S.S. Keewatin

Neil Edwards in uniformNeil Edwards 1933-2000

Born in July, Neil was the oldest of four children born to Vasey Ontario residents Nelson and Olive Edwards.

He attended elementary school at the one room schoolhouse close to home. High school was attended in nearby Midland.

At a young age, Neil decided that he wanted to be a sailor. CPR ships were operating out of Port McNicoll and in May of 1949 Neil was able to gain employment on the Keewatin as a deckhand. Now if you do the arithmetic, you will notice that young Neil was only 15 years old in the spring of 1949. It was no problem to get employment if you simply tell everyone that you are one year older than you really are.

By the fall of 1950, Neil became a “watchman” looking out for navigational hazards under Captain Jarman. Part way through the next season he became a “lookout” followed by “wheelsman”.

These passenger ships typically operated from April until December. Winters were spent upgrading skills and enjoying some family time after being away much of the rest of the year.

The highlight of his time off in the winter of 1954 was marrying Ella Whiteside of Wasaga Beach.

In the winter of 1955, Neil attended training in Collingwood and became qualified as a “Second Mate”. The winter of 1956 was spent upgrading to “First Mate” qualification.

Other required government issued qualifications included “Lifeboat Certificate” and “Certificate of Proficiency in Radio”.

In November of 1956, Neil transferred to the Assiniboia and worked under Captain J. R. Stewart. In the spring of 1957, Ernest Ridd transferred from the Keewatin to take over as Captain of the Assiniboia and maintained that position until the ship stopped operating in 1967.

As with most working men of the time, Neil was on the ships when his two children were born. Son Alan was born in 1958 and daughter Gwen in 1962.

In the early 1960’s there were plenty of rumours about the demise of the CPR passenger ships.   Declining passenger numbers, new safety standards and the age of the ships all contributed to the end of an era.  

Neil decided it was better to leave on his terms rather than wait until the inevitable end. After being self-employed for about two years, he secured a job at the newly constructed Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company facility in Collingwood where he worked until his retirement. Neil died in the spring of 2000.

His son Alan has written this biography. Information has been obtained from Ella Edwards, as well as official documents’ including his “Continuous Certificate of Discharge for Seamen”.