With keen attention to historical detail, the fully restored wooden steamship SS Bigwin looks much as it did when it traversed the waters in Lake of Bays back in the early 1900’s.
During the mid-1920s, as Babe Ruth was swatting home run records, children were discovering the charm of Winnie the Pooh and "talking pictures" were about to revolutionize the cinema, a sturdy wooden steamship on Lake of Bays would ferry well-to-do visitors in summer to a luxurious island resort known as the Bigwin Inn. Today, local and seasonal residents, along with visitors to the picturesque region of Muskoka, are recapturing a sense of that time and tradition with a cruise aboard the fully restored SS Bigwin on Lake of Bays.
First, the Bigwin steamship had to be rescued back in 2002 after decades of deterioration as it sat partially submerged at the Bigwin Inn. A group of determined volunteers, who incorporated at the time as the Lake of Bays Marine Museum and Navigation Society, rallied the community, private business interests and senior levels of government through fundraising to help bring a classic heritage vessel back to life. From dry dock to its present mooring by the Lake of Bays Marine Museum in the community of Dorset, renovations were undertaken as resources permitted. By 2010, FedNor climbed on board with an investment of $380,000 to finish the restoration with an electrically powered propulsion system, plus repairs and upgrades to interior and exterior sections of the vessel.
The refurbished result is a beautifully crafted, eye-catching tourism product and visitor experience. That's where Jennifer Pilon enters the picture as the Economic Development Coordinator for the Township of Lake of Bays. Among her goals of assisting local business development and enhancing tourism opportunities in the region is the implementation of a promotional and marketing plan for the SS Bigwin. "Local residents and visitors alike are in awe of the beauty of this piece of marine heritage", says Ms. Pilon. "There are endless creative possibilities for events on the SS Bigwin and it has been a lot of fun exploring opportunities for unique experiential offerings. There has been overwhelming support from the business community to collaborate and explore partnerships".
Visitors line up to take a cruise aboard the SS Bigwin from its home port in the community of Dorset on Lake of Bays. This summer, additional cruises will be available at alternate dock sites including the community of Baysville, Bigwin Island and Port Cunnington Lodge.
This list of partnerships and events aboard the SS Bigwin this summer is growing. Golf and cruise packages, resort group cruises, cocktail hour cruises followed by dinner on land, are among the regular weekly activities complemented by special community events including a 'Summer Kick Off' weekend with a BBQ and bands, a Father's Day Cruise featuring beer sampling from local craft breweries, as well as an Antique Boat Show celebrating Lake of Bays' marine heritage. "Public cruises are available regularly from June to October", says Jennifer. "Private cruises can also be booked for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, reunions, corporate functions and all types of celebrations." The ice may not be off Lake of Bays for a couple of months yet, but already the SS Bigwin has over $20,000 worth of private event bookings for this summer.
With her background in marketing and communications, Jennifer has always harboured a dream to live and work in beautiful Muskoka where she spent her family summers. "FedNor's Youth Internship Initiative enabled me to find a two-year employment opportunity as the Economic Development Coordinator for the Township of Lake of Bays and make this dream a reality," she says.
The goal of FedNor's Youth Internship Initiative is to ensure we keep our best and our brightest right here at home, in Northern Ontario. Since its inception in 1997, the program has been providing post-secondary graduates with the opportunity to acquire the necessary experience and transferable skills to secure permanent employment in Northern Ontario.
"Tourism is the basis of our local economy," says Jennifer. "My goal is to help build some forward momentum on economic development initiatives that will have a positive impact on the Lake of Bays communities. It's exciting to work with the SS Bigwin as it is an incredible community asset and signature tourism draw to the region that we recognize as an 'Ambassador of the Lake'."