Interior View: Ala’suinu

Darrell Mercer tells Alice Chambers about Marine Atlantic's new ferry and its Indigenous background  

Interior View: Ala’suinu

Marcus Goose

Work by Mi’kmaq artists will be displayed throughout the new ferry

By Alice Chambers |

The Mi’kmaq First Nations people are among the original inhabitants of Canada’s Atlantic provinces, with archaeological evidence suggesting that their traditional territory of Mi’kma’ki has been their home for thousands of years. Today, significant Mi’kmaq communities remain throughout the region, including in the provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.  

Ferry operator Marine Atlantic, which is mandated to operate services between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, looked to honour the history and culture of the Mi’kmaq people with its newest ship, Ala’suinu. The name means ‘traveller’ in the language of the Mi’kmaq and was chosen to represent both past and future travellers on the water.  

The 1,000-passenger ship, which was built by Stena RoRo as part of its line of E-Flexers, will also honour the heritage of the Mi’kmaq people by supporting Mi’kmaq artists. 

“We’ll display artwork by Loretta Gould, Marcus Gosse, Jerry Evans and Alan Syliboyn onboard,” says Darrell Mercer, corporate communications manager at Marine Atlantic. “It was really important to us from a truth and reconciliation perspective to recognise the traditional travel between Cape Breton and Newfoundland of the Mi’kmaq people as they visited relatives in years past. That’s why we’ve chosen the name of the ship and we’re keen to represent the Indigenous culture of our region.” 

From bright-coloured acrylic paintings to tribal patterns, the onboard artwork will explore themes of family, spirituality and the culture associated with Mi’kmaq people. For example, Jerry Evans’s lithography ‘Place of Life’ uses a printmaking process in which a design is drawn onto a flat stone and affixed to the stone with a chemical reaction to reflect themes related to “social amnesia, interruption and the survivance of Indigenous life and histories in what is colonially known as Newfoundland and Labrador,” according to the artist.  

Marine Atlantic also has eight pieces of Indigenous artwork on display at three of its ferry terminal buildings at Port aux Basques in southwestern Newfoundland, North Sydney in Nova Scotia and Argentia near Placentia, Newfoundland. 

“Each terminal displays several pieces of Indigenous art by artists from Mi’kma’ki and Labrador,” says Mercer. “These pieces each tell a different story of Indigenous cultures and history through traditional and contemporary art forms, such as quillwork, pottery, printmaking and painting. Indigenous art has played an important role in storytelling and preserving cultural identity and heritage for generations of Indigenous peoples. We hope our passengers and employees can learn more about local Indigenous cultures and art forms.”  

The ferry line will also continue the Indigenous theme through its onboard dining options, from full-course dining in the Sage and Aqua restaurants to snacks served in Café Sweetgrass.  

“Sage will offer an exclusive menu complete with local Indigenous offerings that have been developed in collaboration with a local Indigenous chef,” says Mercer. “Café Sweetgrass and our retail store will also feature Indigenous inspired products.” 

Sage is set to be an open-plan restaurant with several different eateries and banquette seating and will be a light and open space with windows across the walls. Aqua has also been designed to let in plenty of natural light, as well as featuring high ceilings. This restaurant will offer a combination of bench, booth and banquette seating areas with accessible seating options available, in accordance with the latest Canadian accessibility standards. Meanwhile, Café Sweetgrass is designed as a more casual dining and shopping venue for passengers.  

Ala suinu Passenger pods

Passenger pods onboard Ala’suinu will provide privacy for guests at a lower cost

Additionally, the ship will feature a variety of amenities including an observation recliner lounge with circular windows and a telescope for passengers to make the most of the views, as well as a shop, a children’s play area and a kennel for pets. There will also be 146 standard passenger cabins and 40 passenger pods onboard, which have been designed as smaller and less expensive private areas. 

“Our passenger pods are secure and personalised spaces featuring a set of bunk beds, a small storage space and outlet, and access to public washrooms,” says Mercer.  

Ala’suinu’s first sailing has been delayed until 26 June following the discovery of a mechanical issue. Once in service, the ferry will operate between North Sydney, Argentia and Port aux Basques. 

This article was first published in the 2024 issue of  Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe  for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

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