WHAT’S THE NEWS FOR 2013……..
The “FRIENDS OF KEEWATIN” are a not for profit charitable foundation that operates this great Canadian Icon as a historical destination. The official name is the RJ and Diane Peterson Great Lakes Foundation and Keewatin Museum.
Who we are and why are we here:
The SS Keewatin is a 106 year old Canadian Pacific Great Lakes steam ship.
The ship has a long history from when she was built in 1907 and over 60 years of it in ONTARIO as she was serving as a transportation link from The bottom of Georgian Bay to the top of Lake Superior. For the record here is a short history.
The SS Keewatin is an Edwardian passenger liner that began her service in the Canadian Pacific Railway Great Lakes Steamship fleet in 1907. There were five of these steamers, Manitoba, Alberta, Athabasca, Assiniboia, and Keewatin transporting passengers from Port McNicoll Ontario on Georgian Bay to Fort William & Port Arthur for close to sixty years. They originally worked out of Owen Sound … The fleet moved to Port McNicoll Ontario in June of 1912 to join with a new Canadian Pacific rail terminal. The Keewatin also carried packaged freight goods for the railway at these ports. 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 58 Seasons, being retired in 1966. She also had a sister ship built in the same year, the SS Assiniboia, both ships were the first to have radar on the great lakes. The journey was a 2 1/2 day trip across Lake Superior & Lake Huron with a stop in Sault Saint Marie and the reverse starting in Georgian Bay.. Actually started in 1906, the Keewatin, when commissioned carried 288 passengers with a crew of 86,was 350 feet long with a 3200 hp coal boiler with a top speed of 14 knots.¬† They moved millions of pounds of grain and goods as well as hundreds of thousands of passengers.
After the 1950′s trans-continental shipping was soon moving more to trains as they had better locomotives, could pull longer trains and had more tracks around the Great Lakes through Northern Ontario.¬† Trucks and airplanes also began to eat away at the shipping business not only in Canada but all over the Great Lakes. Soon those steamers that survived concentrated on tourism and cruise passengers and the Keewatin and her sister where the classiest , having been built in the British Edwardian tradition of Titanic and Lusitania.¬† However times continued to change. Strict regulations were imposed on the wooden cabin steamships on the Great Lakes after the 1949 SS Noronic fire disaster in Toronto Canada with between 118-139 losing their lives. Like many passenger ships of that era on the Great Lakes, the Keewatin and sister ship Assiniboia operated under fire codes and rules imposed for wooden cabin steamships. 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 was laid up and retired on November 28, 1965 at Port McNicoll,¬† finished forever.¬† Assiniboia continued to operate for two more seasons in “freight only” service before she was retired at the close of navigation in 1967.¬† That effectively was the end of the CPR Great Lakes Steamship Service in totality with Assiniboia laying up and retiring in 1967.¬† No more passengers were carried after the close of the 1965 navigation season by either ship however.
Canadian Pacific ended the service with the final journey on November 28 1965 with the SS Assiniboia departing Port McNicoll. It was a death knell to the Town which had been known as the Chicago of the North. The Assiniboia caught fire during renovations on the East Coast United States and sank in 1968. And then there was ONE.
The Keewatin became then the last of the Great Lakes passenger liners, and for that matter the last of the Edwardian built passenger liner steamships in the world. She ran continuously for five seasons from Owen Sound,¬† 56 seasons out of Port McNicoll. In 1967 she was purchased by R J Peterson of Douglas Michigan from the scrap dealers who were preparing to render her parts for melting and antiques. A marina owner and Great Lakes Historian, Mr. Peterson had been given a coffee table book for Christmas that pictured the liner waiting in the ice of Port McNicoll for disposal.
He borrowed the funds, bought the ship and the SS KEEWATIN was towed by tug back to Lake Kalamazoo, actually a wide turn in the Kalamazoo River where it empties into Lake Michigan. There she was established as a Maritime Museum and has been lovingly cared for by The Petersons for 45 years.
Last year¬† with the financial assistance of Port McNicoll developer Gil Blutrich, the Friends of Keewatin had the opportunity to purchase Keewatin from an aging Peterson and with a camera crew along spent 10 months digging her out of the little lake in Michigan ( a trench 1 mile long, 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep)! The one hour movie will appear on National TV in March of this year.
The ship was built 5 years BEFORE Titanic and in the same culture as it contains everything the RMS Titanic did.
The Quadruple expansion steam engine and the “Scotch” boilers are the same¬† and there are such features as a Grand Staircase, stained glass windows, carved mahogany walls. Keewatin still has all of her furniture, pictures on the wall and even all the silver, flat wear, glasses and cups and saucers. Her state rooms are decorated to period and her dining room set for a first class dinner.
A visit is comprised of two tours. An upper deck tour¬† takes about 90 minutes and under the guidance of well trained tour guides takes visitors through the two main decks where they see the dining room, kitchens, ladies smoking lounge, the crew quarters the working windlass machine ( anchors) , crew quarters, state rooms, Flower Pot lounge, bar and ballroom. Then the wheel house, the Captains quarters and a radio museum featuring a working wireless and an all weather radar.
The second tour takes 30 minutes and is comprised of the grain holds, coal bunkers, Scotch Boilers and a working 3200 horsepower quadruple expansion steam engine similar to what was on Titanic and the last one in the world in existence.
The goal of the foundation:
To have¬† the S.S. Keewatin serve as an important Canadian historical icon and to promote the facility as not only a valuable record of the past but a vibrant and living educational entity into the future. Keewatin will contain a museum with adequate research facilities, refurbished accommodations to be viewed and public rooms and lounges. Keewatin will maintain and offer public access to a 10,000 square foot cargo deck for community fundraiser events .. There will be a concerted effort to offer educational programs at the college level for trade apprenticeship candidates, hospitality workers and tourism students. Also an integrated program on Canadian and Maritime history will be offered to elementary schools and high schools utilizing the facilities during the school year. Finally, tours of the ship will be offered during summer and holiday periods, a retail facility for souvenirs and management of an adjacent park for associated activities.
Keewatin‚Äôs location off Highway 12 just 8 kilometres from Highway 400 and 20 minutes north of Barrie has parking for 300 cars and can accommodate drop offs of passengers from coaches at the gang plank with adjacent parking for coaches. We have full washroom facilities located near the ship and a well appointed gift shop which carries all locally acquired products and items. There is also an excellent restaurant nearby which also can accommodate motor coaches.
There is an all volunteer crew of 150, some of whom are retired crew from the CPR fleet which sailed from the port. We are in the process of having a yacht club facility built next door which include a restaurant comprised of retired CPR dining coaches. It will be open in 2014.
The ship will be permanently docked with a mooring site and a park on lease for 99 years from Tay Township in the town of Port McNicoll, almost on the spot where it tied up to collect and disembark passengers.
Keewatin will have her official opening on Saturday May 11 2013, but will actually be open from April 23rd. Season closes mid October.
Group rates are a donation of $12.00 per person ( upper deck and engine room) with a single payment made payable to “Friends of Keewatin‚ÄĚ
Individual admittance is $15.00 ( tax in) for the upper deck and $7.00 (tax in) for the engine room. $7.50 ( tax in) for Youth 10 to 16 upper deck. $4.00 ( tax in) engine room.
Children under 10 free with adults.
All new developments are featured on the Keewatin blog site, Drone On.
The Friends of Keewatin