On May 25, 2016, we visited the S.S. Keewatin at Port McNicoll, but first, we had a trip to the Huronia Museum in Midland, where we saw a recreation of a First Nations village. That was followed by lunch at Henry's restaurant in Midland, and finally we went on board the SS Keewatin at Port McNicoll for a tour.
Inside the museum, we donned white gloves as we handled various artifacts.
Then we went inside a Longhouse, where families lived together. Not too much privacy!
After our museum tour, we had a delicious lunch at Henry's Restaurant in Midland.
Following lunch we arrived at the S.S. Keewatin for our tour. 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.
The Keewatin was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in my hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 1907. She ran continuously for almost 60 seasons, being retired in 1966. Soon after, she was acquired by RJ Peterson of Douglas Michigan 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 Camden New Jersey 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.That was a similar ship that caught fire and burned while on the docks in Toronto, Ontario with large loss of life. 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As passengers opted for more reliable and faster modes of travel, the Keewatin and her sister ship were withdrawn from the passenger trade in 1965, Assiniboia continuing in freight–only service until September 1967.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. In June of 2012 she was sold to Canadian developer Skyline Investments and sailed back to the Port that had been her home since 1912, Port McNicoll Ontario and run by a volunteer organization, is again open to the public as an Historic Destination.
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, ( Built by the way at the same time as Keewatin in Goven, Scotland) the burned-out Bahamas cruise ship Yarmouth Castle, Canadian Pacific’s Empress of Ireland, as well as the Titanic. Keewatin’s latest staring role was with Murdock Mysteries, a Canadian made, world distributed TV show about an Edwardian Police Detective. The entire episode was filmed on Keewatin who played herself.
We wish to thank Charles Burge and Bill Davidson, for organizing such an interesting and enjoyable trip.
Photo at right shows the last view of the Keewatin from the departing bus. Below are photos of the tour and interiors of the ship.