The 110-year old SS Keewantin from doom to complete restoration in 2017

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer, Author & Lecturer

Please Note: All ssmaritime and my other related ssmaritime sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned sites. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any cruise or shipping companies or travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! The author has been in the passenger shipping industry since May 1960 and is now semi-retired, but continues to write article on classic liners and cruise ships in order to better to inform cruise and ship enthusiasts for their pleasure!

 

The SS Keewantin Story

& Ship & New Dock Dedication July 8, 2017

Introduction:

Let me commence with a brief introduction to the SS Keewantin story, although Page One has the complete details of her construction as well as her sister ship and their operational days, also the Keewantin being rescued to become a maritime Museum. Later she was obtained by a group led by Eric Conroy for her to return to her homeport at Port McNicoll, Ontario where she has been beautifully restored and is now open to the public. But first let us look at her beginnings;

Canadian Pacific Steamship Company operating their famed CP Railway’s Great Lakes Steamship Service ordered a new lakes liner to be built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Govan Scotland on December 22, 1906. She was launched and officially named ‘Keewatin’ on July 6, 1907. Having been completed, on September 12, 1907 the SS Keewantin commenced her sea trials, and amazingly this occurred on the same day as the 31,500 GRT (Gross Registered Tons) SS Lusitania. With her trials being successful, the SS Keewatin departed Scotland and sailed for Montreal Canada on September 14, 1907.

However for Keewantin’s journey to her homeport was a rather a dramatic one, for a drastic undertaking had to take place first. On October 5, whilst she was at the Davie Ship Yards at Quebec, she was cut into two sections, secured, and made fully fit for a special journey. She was towed up the St Lawrence, across Lake Ontario, then through the Welland Canal to Buffalo, all whilst the ship was in the two parts. This journey took from October 10 to 15, 1907. But amazingly, it would be almost a year later when the SS Keewatin was ready to commence her regular duties. Finally, on October 7, 1908 she departed on her Maiden voyage from Owen Sound to Fort William and these seasonal return voyages continued, until when she began operating from her new deep-water port at Port McNicoll on May 1, 1912.

The passenger liner, come car ferry SS Keewantin served the company and the region well! However, in the last twenty years of her working life, like many passenger ships of that era on the Great Lakes, she operated under very stringent regulations imposed for wooden cabin steamships, especially following the terrible SS Noronic disaster in Toronto Harbour September 1949.

Doomed by her and her sister ship, the SS Assiniboia wooden cabins and upper superstructure, these overnight cruisers lasted through the decline of the passenger trade on the lakes in the post-war years. As passengers opted for faster modes of travel, the Keewatin and the Assiniboia were withdrawn from the passenger trade in 1965, and continued on an freight-only service until September 1967, with the Assiniboia concluding in 1968. The Keewatin and her sister were among the last of the turn-of-the-century style overnight passenger ships on the Great Lakes.

SS Assiniboia which was launched first operated as a passenger ship until 1965, then sailed with freight only until sold early in 1968

But the future for the Keewantin was indeed very bleak, as it was thought that she may even be broken up, but she was saved when she was purchased by West Michigan entrepreneur Mr. Roland J. Peterson Sr., for US$37,000, being around $2,000 more than she would have made if she had been sold to be broken up. She was relocated to Saugatuck on Kalamazoo Lake, Douglas, Michigan, where she became the “Keewatin Maritime Museum” and remained docked until 2012. Was this going to be the end for this fine historic ship for another time? No, for Mr. Eric Conroy past crewmember of the Keewantin had befriended Mr. Roland J. Peterson Snr and a new future began for this fine Canadian Lakes Liner! Below is Captain Eric’s story of the rescue and restoration of the ship and the dock where she is now berthed at Port McNicoll, in the township of Tay, Ontario.

Reuben Goossens.

Maritime Historian, Author, and Lecturer.

Commenced in the Passenger Shipping Industry in 1960.

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Keewantin’s Restoration Story:

By SS Keewantin - Captain Eric Conroy

This is a rather long story. As Keewatin went on with her restoration, it became apparent that something had to be done for her docking facility and the land adjacent, was very much a disused industrial property.

In the day the land had been the site for freight sheds, train lines and a commercial railway station. The Keewatin and the other four ships in the Canadian Pacific fleet unloaded their dry goods and 1,600 tons of grain and flower in 50 pound bags through these sheds and onto the freight cars on the other side. This facility was built in 1912 to facilitate the shipment of livestock and immigrants from southern Ontario up to the top of the Great Lakes at Fort William where the connection to the trains west was situated. When the docks and facilities were abandoned in 1965 by Canadian Pacific they remained only for a few years until they were knocked down and lands left fallow.

The old rail station was used for several uses thus it survived. In June 2012 we brought Keewatin back, and with minor runs with a bull dozer made the land usable as a transfer site and a parking area for tourists wanting to visit the Keewatin.

