By Steven Wright
I grew up on beautiful Georgian Bay, in the summertime in Ontario there is no better place to be, its a very popular destination for the Toronto crowd that pack the car and make the 2+ hour drive north to spend time on the water enjoying their favorite past time. There are a number of great resorts, cottage rentals and camping options, quaint towns to shop, gallery and artist tours, tourist attractions and dining experiences, not to mention every water sport under the sun!
When I heard about the S.S. Keewatin, built in the British Edwardian tradition of Titanic, containing all of its original furniture, decor, flatware, place settings, quadruple expansion steam engine and the “Scotch” boilers, I managed to get a sneak peak tour before its official public opening in May 2013.
Built 5 years before the Titanic, the S.S. Keewatin was launched in 1907 by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland, commissioned by Canadian Pacific Railway, the Keewatin was one of 5 Great Lakes Steamships transporting passengers from Port McNicoll, on Georgian Bay to Fort William & Port Arthur. 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. After 58 seasons, the Keewatin was retired in 1965 and became the last of the Great Lakes passenger liners, and the last Edwardian built passenger liner steamships in the world.
Saved from being disposed for parts, scrap and antiques in 1967 the Keewatin was purchased by R J Peterson of Douglas Michigan. Peterson, a marina owner and Great Lakes Historian, towed the ship to its new home on Lake Kalamazoo where they established a Maritime Museum and lovingly cared for the Keewatin for 45 years.
In 2012, developer Gil Blutrich and the Friends of Keewatin purchased the Keewatin and towed her back home to Port McNicoll. The journey back became the subject of a documentary film Bring Her on Home – The return of the SS Keewatin. The Keewatin is the crowning jewel of a new park and development site in Port McNicoll which will include a restaurant comprised of retired Canadian Pacific Railway dining coaches and yacht club (due to open in 2014.)
Take a step back in time on board the Keewatin, guided tours are available and an awesome opportunity to experience what it would be like to travel the Great Lakes in style. There are two guided tours that you can take on board.
The first is the upper deck tour giving you the passenger experience. Starting at the Grand Staircase you are amazed with the sheer amount of mahogany throughout the ship, giving you the impression that traveling on the Keewatin was a decadent experience. The ship is adorned with carved mahogany walls and stained glass windows complimented by incredible textiles. Up the stairs you enter the Flowerpot lounge, an area to sit and relax while listening to entertainment around the ground piano before heading to the dining room set for a first class dinner. After dinner, passengers would head to the bar or grand ballroom for the evenings entertainment, and the ladies even had their own private smoking lounge. Visit the various staterooms, dressed of the period and ready to receive arriving passengers, if you are in need of a shave and a haircut – no problem there is even a Barber Shop on board. The tour continues with wheel house, the Captains quarters and a radio museum featuring a working wireless and an all weather radar. One of my favorite parts of the tour is the fully stocked kitchens, definitely not to be missed.
The second tour gives you access to areas of the Keewatin that only the crew would have seen, climb down the stairs to see the grain holds, coal bunkers and the piece de resistance in the engine room, the Scotch boilers and a working 3200 horsepower quadruple expansion steam engine. The engine is similar to the one that powered the Titanic and the last one in existence in the world.
Keewatin will have her official opening on Saturday May 11 2013 and the 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”. 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.
The Keewatin is located in Port McNicoll off Hwy 12 just 8 km from Hwy 400, 20 minutes north of Barrie.