’re not having a story of it leaving and the fact the Island Princess is staying is so positive for our community. We’ve gone through a lot and another positive story is what everybody needs,” said Lafontaine.
There won’t be cruises on Lake Couchiching or Simcoe this year.
“COVID restrictions and MTO restrictions with captain designations and stuff, it’s just not feasible at this time to do tour boat operations. It doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen, but right now it’s not happening. We want to embrace the town of Orillia and do some good things with them and keep the boat here,” said Scoffield.
Many have made comments online about the change in colour from the familiar white with blue and red trim to green and yellow. It’s distinctive, but there’s a reason for the colour choice.
“Did it get your attention?”asked Scoffield. This is where things get tricky. Scoffield , Wade Plewes and a third person own the boat. They also own Georgian Shores Catering. The food service is operated by Joe O’Gorman from Pacos Tacos Canada, a food truck operation in Barrie serving Mexican food and he has the explanation for the colour.
“What do you think about it. As a food purveyor of Mexican cuisine, they are (the colours) certainly in the Mexican flag, not only that, but it’s also in the Aztec colour spectrum and if you duck your head inside you’ll see a few more colours that might remind you of some Mexican themes,” said O’Gorman. The plan is to serve Mexican food, tacos, and ice cream.
“We’re going to do a takeout business out of the front that will utilize both and ice cream section of the boat and a food component of the boat, so you’ll be able to come on the boat, have some food and if you like head upstairs and eat your tacos or have an ice cream,” said O’Gorman.
Scofflield and Plewes said the longer it took to figure if they could move the boat to Penetanguishene and the more they spoke with Lafontaine, the more they came to see keeping the Island Princess here was the right thing to do.
“The chamber of commerce has been so accommodating in welcoming to this town, it’s been a refreshing experience and we just really want to work with it,” said Scofflield.
“This whole town’s been great. Alan’s passion and drive to keep us here,” were factors said Plewes.
O’Gorman became aware of people’s attachment to the boat while painting it.
“This community has an overwhelming support for this boat. Not only emotionally, but just in the sense they’re encouraged it’s going to be something new and it’s going to out there and doing something,” O’Gorman said.
Lafontaine said he met a couple today who were under the impression the
boat was leaving, lamenting the venue of their 50th anniversary party would be gone. That is until O’Gorman told them the boat was staying.
“The look on her face expressed I think how I feel and how everybody is going to feel, we’re just happy this is staying,” said Lafontaine. So what was the magic he worked to keep it here?
“Initially when the boat was sold I contacted the owners of Georgian Shores Catering and boat tours and expressed we’d like to keep them here if there was anything we could do,” said Lafontaine. “I think more it was selling Orillia. If you look at the benefits of Orillia, look what the City of Orillia has done, the downtown, the waterfront plan, we’re bringing Hydro One here, it’s so positive, the amount of people that come to our waterfront. I shared that data with them. If they were going to run out of anywhere, we have the traffic here in Orillia and Orillia is the best place to run a boat tour,”
They plan to be open for business August 1, depending on getting all the inspections and approvals from the health unit in place. Next will be the name. Plewes said they haven’t decided if they’ll keep Island Princess yet.
“We might do a call to action and have the town pick the name,” said Plewes.
(Photo by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Island Princess co-owner Wade Plewes, chamber of commerce managing director Alan Lafontaine, food operator Joe O’Gorman and co-owner David Scoffield