Wolfe Islander IV takes maiden voyage with passengers

The Wolfe Islander IV arrives in Kingston with passengers for the very first time on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. Photo by Aerosnapper Kingston.

Editorial note: This article has been updated since it was originally published on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, at 4:59 p.m. Please see bottom of article for latest updated information.

Without any of the pomp and circumstance one might expect at the launch of a major vessel, the long-awaited Wolfe Islander IV took its maiden voyage with passengers on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, signalling the boat may soon be ready to enter full service. At 4 p.m. on August 15, the new Wolfe Islander IV officially welcomed its first passengers, as part of an ongoing testing process for the new electric vessel. While Wolfe Island and Kingston residents have likely seen the boat making trips to and from the island throughout the summer, Tuesday afternoon’s run marked the first time members of the public were allowed on the boat. 

Cindy Greenwood, a lifelong Wolfe Island resident, was one of the lucky few who was able to take a ride on the Wolfe Islander IV, as it travelled from Kingston to the Island late Tuesday afternoon. Given there was no formal announcement the boat would be testing with passengers, Greenwood had no idea she would be taking the new ferry when she approached the terminal in Kingston. “I didn’t know [it was running]. I was driving over the Causeway and I could see cars driving on [the new ferry]. My reaction was, ‘I’m going to get home on time today,’” Greenwood said with a laugh. 

The resident added, “It was exciting to see it taking vehicles,” she continued with cautious optimism. “I think, when it gets running full time, there will still be lineups because a lot of people are going to want to check it out and ride on it.” 

While Frontenac Islands Mayor Judy Greenwood-Spears had some advance notice that the boat would be running with passengers on Tuesday afternoon, she wasn’t able to make it onboard for one of the test runs. Despite missing out on the opportunity to be one of the ferry’s first passengers, the mayor was pleased to see the vessel making progress. “It’s good news that they actually took the first couple of loads yesterday. We were all thrilled. I didn’t get to ride on it myself. I was kind of hoping I might have the opportunity today, but that doesn’t look likely, but I’m heading to town tomorrow. Who knows, it’s like a lottery,” she remarked. 

While Tuesday’s test runs were a welcome sign for residents who have been eagerly awaiting the new boat for several years, questions still remain as to when the Wolfe Islander IV will officially enter service full-time. According to Greenwood-Speers, a two-week training period for staff is required before the boat gets the all-clear from government officials. 

However, the mayor noted the two-week window is likely to be pushed beyond that.

“Technically, they’re to have two weeks of training with cars and passengers before Transport Canada will officially let them have a certificate. That said, when they were supposed to have two weeks of training to get the new crew familiar with the boat, it took them six weeks to get that done, because of crew rotation,” she shared. 

Kingstonist did reach out to representatives from the MTO to inquire about when the new electric ferry will go into full service, but did not receive a response by the time of publication. Previously, representatives indicated the boat would enter service sometime this summer. Back in 2016, when the province announced a new ferry for Wolfe Island, the plan was for the existing Wolfe Islander III to remain in service, with both vessels serving the island in tandem. 

As Kingstonist reported earlier this year, plans to run both ferries have apparently been shelved, according to information received by members of the Frontenac Islands Council. While the new Wolfe Islander IV will bring an increased service capacity compared to the Wolfe Islander III, the new electric vessel’s charging requirements mean the 60-minute standard for round-trip service may soon increase to 90 minutes, something residents are concerned about. 

Greenwood-Spears explained that a bigger boat running on a reduced schedule will not meet the demands of the island’s residents and business owners.

“The key is, we need to have two boats running. And that’s from [the MTO’s] own reports. They know they can’t try to give us a beautiful big boat on a slower schedule because that won’t work,” she said. 

The Mayor added, “We need to have two boats, then we can get maybe a 30-minute schedule, or potentially a 40-minute schedule, but we cannot go past a one-hour schedule.”

Earlier this May, members of the Frontenac Islands Council passed a motion requesting the MTO to reconsider its decision to scrap the two-ferry model. The Ministry has yet to publicly respond to the Council’s motion or Kingstonist’s request for comment. 

Greenwood-Speers confirmed she will bring the questions up to Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, Caroline Mulroney, when the two meet at the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) conference next week in London.

Update (Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, at 10:30 a.m.):
Kingstonist has received response from the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) regarding the Wolfe Islander IV, which recently made its first trips to/from Kingston and Wolfe Island with vehicles and passengers on board (see above).

“The ministry recognizes that ferries are a critical mode of transportation for communities that rely on them,” the MTO said in a statement to Kingstonist.

“On August 15, 2023, the Wolfe Islander IV started the final stages of crew training. As part of Transport Canada regulations, the new ferry must undertake initial crossings with passengers.”

However, the ministry was mum on expected timeline for the new electric ferry to officially enter service.

“Ferry users are eager to see our newest vessel in service, and we are working to ensure its safe operation starts as soon as possible. We will keep the community updated as information becomes available.”

The ministry noted that there is currently “an industry-wide shortage of seafarers which has resulted in staffing challenges for ferry services.”

“The ministry is reviewing its hiring and staff retention practices to ensure both service continuity and value for Ontario taxpayers,” the MTO shared.

The ministry also stated that “the new ferry will improve service as it will provide almost 50 per cent increased carrying capacity over the existing Wolfe Islander III,” however, this increased capacity will only create improved service if the original two-ferry system for Wolfe Island-Kingston transportation is employed, something Greenwood-Speers has reiterated as Horne’s Ferry — which serves as a border crossing into the US from Wolfe Island’s Alexandria Point — resumed service earlier this week.

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