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Rare Bear: Keewatin – Then and Now

By Rev. C.J. Barry Kentner

It was the 27th of June, 2012, when the Keewatin returned to Port McNichol … some thirty years after her service…and almost 70 years after her launch.

Pleasure Boats were everywhere,
Even a Plane or two was there,
Pipe Band playing a Nautical Air,
And horns were blaring everywhere.

So it was, when  the last of the Edwardian Liners docked at her home port in 2012.

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She was purchased from R.J. Peterson of Douglas, Michigan,  by the Friends of Keewatin and Port McNichol Developer Gil Blutrtich, after Peterson had operated her for 45 years as a Maritime Museum.

It took ten months to dig her out of Lake Kalamazoo, and float her from there to Port McNichol Ontario…and after her arrival, it has been hundreds of  volunteer hours by the Friends of Keewatin to refurbish it.   However their labour of love may be in vain.

The Edwardian Liner…last of the Great Lakes Steamships…is up for sale.   The Friends of Keewatin are not happy and a petition is being sent to the Federal Government to keep it ln Port McNichol.

Keewatin was one of six ships owned by Canadian Pacific Railways to sail the Upper Great Lakes. In 1883 they linked the eastern and western railheads, populating the West.   They were specifically responsible for the economic development of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and that brought those provinces into the Confederation of Canada  in 1905.

Amongst  other things tbey carried vast numbers of immigrants plus equipment and supplies, as well as carrying millions of tons of grain to market in the east on their downward trips.

S.S. Keewatin began her service in the Canadian Pacific Railroad Great Lakes Steamship fleet in 1907. Built in Glasgow, Scotland on the Clyde River, Keewatin was designed with comfort, class and beauty in mind as she transported passengers and freight on a two and a half day journey across the Great Lakes from Port McNicoll to what is now known as Thunder Bay, Ontario. 

That all ended with the burning of the S.S. Noronic…at a pier in Toronto.   I was among the watchers; as a l4-year old boy, I watched, with my family,  beneath a bridge at the foot of Carlaw Avenue as the tragedy unfolded.   Over a hundred people perished in that blaze.

Since then, strict regulations have been  imposed on wooden cabin steamships on the Great Lakes.

The last surviving steam ship of the Great Lake, is at a berth in Port McNichol, her home port.   But it is up to the Federal Government to decide her fate.

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