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Passenger ship unveils Killarney to tourists, boosts local economy

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History was made recently in Killarney as the Viking Octantis made its maiden stop at the Georgian Bay community.

It marks a return to passenger ships in the area, something the port hasn't seen in more than 80 years.

Killarney is a community that for decades managed to stay off the beaten path, a tourist gem that was mostly spread through word of mouth. But that could be changing.

"The Octantis is, it's a new build, in terms of expedition ... it's just different, they have their own water toys on board," said Bruce O'Hare, of Lakeshore Excursions

"This is the biggest ship that will get into the St. Lawrence Seaway and through the locks."

The ship is an expedition-class ship built for adventure-seekers. It's expected to spend this summer and next cruising the Great Lakes, taking in what this community has to offer.

After years of work and planning behind the scenes, this is the maiden stop in Killarney for the Viking Octantis. So far, the investment appears to be paying off.

Cruising the Great Lakes has become more popular in recent years. It's a welcome boost for a town where the population easily doubles with Octantis' arrival.

"This is a great port of call for them I think, lots to do, lots of kayaking, hiking, fishing and canoeing so they're going to get a lot to experience today," said Holden Rhodes, Killarney Mountain Lodge owner.

Capt. Seann O'Donoughue, Octantis pilot, said more than 100 people leave the boat to take in what Killarney has to offer.

"The people on board are absolutely flabbergasted to come out and see this," O'Donoughue said.

"They've done the usual cruise ship things to see the cities like Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, and so to come up here to see the nature -- this is what they wanted to see."

The locals here says it's a welcome economic driver.

"We have a warm community that likes people coming to visit in the summer," said Jim Rook, Killarney's deputy mayor.

"Tourism is our mainstay nowadays. It use to be fishing and lumber and 1,000 years ago it used to be the fur trade." 

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