SS Keewatin

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The Keewatin at rest in Saugatuck
Career
Name: SS Keewatin
Owner: Canadian Pacific Steamship Company
Port of registry: Montreal
Builder: Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan, Scotland
Launched: 6 July, 1907
Christened: 1907
Maiden voyage: 14 September, 1907
In service: 7 October, 1908
Out of service: 29 November, 1965
Status: Museum ship, Port McNicoll, Ontario, Canada
General characteristics
Tonnage: 3,856 gross register tons (GRT)
Length: 336.5 ft (102.6 m)
Beam: 43.8 ft 7.2 in (13.533 m)
Depth: 26 ft 7.2 in (8.108 m)
Installed power: 3,300 h.p.
Propulsion: Quadruple expansion steam engine,
4 coal-fired scotch boilers,
single screw
Speed: 14 kn (16 mph; 26 km/h)
Capacity: 288
Crew: 86

SS Keewatin is a passenger liner that once sailed between Port Arthur / Fort William (now Thunder Bay) on Lake Superior and Port McNicoll on Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) in Ontario, Canada. She carried passengers between these ports for the Canadian Pacific Railway's Great Lakes Steamship Service. The Keewatin also carried packaged freight goods for the railway at these ports.[1]

Built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland as Hull No. 453, the Keewatin was launched 6 July 1907 and entered service in the following year. She ran continuously for almost 60 seasons, being retired in 1966. Soon after, she was acquired for historic preservation and was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States. Her sister ship, the Assiniboia, was also set to be preserved as an attraction, but burned in 1971 and was scrapped.

In the last twenty years of her working life, like many passenger ships of that era on the Great Lakes, the Keewatin and sister ship SS Assiniboia operated under stringent regulations imposed for wooden cabin steamships following the Noronic disaster in 1949. Doomed by their wooden cabins and superstructure, these overnight cruisers lasted through the decline of the passenger trade on the lakes in the post-war years. As passengers opted for more reliable and faster modes of travel, the Keewatin and her sister ship were withdrawn from the passenger trade in 1965, continuing in freight–only service until September 1967. Along with the South American and the Milwaukee Clipper, the Keewatin was among the last of the turn-of-the-century style overnight passenger ships of the Great Lakes. The Keewatin was eventually moved to Douglas, Michigan, in 1967, where she was a museum ship across the river from the summer retreat Saugatuck, Michigan.

The ship had also become a floating set for a number of maritime-related documentaries and television docudramas, including subjects involving the torpedoed ocean liner Lusitania, the burned-out Bahamas cruise ship Yarmouth Castle, Canadian Pacific's Empress of Ireland, as well as the Titanic. She was also used extensively in the opening episode of Season Seven, "Murdoch Ahoy," of Murdoch Mysteries.

Amenities[edit]

SS Keewatin is said to be the last true Edwardian era steamer left in the world. She is in a class with the Titanic, the Lusitania and the Olympic, among many other similar vessels long since retired and scrapped or lost to war. The ship has thus become a time capsule of those days, along with a few other ships lucky enough to survive, such as the Nomadic. She is also noted as part of the evolution of the Great Lakes as a strong maritime center, and her long service record is attributed to her popularity and solid engineering.

Route[edit]

SS Keewatin was originally designed to complete the link in the Canadian Pacific Railway's continental route. She and her sister ship Assiniaboia joined three others, the Manitoba, the Athabaska, and the Alberta (the latter two also built in Scotland). She served this purpose by linking the Railroad's Owen Sound depot to Fort William Port Arthur on Lake Superior. In 1912 Port McNicoll, Ontario, was established as the new "super port" and rail terminus and the ships moved there. The ships took two and a half days to make the trip each way, including half a day traversing the Soo Locks.[1] Port McNicoll was known as the "Chicago of the North" until the trains and ships were discontinued in 1965, causing the town to practically die, as all of the rail and ship jobs left.

Museum ship[edit]

After languishing for a few years, in January 1967 the SS Keewatin was bought by West Michigan entrepreneur Roland J. Peterson Sr.[2] for $37,000, $2,000 more than it would have sold for scrap.[3] It arrived in Kalamazoo Lake, Douglas, Michigan, on June 27, 1967. The ship was known as Keewatin Maritime Museum, permanently docked, from 1968 until its relocation in 2012.

Relocation[edit]

In August 2011 it was announced that the vessel had been sold to Skyline International Developments Inc.,[4] and was moved back to its home port of Port McNicoll, Ontario, on June 23, 2012, for restoration and permanent display as a maritime museum and event facility. This is possible because of the cooperation of the local and State officials in obtaining permissions and permits to dredge the harbor where Keewatin sat for 45 years to allow the ship to be moved. A not for profit foundation, the Diane and RJ Peterson Great Lakes Foundation and Keewatin Museum has been formed to operate the ship and restore her. Skyline Developments, a publicly held corporation that is rebuilding the 12,000 acre Port McNicoll site, is funding this project.

The Keewatin was moved from Kalamazoo Lake on Thursday, May 31, 2012, and docked several miles down river just inside the pier for continued maintenance before entering Lake Michigan. It departed Saugatuck for the big lake on Monday, June 4, 2012, to continue its journey northward to Mackinaw City. There it had a temporary layover before the final leg of the trip to Port McNicoll.

On June 23, 2012, a major celebration marked Keewatin's return and the rebirth of a new planned community surrounding her.[5] The date is significant as it was 45 years after Keewatin left and 100 years after the date that she began working from the same dock. The town is staged the celebration, which included a 200-voice choir as part of the ceremonies.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°44′55″N 79°48′04″W / 44.74868°N 79.80115°W / 44.74868; -79.80115