From time to time, an idea comes along that seems like it would be great for the region, but in practice, it just doesn't work out that way.

The other day I was having a general conversation with a few friends about the best ways to get around the region. During that conversation, someone asked why we don't have a ferry that goes between Buffalo and Toronto.

Since I am a general know-it-all, my initial reaction was to detail all the reasons why that would be impactable, considering Buffalo's location on the Great Lakes is related to Toronto's location. There are only two ways to get to Toronto from Buffalo via water: one way is to take the Niagara River from Lake Erie into Ontario, but Niagara Falls might make that a tad bit tough; then you have the Welland Canal that bypasses Niagara Falls, but typical transit time through the canal takes around 12 hours, making a ferry boat trip a 14 hour one way ride.

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But then I remembered that 20 years ago, we tried that exact thing in Western New York with a fast ferry that had routine boat service between Rochester, NY, and Toronto.

Do you remember the Spirit of Ontario I?

20 Years Ago, The Spirit Of Ontario Hit The Great Lakes

Dating as far back as the mid-90s, government officials all over Western New York had been studying ways to get around the region quicker and more efficiently. This also meant finding ways to get to and from Canada faster. Being that we're a border community, it just makes sense for us to have a water crossing to and from Canada, so in the early 2000s, Rochester officials hired a company to operate a ferry service between the Port of Rochester and the Port of Toronto.

Costing around $42 million, the Spirit of Ontario I was constructed in Australia in October 2003. The boat left Perth, Australia, on February 17, 2004, and sailed across the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal, across the Gulf of Mexico, then up the Atlantic Ocean and into the St. Lawrence Seaway. It finally arrived in on April 27, 2004.

The boat, nearly as long as a football field and bigger than a jumbo jet, had a top speed of around 50 mph on the water and enough space to carry 774 passengers and 238 cars back and forth to Toronto. The CAT, as it was nicknamed, could make a one-way trip to/from Toronto in about 2.5 hours and was generally scheduled to make 2-round trips per day.

What started as a great idea was rife with problems, and, unfortunately, the roundtrip boat service between WNY and Southern Ontario didn't last long.

Fast Ferry Service Only Lasted 2 Years In Western New York

While the Spirit of Ontario I hit the waters of the Great Lakes with a ton of fanfare, the service didn't take off in the region.

The service, reported to have more than 100,000 passengers in its first 5 months of service, had major financial problems. By September 2004, the company that the City of Rochester hired to operate the ferry suspended operations and ceased operations of the ferry. The company eventually filed bankruptcy, and the US Government seized the boat.

In 2005, after the boat was seized by US Marshals, the City of Rochester bought the boat out of bankruptcy for $32 million and created a new government authority to own and operate the boat. Services resumed that summer but only lasted a few months. After losing more than $10 million in the first few months, the city of Rochester shut down services, and in December 2005, officials declared that the the boat would be sold.

On December 21, 2006, the Spirit of Ontario I set sail for the Atlantic Ocean, leaving the Port of Rochester for the last time.

What Happened To The Rochester Fast Ferry

The ferry essentially sat idle for all year in 2006 until the boat was sold at an auction to EuroFerries. The company had agreed to pay $29.8 million for the boat, and it would provide ferry service between England and France. Unfortunately, EuroFerries never sent the City of Rochester any money. After nearly a year of waiting to be paid, Rochester relisted the ferry for sale. German-owned FRS offered $30 million in March 2007 for the boat and paid within a week.

Since then, the ferry has changed ownership a few times, providing service in Spain, Morocco, and Denmark before being sold to the nation of Venezuela.

As of 2019, the ferry had broken down and needed more than $5 million in repairs.

What a sad end to a good idea. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has a detailed timeline of the Spirit of Ontario I that you can check out.

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The photos shared here are meant for entertainment and educational purposes only. Under no circumstances should you enter this property. By doing so, you risk bodily harm and/or prosecution for trespassing on private property. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you do not attempt to investigate the inside of abandoned buildings without proper knowledge, experience, and legal authorization.

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