Kuhnke takes the helm of Owen Sound Transportation Company

OWEN SOUND – The Owen Sound Transportation Company – the company that operates MS Chi-Cheemaun and other vessels – has a new captain at the helm.

Carl Kuhnke was appointed president and CEO of OSTC on Dec. 12, 2022.

Kuhnke, who recently retired from a similar position at the Walkerton Clean Water Centre, and was elected to Brockton municipal council in October, accepted the appointment from Ontario’s transportation minister, Caroline Mulroney.

Owen Sound Transportation Company, like WCWC, is an agency of the province.

In addition to MS Chi-Cheemaun, OSTC owns and operates MV Niska 1 between Moosonee and Moose Factory Island, and provides vessel management services for the MTO for three vessels on the Pelee Island service, and a daily air service between the Ontario mainland and Pelee Island during winter months when the ferry service isn’t running.

Kuhnke said he was first contacted about the position prior to the election.

“They asked me if I really wanted to retire (from WCWC),” he said.

At that point, he said he did want to retire. He noted he’d already committed to serving on council, and had no intention of moving to Owen Sound.

Later on, he was told he’d be able to work from home most of the time. And he said he already had some contacts in the MTO from a decade ago, when he ran the Intelligent Transportation System.

“A number of the same people are still there,” he said.

The real deciding factor, though, appears to be the challenge.

“I’ve always gone to organizations that faced challenges or a new future,” he said.

That is certainly the case with OSTC, said Kuhnke.

“It’s a changing organization.”

It’s a large and surprisingly diverse company, with about 175 people. Eighteen are based at the head office in Owen Sound, while others are in Kingsville, South Baymouth and Tobermory, and across a thousand-mile territory. There are a number of different “legacy” agreements with various personnel, from seasonal crew to captains and full-time staff. Having the right person at the helm is an urgent need for the company.

Kuhnke said his initial focus will be on making sure “the ships are on the water, and on time, doing what they’re supposed to do.”

After that, he’ll be looking at Quebec’s ferry service, which he said faces challenges similar to OSTC.

“I’ll be looking to them to collaborate on solutions,” he said.

The Ontario government will be reviewing all air services and transportation run by the government.

“You have to look at all these things,” he said. “It’s going to be fascinating.”

He added, “We have a great team.”

As for the challenges, he said, “It’s what I do. I’m really looking forward to it.”

For how long is up in the air right now. However, Kuhnke made it clear he has no intention of staying around to “babysit” OSTC once it becomes a thriving, well-functioning company and noted he spent five years at WCWC.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times