The MV Northern Ranger is a sight familiar to many on the north coast of Labrador. The ferry took people and goods up and down the coast for over 30 years before being retired by the Woodward’s Group of Companies in 2018. Now less than two years later the boat is once again sailing up the coast, delivering supplies to Natuashish.
The boat was purchased by the Mushuau Innu First Nation in Natuashish, who will be using it to transport freight from Harbour Grace to the small northern community.
The Ranger was replaced by the Kamutik W, which was the subject of many complaints along the coast about delays last shipping season. Nick Paradis, band manager for MIFN, told SaltWire shipping delays were part of the reason the band purchased the ferry, but they are not competing with Woodward’s.
“We’re not competing in any way with the Kamutik,” he said. “The Kamutik is subsidized and contracted by the provincial government. We are just making sure we have a reliable source of transportation to meet our needs.”
Paradis said they have a significant amount of materials and supplies needed in the community for housing and community development projects and a short shipping season, so this will help ensure they get the supplies they need.
Right now, the Ranger is only taking freight while the Kamutik has the capability to take freight, passenger, and vehicles.
They are only delivering freight to Natuashish, but Paradis said they have been approached by other communities on the coast and are exploring those options. MIFN has not said how much they paid for the ferry but said it is a "substantial investment."
“We’re hoping that the investment will be, firstly, an indication of the capacity and ability of the First Nation to run a business and, secondly, to ensure there is reliable, effective, and cost-efficient transportation of materials to the community,” he said.
MHA happy to see another provider on coast
One of the most vocal critics of the Kamutik W last season was Torngat Mountains MHA Lela Evans, who has repeatedly said the boat is not suitable for Labrador. She told SaltWire she is happy to see the Ranger back on the coast, as it will give a good picture of how much weather is impacting delays as opposed to the ferry itself.
“What will tell the tale this year is that we have the Northern Ranger, which is so much older, and we’ll see if she sails when the Kamutik W is tied up. There will be no defense if that happens.”
Evans said she’s happy to see another provider of freight service on the coast and completely understand the MIFN position on getting building supplies on time. The coast has a short shipping season and building season and delays can cost a lot of money, she said.
SaltWire reached out to Woodward’s for an interview but did not receive a reply. The company said last year weather played a significant impact in delays and that the boat was capable of navigating the coast. Evans said she hopes this year will be different and likes the idea of having a new, modern boat doing the run up the coast.
“I like the amenities and the north coast deserves to have them but at the end of the day none of that matters when the boat is tied up for days at a time, materials sitting at docks taking months to get to the communities.
The Northern Ranger will begin its shipping season on June 8 and the Kamutik W is starting on June 14.
Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Labrador for the SaltWire Network.