Posted by: cruise2 | 29 January, 2012

Plans for S.S. Keewatin Come Together

From Kevin Griffin in our London office

Photograph of s.s. Keewatin and dredging equipment at Douglas, Michigan, courtesy of Eric Conroy at the s.s. Keewatin Project

And now for a happier story than the recent Costa cruise ship tragedy and tales of a Shakespearian captain.  What you are looking at here is the 105-year-old former Canadian Pacific Great Lakes passenger ship Keewatin.  At 3,856 gross tons and with dimensions of 350 x 44 feet, she has just been rescued from an uncertain future to become the centrepiece of a new resort development at her old Georgian Bay home port of Port McNicoll, Ontario.

Keewatin is shown at Douglas, Michigan, near Saugatuck, where she has been used as a maritime museum for the past forty years and more. She has been shorn of her lifeboats in order to lighten ship for a scheduled June tow from Douglas to Port McNicoll. In the foreground is the dredging equipment that has been hired to cut the channel from Douglas that will free her. The Edwardian steamship had been lying in a bed of mud until last month, when she was finally floated again, and after inspection  is said to be in marvellous condition.

This dredging, which is being paid for by the ship’s new owners Skyline International Development Corporation, will also open up the dock at Douglas to small cruise ships such as Travel Dynamics’ 2,354-ton Yorktown, 257 x 43 feet, which is scheduled to call at nearby Saugatuck several times this year on her cruises between Detroit and Chicago. Yorktown has a passenger capacity of 138, compared to Keewatin‘s 280 when she was in service between 1908 and 1965.  For those wishing to cruise the Great Lakes in 2012,  Yorktown will be offering a total of thirteen 7, 10, 11 and 14-night cruises, with fares from $US3,995 for seven nights, including the cruise, all port charges, lectures, shore excursions and wine with lunch and dinner.

When she arrives at Port McNicoll, Keewatin, shown here during her last days of regular service between Georgian Bay and Lake Superior, will become a floating community centre and centrepiece for Port McNicoll’s renaissance. Plans are to build a resort hotel and condominiums and rebuild the old dockside railway station to its original plans. On board, Keewatin will also feature a museum on her main deck and a kind of market in her old main cargo deck, which in her last years was used to carry about forty cars. This will also be made available for community functions. Berthed very near to her old berth, from which she used to sail from every Wednesday for Sault Ste Marie, Port Arthur and Fort William (the last two now called Thunder Bay), the ship will become the centrepiece of what has until now been a sleepy Ontario town.

Just this month Skyline has also acquired a set of vintage railway rolling stock to become part of the scene. The port, with deep water, will naturally be seeking to attract a certain amount of cruise ship trade, and with an attraction such as Keewatin will be well equipped to do so.

For more information on either the S.S. Keewatin or how to book a Great Lakes cruise in Yorktown please contact The Cruise People, Ltd. in London on 020 7723 2450, in Toronto at 1-800-961-5536 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk or cruise@thecruisepeople.ca

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