By Linda McKellar
Posted July 13th, 2017 in Niagara At Large
Two years ago I had the unexpected pleasure of coming upon a treasure.
At Port McNicholl near Midland, Ontario there is a magical relic of our own Great Lakes history, the SS Keewatin.
The Keewatin was built in Scotland in 1907 and sailed across the stormy North Atlantic (and did so, amazingly, with an open bridge). When she arrived in Canada there was a major problem as she was too long to fit through the locks of the Welland Canal.
Since the Keewatin was built like the Titanic with overlapping steel plates held by rivets, she was dismantled in the middle and the two halves were able to pass through and then reassembled in Buffalo, NY.
From there she sailed to her home in Port McNicholl to begin a long and illustrious career, part of the Canadian Pacific fleet, as a cruise liner taking passengers in luxury around the Great Lakes as far as Port Arthur, now part of Thunder Bay. During her 60 year career she never missed a sailing and retired as a passenger ship in 1966.
Of all the British Edwardian steamers of her era, the Titanic was the first to go and she is the last, the ONLY one left intact – a time capsule. Although much smaller that the Titanic, she was from the same family with the gauges, boilers and even the deck chairs coming from the same sources using the same craftsmen in some cases.
Her lines are unmistakable. She had running water and amenities that many homes lacked at that time. She was like a little sister to the Titanic, which none of us will ever get to see, so this is as close as you can get.
The Keewatin is evocative inside and out of that era with elegant staircases and woodwork, cabins, crews quarters and galley. The dining salon has original dishes, cutlery, furniture and uniforms on display. People have donated period costumes for the cabins.
The upper deck is illuminated by sunlight streaming through beautiful stained glass windows from the world famous glass works of Murano near Venice, Italy. The engine room is not to be missed either. The ship is also a TV star having been the setting for an episode of the CBC’s period drama, Murdoch Mysteries.
When retired in favour of rail, air and road, she languished in Michigan after being purchased by RJ Peterson for only $37,000. In 2011 Skyline Marine acquired her and she was towed to Port McNicholl in June 2012, where she originally had begun her duties. Restored, now she is unofficially estimated to be valued at $32 million. (Wikipedia*).
The Keewatin is open to visitors from May24 to Oct 10. There is still restoration work to be done by the dedicated volunteers (costs supplemented by the $15 tour price) who are determined to preserve her as she deserves. I hope those of us in Niagara and Western New York will take the trip to see this gem. Sadly we often let our history decay and disappear.
Visit this beautiful icon of a bygone era. It is well worth the effort.
For more information on the SS Keewatin and touring the ship, visit – https://sskeewatin.com/ .
You can also visit – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Keewatin .
Thank you to all of those dedicated to the “Kee” and a special thank you to Eric Conroy, President and CEO of “Friends of the Keewatin.”
Linda McKellar is a resident of Fort Erie, Ontario and an avid follower of history and community affairs who has contributed previously to the news and commentary on Niagara At Large.
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