PortsToronto Goes OFF Limits with the Canadian Association for Girls in Science and the Marilyn Bell I Electric Ferry

PortsToronto was honoured to welcome Canadian Association for Girls in Science (CAGIS) scientist Dr. Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko to the Port of Toronto for an episode of its inspiring OFF Limits video series. Launched this summer to celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary, the series takes viewers behind-the-scenes to exciting locations with inspiring STEM role models.

PortsToronto is featured in the episode OFF Limits: Going Electric. In this episode, Dr. Larissa takes a deep dive into the conversion of the Billy Bishop Airport Marilyn Bell I ferry to 100 per cent electric power with STEM role model, PortsToronto Project Manager Jelena Ognjanovic. This innovative project, led by Jelena, brought together an all-Canadian roster of companies to achieve a first-in-Canada conversion project that had no existing blueprint.
“It is so important for people to know about the different types of renewable energy, and to know what PortsToronto is doing to be more environmentally sustainable. Hopefully it will inspire a broader community of people to think about the environmental impact of their day to day choices and other companies to do conversions themselves as well,” commented Dr. Larissa.

The Marilyn Bell I, is the first completely electric, lithium-ion ferry in Canada, powered by 100 per cent renewable wind and solar energy through PortsToronto’s partnership with Bullfrog Power. Its electric propulsion system, entirely devoid of fuel components, eliminates GHG emissions from the ferry operation – reducing Billy Bishop Airport’s direct emissions by an estimated 530 tonnes per year. In addition to operating more efficiently and eliminating related air emissions, the retrofitted ferry builds on Billy Bishop Airport’s award-winning Noise Management Program, as it operates far more quietly, dramatically reducing related noise in the surrounding community.
The airport’s ferry operation connects passengers, staff, vehicles and essential supplies to and from Billy Bishop Airport. It completes more than 75 crossings per day (or four round trips per hour) of the Western Gap, a distance of approximately 400-feet that takes about 90 seconds to travel.
Thanks to the vessel’s rapid charging station, topping up a charge takes only five minutes and is completed during regular offloading/loading vehicles. The Marilyn Bell I electric ferry can operate four round trips of the crossing on a single charge, weather permitting.


We sat down with Dr. Larissa to talk about her experience leading CAGIS over the past 30 years, and what she learned from her visit to the Port of Toronto.

CAGIS is celebrating its 30th anniversary – congratulations! What is one of your proudest accomplishments or moments since its inception?
Watching the youth who go through the program, watching them develop and grow and become these really amazing and inspiring people themselves. To watch [a really quiet or shy participant] month after month become excited and engaged, and get in there is such a rewarding moment. In particular, watching the youth when they get those “aha” moments and they suddenly get it and they are excited about it and they are sharing it with their friends, I find rewarding.
You founded CAGIS due to the stereotypes surrounding STEM and scientists. How have these stereotypes shifted in the last 30 years?
There have been shifts. There is something called the draw-a-scientist test that started over 50 years ago which asks kids to draw a picture of a scientist. Way back, there were very few kids who were drawing female scientists. Now, with five and six year olds, 50 per cent are drawing women and 50 per cent are drawing men. That is a big improvement. By the time these youths are teenagers, suddenly women scientists are outnumbered by male scientists four to one.
It seems that once kids enter school, something is affecting their perception about who can be a scientist. The studies I mentioned were specifically focused on gender, but there are other elements to this issue, like race and disability status. We are seeing improvements, but studies suggest there is still a stereotype.
From a non-scientific perspective – I am seeing more women represented in the media and broadly in STEM. More men than women are represented in those fields, and we need to keep making sure we are showcasing women, nonbinary, gender nonconforming youth, and racialized individuals, that we are breaking those stereotypes and showing youth that anyone can be a STEM expert.  
What advice would you give the next generation of girls, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming youth that are interested in pursuing a career in STEM?
Get out and explore! Join CAGIS to help with that process. Go out there and find your interests. Don’t say that you are not interested in something before you’ve tried it. Interests can be shaped by what we see in society. We have held CAGIS events, for example relating to the trades, during which some of our participants say, “Oh, I’m not really into that.” until they get there and try it and it’s really fun. Be open to all the different types of possibilities out there. Try them all, then go and do it!

What inspired you to make the OFF Limits video series? And, what has the response to the series been like so far?
Women are under-represented in STEM fields, with less than 25 per cent in STEM fields and about 4 per cent in trades. Research shows that representation matters. When girls see women in engineering for example, they are much more likely to show an interest in learning about engineering. That is what we do at CAGIS with our in-person and virtual programming. We try to highlight these role models, and make STEM fun, exciting and hands-on.
With the OFF limits series, we wanted to find a way reach an audience beyond our members. We came up with the concept of going to these really cool locations that we wouldn’t normally get to go to in our day to day lives, learning about the STEM behind the scenes there and meeting some really inspiring people.
The response has been great, we have received so many emails from kids and parents who absolutely love it. They can’t wait to find out where we are going next each month. They are tuning in and really loving the series so far.
We piloted the PortsToronto video with a group of teens before we launched the series. The teens loved the project – they really found the environmental element of it exciting.
What did you learn from meeting with PortsToronto Project Manager, Jelena Ognjanovic?
It was really interesting to meet with her and to learn about PortsToronto, in particular the conversion of the Marilyn Bell I Ferry. I didn’t know that was Canada’s first electric ferry, or that it helped save 530,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year. That is such an important thing for people to know about.
It is great to know what PortsToronto is doing to be more environmentally sustainable and hopefully it will inspire a broader community of people to think about the environmental impact of their day to day choices, and other companies to do conversions themselves as well.
Did anything you learned about the conversion of the Billy Bishop Airport Marilyn Bell I ferry to 100% electric power surprise you?
I thought it was interesting to learn about where it is plugged in. It is electric, obviously, it needs to be plugged in and charged just like a cell phone. That was the most surprising part – to think about plugging something in at night.
What’s next for CAGIS?
We are going back to in-person programming. We have a lot of demand for chapters in cities where we don’t have chapters. We would love to start meeting that demand and growing our chapters across the country so that we can fill those gaps. We are also continuing with our virtual programming – and have new things coming out like the OFF Limits series that we just launched. Some of the videos have STEM challenges associated with them as well. We have a new interactive side of our website that we will be launching shortly. There will be more fun stuff to do with us online!