Port’s Open, Bunker’s Still Going To Be There

By John Swartz

Thursday the annual opening of the Port of Orillia happened. It drew the usual crowd of Orillia District Chamber of Commerce members and dignitaries, but running the flags up the pole didn’t happen because the crew couldn’t get in to set up the flag raising mechanism.

Allan Lafontaine is the executive director of the chamber, and harbour master of the port. He’s excited for the season despite Centennial Drive being reconstructed and parking being disrupted.

“You can’t stop sunshine and beautiful boating. We have some challenges with parking the City is working very hard on solving. We’re sold out for most of our summer events,” Lafontaine said.

Chamber president, Nathan Housser, was also happy to have the port open and ready for business.

“I think it’s huge. It’s one way the chamber operates. It’s very important for our members, it draws up into Orillia during the busy season,’ Housser said.

The operating income from slip rentals and event revenue helps the chamber operating budget every year. Not to forget it creates revenue for tourism related businesses.

Two events feature opportunities for people to get wet while raising money for charity. Will Housser pull the plug this year and enter the Cardboard Boat Race and the Walk the Plank event?

‘I haven’t yet, but this may be the year,” he said.

Lafontaine said the three major events at the port are sold out for boat accommodation and if things stay similar to last year it will be good all around.

“We had our best year (2022). We were sold out most weekends. We were sold out for all our event weekends. It doesn’t start to pick up (until the Trent Severn Waterway system opens Victoria Day weekend), and that’s why we created Christmas in June, to get boaters here early,” he said. Chamber staff also do outreach to boat shows and places with a preponderance of boaters who have travelled to the area before.

“I just got back from Norfolk, Virginia to meet all our American friends who are on their way up here. They are excited about Orillia – they all know about Gordon Lightfoot, by the way – I was there to say, please come, please stay in Orillia. We had our best American year last year,” Lafontaine said.

Despite the construction and disruption – The Spring Boat Show is moving to Tudhope Park this year, and the Waterfront Festival may as well, Lafontaine said there is an upside.

“It’s going to be well worth having all this construction done. We’ll have a beautiful streetscape, plus the reason why the boat ramp is closed right now, and the parking lot is closed here (at the port building), is because they are putting a retention container in to stop sand and phosphates from coming into the Port of Orillia. It will stop us from having to dredge every year – there will still be dredging but not as much and the weeds won’t grow as fast. It’s all positive things, a little pain for a lot of gain,”

The chamber also took the opportunity to celebrate Doug Bunker’s 35-year tenure as the events coordinator with the Chamber. Everyone was invited to go to the Sunken Ship Tropical Bar and Tiki Lounge for cake and socializing.

Bunker officially started in 1986 and his first event to stickhandle was the Santa Claus Parade.

“I’d been with the Perch Festival the year before, helping, and realized I might have had a talent for working with people, for some reason. My neighbour was the chamber president, Ronnie Sattler, and Paul Jackson, a good friend, said, “We want you.”

Allan Lafontaine encouraging Doug Bunker to cut the cake.

“For what?”

“To organize stuff.”

“Like what?

They gave me the list and I said sure.

Since then he has worked for a few executive directors of the chamber. Bunker was asked how long it took him to train Lafontaine when he took over as executive director.

“Two seconds. He came programmed,” Bunker said.

“Actually it was a good partnership right away,” said Lafontaine. “I really appreciated having Bunker. One of the nicest things walking into that job was having Bunker who had so much experience, and I appreciated everything he did. We were able to work together. I said, “You know what you’re doing. You’ve got my full support,”

“Him and I were jamming on ideas, right away.”

This is not a swan song for Bunker, he joked he’d probably have to have his funeral at lunchtime.

“We just keep going. Events in Orillia are a continuance. You can always do more and you can always do something.”

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Port of Orillia officially opens for the 2023 boating season.


Support Independent Journalism