Last Edwardian-era Great Lakes steamship repatriated to original home dock in Port McNicoll, ON. 
TORONTO, July 4, 2012 – After more than a century cruising the Great Lakes, S.S. Keewatin’s final journey ranked as her most memorable. The illustrious relic of Canadian maritime history finally came home.   
Skyline’s Chairman and President Gil Blutrich (second from left) was presented with the S.S. Keewatin Bell by Eric Conroy (Captain Rick) and Captain Matt Fogg to officially welcome the ship home to Canada. 
Skyline International Development Inc. (www.skylineinvestments.com) Chairman and President Gil Blutrich proudly welcomed S.S. Keewatin—the crown jewel in the Canadian Pacific Railway’s once-mighty Great Lakes Steamship fleet—to her original home in Port McNicoll, ON., at a dignitary-studded homecoming ceremony.
The event—attended by Bruce Stanton (MP, Simcoe North), Garfield Dunlop (MPP, Simcoe North) and Tay Township Mayor Scott Warnock—marked the culmination of a four-year-long negotiating process with Douglas, Mich. entrepreneur R.J. Peterson to purchase and repatriate the vessel to Canadian shores. Municipal council in Tay Township, which encompasses Port McNicoll, passed a special motion last year setting the stage for the vessel’s return.
“The homecoming was a momentous day, not only for a storied vessel, but for the people of Tay Township and Canada as well,” Blutrich said. “S.S. Keewatin’s repatriation represents another huge leap forward in our commitment to revitalize Port McNicoll in the timeless traditions of other classic Central Ontario maritime towns. Our vision is to reconnect people to nature through water-based recreation, while creating a flourishing four-seasons civic and commercial destination for the region.”
S.S. Keewatin was purchased by the Peterson family in 1967 and docked in Saugatuck, Mich., where she was operated as a maritime museum. The Edwardian-era vessel, launched July 6, 1907, was retired in 1966 after spending the previous 65 seasons ferrying passengers from Port McNicoll on Georgian Bay, to Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) on Lake Superior.
The ship was purchased by Skyline International Development and will be donated to a foundation named after Rolland J. and Diane Peterson, which will operate and maintain the vessel as a maritime museum. The Keewatin is now moored in a new waterfront park in Port McNicoll—steps from the original location where she was originally tied. The park will feature a replica of the town’s original train station and surrounding English gardens.
“The people of Simcoe North are overjoyed to have such a rich piece of maritime history at their doorstep,” Stanton said. “I’m confident Keewatin will become one of the area’s great heritage attractions in the years to come.”
Constructed five years before the first voyage of RMS Titanic, Keewatin boasts many of the same design and construction features of her ill-fated cousin including a quadruple expansion steam engine and “Scotch” boilers, as well as a grand staircase, Edwardian dining saloon, hand painted Italian glass and oak trim throughout. Strict fire codes and faster modes of transportation made the wood-cabined vessel largely obsolete by the mid-1960s.
Tay Township Mayor Scott Warnock said the vessel’s repatriation is about more than just bringing a storied piece of Canadian history home.
“We believe the S.S. Keewatin and the planned park development on Port McNicoll’s waterfront could attract thousands of tourists each year,” he said. “While she spent most of her life transporting passengers and cargo to ports across the Great Lakes, Keewatin is now poised to deliver major economic and cultural benefits to Tay Township.”
Dredging of the Kalamazoo River—funded by the R.J. and Diane Peterson Great Lakes and S.S. Keewatin Foundation—was completed to allow the vessel to be towed to the mouth of Lake Michigan, where Blutrich met Peterson for the official handover of the vessel. Restoration work will now begin to return the ship to her original early 20th century grandeur.
“The S.S. Keewatin’s repatriation and restoration will shed light on a wonderful moment in Canadian maritime travel for future generations, while helping to attract greater tourism spending and prosperity to the region as she did in her glory days in the early to mid-20th century,” Dunlop added.
Built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland as Hull No. 453, the Keewatin, along with her sister ship S.S. Assiniboia, were the first Great Lakes ships to boast radar. The 350-foot long Keewatin carried 288 passengers with a crew of 86, and cruised at a top speed of 14 knots.

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