SS Keewatin

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Keewatin at rest in Saugatuck
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.
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. 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, Keewatin was launched 6 July 1907 and entered service in the following year. The Keewatin sailed to Owen Sound under her own power. She was halved at Levis, Quebec because the canals below Lake Erie, specifically the Welland Canal could not handle ships as long as the Keewatin. The ship was reassembled at Buffalo.[2]

The Keewatin 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, 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, Keewatin and sister ship 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 As passengers opted for more reliable and faster modes of travel, Keewatin and her sister ship were withdrawn from the passenger trade in 1965, continuing in freight–only service until September 1967. Along with South American and Milwaukee Clipper, Keewatin was among the last of the turn-of-the-century style overnight passenger ships of the Great Lakes.

Keewatin was eventually moved to Douglas, Michigan, in 1967, where she was a museum ship across the river from the summer retreat Saugatuck, Michigan. In July of 2011 Keewatin was purchased by Skyline Marine and dredged from the Kalamazoo river with a one mile long, 10 foot deep, 50 foot wide excavation and dredged channel and moved to the mouth of the river and Lake Michigan on 4 June. Keewatin, manned with a crew of 10 was towed back to Canada and arrived in Port McNicoll on 23 June 2012. Keewatin has just recently completed major restorations and has been independently appraised at $32,000,000. The ship is open for visits from 24 May until 10 October.

The ship has 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.[3] A documentary has been broadcast on CBC Canada was also made called "Bring Her on Home".


Keewatin is one of the largest of the remaining Edwardian era passenger steamers left in the world. The ship has thus become a time capsule of those days, along with a few other ships lucky enough to survive, such as Nomadic, lake steamer TSS Earnslaw (1913), (currently still operational in New Zealand), and surviving ex-Manly ferry MV Baragoola (1922) (out of service held in Australia). Keewatin is also noted[by whom?] 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.


Keewatin was originally designed to complete the link in the Canadian Pacific Railway's continental route. She and Assiniaboia joined three others, Manitoba, Athabaska, and 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 following the completion of the Trans Canada Highway through northern Ontario, 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 Keewatin was bought by West Michigan entrepreneur Roland J. Peterson Sr.[4] for $37,000, $2,000 more than it would have sold for scrap.[5] It arrived on the Kalamazoo River in Douglas, Michigan, on 27 June 1967. The ship was known as Keewatin Maritime Museum, permanently docked, from 1968 until its relocation in 2012.


In August 2011 it was announced that the vessel had been sold to Skyline International Developments Inc.,[6] and was moved back to its home port of Port McNicoll, Ontario, on 23 June 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 Keewatin Foundation 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.

Keewatin was moved from Kalamazoo Lake on Thursday, 31 May 2012, and docked about a mile down river just inside the pier for continued maintenance before entering Lake Michigan. It departed Saugatuck for the big lake on Monday, 4 June 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 23 June 2012, a major celebration marked Keewatin's return and the rebirth of a new planned community surrounding her.[7] The date is significant as it was 45 years after Keewatin left Port McNicoll on 23 June 1967 and 100 years after 12 May 1912, the date that she began working from the same dock. The town staged the celebration, which included a 200-voice choir as part of the ceremonies.

In late 2017 plans were being discussed to move the Keewatin to Midland, Ontario. By March 2018 it became clear that the Keewatin would remain in Port McNicoll for another summer pending further relocation options.[8]


  1. ^ a b S.S. Keewatin - last of the Great Lakes steamships; Frederick Karst; The Times, Saturday, 16 August 2008; pg c5
  2. ^ Chicago of the North, A History of Port McNicoll, The PortMcNicoll Historical Society, 1993
  3. ^ Making Murdoch: Murdoch Ahoy - Aboard the SS Keewatin - CBC Website - Sep 30, 2013 (accessed 2017-06-29)
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Simcoe County Breaking News - Simcoe County's Online Newspaper -". Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  6. ^ "Titanic-era ship anchors port redevelopment". Retrieved 9 April 2018 – via The Globe and Mail.
  7. ^ "SS Keewatin returns home to Port McNicoll - Toronto Star". Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  8. ^ Mendler, Andrew (23 March 2018). "SS Keewatin not relocating to Midland, will spend summer in Port McNicoll". Retrieved 9 April 2018.

External links[edit]

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