Cameron Vorisenko guides the pontoon boat “Bridge-It” in to dock on the Welland Canal at the end of Port Robinson Road. DON RICKERS

Port Robinson ferry back in service

Brooklyn, Ashley, Ruby, Valerie, and Blake, all from Niagara Falls, enjoyed a family biking adventure one day recently, which included a cruise across the Welland Canal on the ferry “Bridge-It.”

“It’s kind of a cool thing to do,” said Blake. “We were celebrating the finish of the school year, and got ice cream along the way, too. And the ride was free!”

Crew member Cameron Vorisenko said that the service, which is unique on the Welland Canal, opened on weekends in May, and then operates every day after Victoria Day. The service is shut down in October. Hours are 9 AM to 8 PM.

“Typically, on a weekday, we get about 100 to 150 people,” he said. “On weekends, maybe 200 to 300.” Up to 50 percent of the passengers are cyclists with bikes in tow.

A variety of craft pass by during a typical day, she said, which could include sailboats, yachts, lakers and ocean-going cargo ships, military vessels, and vintage “tall ships.”

The genesis of the ferry service dates back to 1974, when the 600-foot ore carrier Steelton hit the vertical lift bridge at the site, demolishing it. Rebuilding the bridge was considered, along with a tunnel under the waterway, but the relatively low volume of traffic did not justify the expense. Instead, the ferry service was launched in 1977, using the pontoon boat. The City of Thorold splits the operating costs with the Region.

The crossing leads to quiet country roads on the way to Niagara Falls, and there is a cycling loop that takes in the crossing and adjacent trails. The pontoon boat can take up to six riders with their bikes, or up to ten passengers with no bikes, plus the crew of two. COVID protocols are in place, as all ferry guests and crew wear masks, and the boat is sanitized after each three-minute crossing.

Nearby alternatives to the ferry include the Allanburg Bridge, and the Main Street tunnel in Welland.