PORT MCNICOLL, Ontario – They grunted, groaned and dug in their heels and eventually 851 people moved Ontario’s newest museum back to where it belongs.
The 8,000,000-pound passenger cruise ship S.S. Keewatin has opened as a floating museum, but first it had to be moved to its permanent berth.
It was anchored 350 feet away from its dockage, which was being groomed for the grand opening, and museum manager Captain Eric Conroy came up with a unique idea on how to move his vessel back.
He invited townsfolk – plus anyone else willing to donate $20 for a place on the rope – to pull the vessel back. Their efforts earned a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records and the $18,000 in donations went to the cardiac unit at Royal Victorian Hospital in nearby Barrie.
Keewatin itself is a world record holder. It’s 10 years older than the Titanic and is the last Edwardian-era passenger liner still afloat. Plus, it has lots of experience as a museum.
That’s the role it played in Saugatuck, Michigan for nearly 50 years.
When Keewatin sailed out of Port McNicoll bound Fort William and Port Arthur (Thunder Bay today) on June 23, 1966, she was also heading to the scrap yard. She had been carrying passengers, cars and other freight between Southern Ontario and the lakehead for CP Railways since 1908, but planes, trains and automobiles were now the principal connectors to the west.
When he heard Keewatin was to be scrapped, Michigan entrepreneur R.J. Peterson offered CP Railways the same price and rescued the vessel. He brought it to Saugatuck, Michigan near Chicago where it served as a Great Lakes Museum for 46 years.
Toronto developer Gil Blutrich, president of Skyline Developments Ltd., purchased S.S. Keewatin to serve as a community centre for a new recreational housing project he was building at Port McNicoll on Georgian Bay.
Blutrich paid $1 million to dredge the harbour at Saugatuck and Kalamazoo River so he could pull Keewatin 965 kilometres up Lake Michigan, across Lake Huron and into Port McNicoll on Georgian Bay. It arrived at its homeport 46 years to the day it last shipped out. An armada of 1,000 pleasure craft turned out with horns blaring to welcome Keewatin home.
Conroy and about 100 volunteers have been making the vessel ship shape for its new duties. All the furnishings, linens, dishes and silverware Keewatin shipped out with in ’66 are still aboard and so too are all her navigation and propulsion technologies.
The S.S. Keewatin was built in 1907 on Scotland’s Clyde River. Being built in the drydock beside her was the doomed passenger liner Lusitania, torpedoed during World War One with the loss of 1,198 passengers and crew.
Added to Keewatin’s own Edwardian show Conroy says his museum also has a wide variety of scale models of other famous vessels that once plied The Great Lakes.
The S.S. Keewatin is open daily in Port McNicoll for tours from May to October.
Also on Roadstories.ca …
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- In 2012 the SS Bigwin Steamboat returned to the Lake of Bays for her first cruise since 1969 …
- Halifax cemeteries are the final resting place for many of Titanic’s victims …