THUNDER BAY — First, it was road construction in Marina Park last year. Then came COVID-19. The past two seasons have been challenging for the operators of the Alexander Henry museum ship on Thunder Bay's waterfront.
The Lakehead Transportation Museum Society is waiting to hear if the City of Thunder Bay will grant some financial relief and other assistance so it can continue to grow the attraction.
Society president Charlie Brown says "It's going to be a tough season for us."
Currently, only external tours of the ship are available to visitors, for $5, or half the regular admission cost.
"We're steady, but we're slow. We're not making a fortune by any stretch of the imagination," Brown said.
He added some people are making donations, including a recent contribution of a quantity of paint that will be used this summer for a maintenance project.
However, in an interview, Brown expressed concern over the time it's taking for the city to respond to requests for help.
"We've asked for rent relief, and we've asked for an extension of the property and a whole bunch of other things, and that's been over a year in the works," he said.
Brown made a deputation to city council last November, seeking a break on rent for the Pool 6 docking site because of road construction which he said "really hurt us quite a bit."
"Then this year, with the COVID, we're looking for rent relief. And the new piece of property where the tugboat sits [the recently-acquired former logging tug Dryden 3], we're looking for an extension on that, but still haven't heard a word," he said.
"The site that we have now is extremely small and we would like to extend it down to the waterline," he explained.
Brown said city officials have noted that would interfere with plans for a walking path, but "if it's left the way it is, it splits our property in two, which makes it really difficult to manage."
An extension of the property, he said, would make it easier to bring buses to the site.
The society would also like access to drinking water and washroom facilities in the former Pool 6 office building, and is seeking permission to establish its gift shop in the Baggage Building at Prince Arthur's Landing.
"Then we could funnel people down to where we are, because people are still having a hard time with the road, and finding where we are."
Brown said he's been told a city staff report on the society's requests won't go before council before September.
Revenue should improve soon, however, as a fire inspection of the ship is imminent. Once that's done, complete tours of the vessel will once again be available, and normal admission prices will be restored.
But regardless of how the rest of this season turns out, Brown said the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society is not currently giving any thought to acquiring another ship with historic ties to Thunder Bay, the SS Keewatin.
The 113-year old vessel once ferried passengers from Owen Sound to the Lakehead.
It was retired from service in 1966, and since 2012 has served as a maritime museum at Port McNicoll on Georgian Bay.
Recent media stories in the Midland area have renewed speculation that the company that owns the Keewatin may transfer her to a new owner at another Ontario port such as Kingston, the site of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes.
The Keewatin is closed for the season because of COVID-19.
Built in Govan, Scotland in 1907, Keewatin is the world's last UK-built, Edwardian-era passenger steamship in existence.
Around 2001, the City of Thunder Bay considered acquiring the ship from its U.S. owner when it was in storage in Douglas, Michigan, but ultimately abandoned the idea.
Brown said he's aware there's talk of the Keewatin being on the move again, but multiple obstacles stand in the way of any bid coming from his group.
These include the absence of a spot to dock her, the cost of restoration that still needs completion, and financing.
"I can't see it being feasible," Brown concluded.