The cruise ship season in Northwest Ontario has officially begun, and for the first time in over a decade, cruise lines are including the Top of Lake Superior, beyond Silver Islet, in their itineraries.
On May 28th, the Viking Octantis settled in the big water beyond the archipelago of islands near Rossport, within the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Some one-hundred and fifty guests and 10 crew were shuttled to nearby Battle Island. Mainly comprised of visitors from the United States from places such as California, Mississippi, Michigan, and Virginia, the group explored the island and learned about its history and rare plant life. Guests were also treated to storytelling by local Indigenous interpreters, Matt Goodchild from Pays Plat First Nations and Nicole Dupuis a member of the Red Rock Indian Band, while enjoying a taste of bannock and tea.
Members of the Friends of Battle Island worked hard to prepare the island for the influx of visitors. “Just in this one day, its more visitors than we might get in a whole season,” exclaimed Andre Nicol, president of the organization. “It’s rugged but beautiful, and I guess that’s what they’re looking for on these expedition-type cruises. That unique experience that you don’t get everyday.”
One crew member said, “I think it (Battle Island) will be the highlight of the trip!” Guest were saying it was one of the best shore experiences they’d ever had. They remarked,“as we walked down the trail, we could smell the trees and how fresh the air was.” Some interested guests went on kayak tours around the Island with Zack Kruzins from Such A Nice Day Adventures.
Ontario’s Superior Country, a non-profit destination marketing organization based in Red Rock, is the agency coordinating the cruise guest experiences. In the summer of 2022, a group representing six cruise lines embarked on a familiarization tour in the area. “That was through a partnership with Great Lakes Cruise Association and Destination Northern Ontario,” says Superior Country Executive Director, Dan Bevilacqua. “We assisted with that, and then in the fall our staff took a Viking rep on a tour up the north shore. We wanted to be prepared, and we wanted our communities to be prepared. So, we partnered with Parks Canada to complete a Cruise Market Readiness Plan in December, and here we are welcoming our first cruise ship in May.”
“The Great Lakes is the last un-cruised region of the world,” says Stephen Burnett, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Cruise Association. “Given that cruising has become a significant pillar of the travel industry, the emergence of quality cruising on the Great Lakes has an exceptional future.”
The Octantis and Hapag Lloyd’s Hanseatic Inspiration will combine for a total of four more visits to Battle Island throughout June and July. Superior Country has already been notified by cruise lines of their intention to visit the area, known in the business as the Lake Superior North Shore Inside Passage, in the summer and fall of 2024 and 2025. “So far, at least two of those will include disembarking in some of our mainland communities,” states Bevilacqua. “It’s a very exciting time for tourism in the region.”