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S.S. Keewatin – A jewel from the glory days of Great Lakes passenger travel

January 2018

Moored at a dock in Port McNicoll, Ontario, visitors can tour a ship that harkens back to the glory days of passenger travel on the Great Lakes.

Owned and operated by Canadian Pacific Railway, the S.S. Keewatin is the last of the Edwardian-era Great Lakes passenger steamers.  Out of service since it was retired on 28 November 1965, 350-foot Keewatin was saved from the scrapyard and has served as a museum, initially in Douglas, Michigan, where it was known as the Keewatin Maritime Museum, from 1968 until it relocated to Port McNicoll in 2012.

The S.S. Keewatin was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1907 and saw her maiden voyage on 7 October 1908 in Owen Sound.

Able to accommodate 220 passengers, plus 86 officers and crew, Keewatin and her sister ship, the S.S. Assiniboia, were among five ships that transported passengers, freight and mail between her home port of Port McNicoll and Fort William, now part of Thunder Bay.  This filled the gap between CP rail lines in southern Ontario and Fort William, as there were no railway or highway connections that far south until 1956, when the Trans-Canada highway around Lake Superior was completed.

An interesting feature of the Keewatin is that its main dining room is a smaller, but otherwise identical version to the one on the RMS Titanic, launched five years later.

The owners of Keewatin, Friends of the Keewatin and Skyline Developments had originally envisioned a re-developed McNicoll waterfront project that was to include 1,400 homes, a yacht club, marina, retail shops and entertainment facilities.  The original agreement included Skyline’s pledge to donate her to Friends of the Keewatin, but this arrangement has yet to materialize, and may not happen.

Skyline sold the property in the spring of 2017, a sale that didn’t include the Keewatin, placing its future in doubt.

The Friends of the Keewatin are now looking to relocate the ship to either nearby Midland or Owen Sound, where Keewatin was originally based until 1912, if it can’t remain in Port McNicoll.

Tours of the ship are conducted by an army of volunteers, some of whom were part of the crew during her sailing days, from the middle of May until early October.

A short film:  “BRING HER ON HOME – the return of the S.S. Keewatin,” can be found here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYhn6I27nzM


Sources:  http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2018/01/17/ss-keewatin-needs-a-new-home-operators-would-consider-a-pitch-to-owen-sound-if-midland-doesnt-want-it, https://kryhul.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/ss-keewatin-comes-home, ‘Friends of Keewatin’ raising funds to preserve S.S. Keewatin – Canadian Coin News.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/s-s-keewatin-a-jewel-from-the-glory-days-of-great-lakes-passenger-travel/

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