Port Of Orillia Opens For The Season

By John Swartz

The Port of Orillia officially opens May 10, but the traditional raising of flags occurred Thursday afternoon. The Orillia District Chamber of Commerce usually combines the opening with their monthly Business After 5 networking event, guaranteeing a good sized audience for the opening. Many people are looking forward to a great year now that things are somewhat back to normal at the waterfront.

“In 2020 we had the pandemic. 2021 we had a little better year. 2022 we had a great recovery, we had our best year. 2023 it was an off year; people stayed away for reasons, they thought it was going to be maybe dusty because of the construction, people couldn’t park anywhere,’ said Allan Lafontaine, harbour master and executive director of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce.

Even though last year was not so good, Lafontaine saw the bigger picture.

Allan Lafontaine

“We didn’t make the money we wanted to make last year, but if you look long-term, it’s in the benefit of everybody, including the chamber.”

“I anticipate this year is going to be very busy. I’m also very supportive of the fact we (City of Orillia) did the hard work. Now our waterfront looks beautiful. The parking lot’s bigger, when that boat ramp’s done; Orillia should be proud of what we have. We have the best waterfront in all of Ontario.”

He’s already seeing signs this summer will be more like it was before the construction.

“If you look at last year at this time, it was a ghost town down here. I’ve been down here countless times now and everybody’s out enjoying it. They’re all taking a peek at what’s new, and they’re really enjoying that new parking lot.”

That’s in terms of use of the 220 slips. The chamber organizes a number of events to capitalize on having docks.

“For Christmas in June we’re about 65% sold out. That’s’ because the local marinas support us and their support is very important. I anticipate that will be sold out.”

“I’ve already got about ¼ full for Pirates. That’s unusual because it’s late in the season, and today we took a reservation for Mardi Gras in July. Those events are very important because boaters like to have fun.”

The chamber also wants to dress up the appeal of some of their events. Something as simple as a name change might get more attention.

“We’re still have the boat and cottage outdoor show, but we’re rebranding it to the Sunshine Festival. Our whole goal of all these events is to try and let Orillia and Lake Country celebrate sunshine. It’s an opportunity to grow beyond just the traditional boat sale.”

The new kid in the water is the Labour Day weekend Pirate Party. It launched in the wake the long string of failed Labour Day weekend events, but this one broke the cycle.

“It really did in year 2. I was shocked. Our average occupancy was 30% prior to that year in 2018 when we launched it. The first year we got to 55%. There was some pirate lights on boats and we did a little pirating fun. The next year everybody dressed their boats up, everybody was wearing pirate outfits. It was packed. The continual build of that has been amazing. The only year we didn’t sell out was 2020.”

“Who doesn’t love pirates? Johnny Depp made it fun. It’s an exciting event.”

It’s become so popular even the Downtown Orillia Management Board has officially decided to spread the event up Mississaga Street.

“That’s exciting and we just got a grant from the province of Ontario ministry of tourism (Experience Ontario program, up to $20,000) and we also got a grant from the City of Orillia ($2,500) for the Pirate Party as well.”

The Port of Orillia was recently featured on an episode of Global TV’s Water Ways show. Lafontaine said the success in operating the port and their events go hand in hand.

“I think one feeds the other,” said Lafontaine.

In past years both Simcoe North MP and MPPs attended to raise the flags of the country and province, but this year they sent representatives. Mayor Don McIsaac was on hand to let the Orillia flag fly. He remembers when the port was just a dream.

Orillia Mayor
Don McIsaac raises the City of Orillia flag to open the Port of Orillia.

“I remember in the late 60s my father was mayor in 69 and they were building the wall (for the boardwalk),” said McIsaac.

The port is a vital part of the local economy.

“It brings people to Orillia. We’re the Sunshine City and we’re very proud of that. It’s called the Jewel of the Trent and it’s for a good reason. We’ve got a lot to offer here,”

And he’s a port user too, occasionally tying his boat up along the boardwalk for purpose of realization.

“Sure, people always want to chat with the mayor. It’s sometimes good news, sometimes bad, but I’ll talk to anyone,”

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Chamber members on hand for the opening of the Port of Orillia.


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