Supply shortages, canceled cruises and construction delays – it’s been a year the Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Centre would like to forget.
Nonetheless, as they enter another summer hobbled by pandemic restrictions, the organization’s president John Miller says they’re doing the best work they can with the options they have and are ready to set sail in a limited capacity on July 3.
While the Wenonah will be departing from her familiar homeport at the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst, the RMS Segwun will spend a second year docked due to Covid restrictions, which severely curtail the number of passengers allowed on board.
“We’d end up losing money every time we sailed her and that’s not in the interest of the organization,” says Miller. “Even if the restrictions were loosened later on in the season there really wouldn’t be any point. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done with a steam engine and we would still have to hire a crew. That’s the type of work we typically start in February.”
Nonetheless, they plan to make the most of the downtime, carrying out wood restoration and engine work on the Segwun as she sits idle.
The pandemic has also had serious ramifications on the museum’s $7.4 million expansion project.
“The delays and complications caused by the pandemic have made things extremely challenging for our Muskoka Discovery Centre construction project and the Wanda III electrification, not to mention our regular operations,” says Miller. “We’ve stopped and started multiple times which results in scheduling nightmares for trades, material pricing that is four times normal rates and huge delays in product deliveries caught in fractured supply chains.”
Despite the challenges, Miller says they expect to finish the base building in three or four months, which will allow them to begin preparing for occupancy.
A major component of the project is the electrification and new boathouse for the Wanda III, with engines, generators and batteries arriving in the next few weeks. The Wanda III is a unique working historical artifact, which was built in 1915 for Margaret Eaton, whose husband was the founder of the Eaton’s department store empire. The vessel will be presented in a specially designed boathouse and be available once again for charter on the Muskoka lakes.
Miller says they hope to have the vessel sailing for the 2022 season. He also hopes to have the vessel offer short public cruises out of the Discovery Centre on a regular basis to give as many people as possible the chance to experience being aboard Wanda III.
Another major component of the revitalization program is the creation of a permanent exhibit called Misko-Aki: Confluence of Cultures. The exhibit promises to be a profound perspective of Indigenous heritage and cultures’ 13,000 years in Muskoka, representing eight communities and four distinct cultures.
“We’re not involved in any of the planning or execution. Everything from creative to the design to the construction is being done by our Indigenous partners,” says Miller. “We’ve spent a great deal of time developing relationships with all eight of the First Nations communities in the Muskoka Area and we feel like we’ve created a partnership that could be could be used in many other areas.”
The other exhibits include Muskoka: Past, Present and Future, The Transformative Steam Era: The Disruptive Technology That Changed Muskoka and The World, and Love Muskoka ♥ Sustain Muskoka- the local environmental sustainability story shown via digital events, digital library and onsite content demonstrating ‘Finding Ways to Make a Difference’.
Miller says he hopes to have the main floor of the new space opened next year and the second floor to follow some six to 10 months later.
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