This year, 2017 is the 150th.anniversary of Canada becoming a Confederation. The docks in Port McNicoll was officially named the “Confederation Gateway To The West Docks” so we successfully applied for a grant to restore the docks and build a park. We received CAD$480,000 and raised the same from our main sponsor, the local developer. We commenced in October 2016.

Here we see the old Dock area being prepared to become a dock for the ship, a green park and car park

Once we had cleared the rubble from one end of the property we had to move the ship about 350 feet along the dock to where the sail boat is in the picture above. We did this with an earth moving machine and about two dozen mariners we conscripted for the job. It took a full day, and a very cold one at that!

Looking towards the water with a sailboat in view

 

Three view of the ship being pulled 350-feet forward up the dock

Then the diggers took out all of the materials on the other end of the property. Once we did that it was another cold Saturday to move the ship back along the dock which would let the steel facing for the dock start to be installed. The sheets are 30 feet long fit together. They are welded onto a track that was installed on top old the old concrete dock.

The next phase is to pour large field stones into the water so they build up against the bottom of the steel plates. These field stones are followed by river rock, or small stones that encourage spawn areas for several species of Great Lakes fish. Remember, this is so far only half the dock!

The final part of the dock face installation are known as “Tie-Backs,” these are steel metal sheets folded like accordions through which rods run that are welded to the dock face then threaded through the accordion and bolted from the land side of the sheet. These are 40 feet long and are placed 18 feet from each other. They extend out into the park the length of the dock buried about 6 feet down. They put tension into the steel face against the rocks in the water.

Once that had been done, we had to move the ship again, all the way to the end of the property by the neighbours house, and work on the other side and fill the area with sand and a gravel. Once again we used our mighty mariners and some earth movers to do the job. And the work continued.

The next major move wais to bring the Keewatin back to the end of the dock, being her final move, being yet another 350-feet move. After thinking about how to go about this, we decided to do something that no one else had ever done. Thus we decided to invite the community at large to come down to the dock on a special day and we would all pull the Keewatin back to her spot using 2 inch ropes. In addition we decided to do this as a fund raiser for our local Cardiology Ward at ‘Royal Victorian Hospital.’ With the wonderful help of our local radio stations we had 851 good people give a CAD$20.00 donation (some gave even more) to complete this final move of the ship.

Then on March 22, 2017 we had an amazing 2,000 people attend, and we raised $22,251.00 for a great cause and together on a beautiful sunny day, we put the SS Keewantin into her correct location. It was simply magic! We have applied to the Guinness World of Records.

 

View the video of the Massive Big Pull of the Ship

In order to complete this vast work mentioned, we spent CAD$980,000.00 on this project, thus we able to keep eight local trades employed at top wages for eight months. In addition, we purchased all our materials locally except for the steel, but this came from Ontario and was made by union labour.

Here we see the classic 105-year old SS Keewantin in place after her relocation, looking simply beautiful!

June 22, 2017:

The official unveiling of the Dock and Gardens of: “The Confederation Gateway to the West Docks.” Today visitors arrived at 10.45 AM and when the ceremony commenced, “O Canada” was performed admirably by Jake Hamilton. There after a number of speeches were made by Dep. Comm. Roy V. Berlinquette, who read a letter from the Hon. Navdeep Bains. The Mayor of the Township of Tay Scot Warnock presented a framed poster of the “Mighty” Keewantin, followed by a speech by our major sponsor, the COE of Skyline, Mr. Blake Lyon, which lead to the official unveiling by two members of the 60 Midland Legion Pipe Band, who then as a group performed as they came down the Gangplank onto the dock and into the gardens, having been officially opened, and all could enjoy its facilities!

 

Above & below: Scenes of the Unveiling Ceremony

 

The Township of Tay had almost become a ghost town, and having created an amazing new tourist attraction with the historic SS Keewatin returned, we have given the community an incredible new Park to enjoy as well as a Maritime Museum, which will bring visitors from around the Country, the USA and from around the world!

In other news we have all of her ten life boats restored and installed, and have just launched a TV commercial that is going viral on the internet.

View the TV Commercial mentioned above

 

Also view “The Mighty Ship Keewatin a 3,24 minute film - at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8k7vntOxOgc

This is a wonderful film of the historic Keewantin in black & white & colour

When in Ontario Canada, come and visit the beautiful classic SS Keewantin, and have a very special day on board as well in our beautiful parkland!

Captain Eric Conroy.

Visit: The Friends of Keewatin Website for further details

 

Click HERE TO DONATE to The Friends of Keewatin Foundation

Or email Eric Conroy at: ericconroy@rogers.com

Please Note: ssMaritime is not related to the above foundation, but fully supports it

 

Return to Page One

SS Keewantin’s complete history, return to Port McNicholl and statistics.

 

May the great centenarian, the S.S. Keewatin live on at Port McNicoll for another 100 years!

 

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“Blue Water Liners sailing to the distant shores.
I watched them come, I watched them go and I watched them die.”

 

But thankfully some are Saved and Continue to live on for future Generations!

 

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