Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

In pictures: Tour grand old lady of the Great Lakes

Built five years before the Titanic, SS Keewatin will anchor a new development in Port McNicoll, Ont.

1 of 25

The SS Keewatin came home to Canada this summer, more than 100 years after it began steaming across the Great Lakes. Launched on July 6, 1907, at the height of the Edwardian era, it is the last surviving Canadian Pacific wooden cabin steamship.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

2 of 25

Tour the ship with Eric Conroy, who waited tables on the Keewatin as a teen. He has been drafted by Toronto’s Skyline International Development, which bought the ship and towed it from Michigan to become the centrepiece of a new resort community in Port McNicoll, Ont.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

3 of 25

The Keewatin was built in Scotland by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company five years before the RMS Titanic, built in Belfast. The Keewatin’s interior features 100 hand-painted Italian glass windows, elegant oak and mahogany trim and grand elements such as this staircase.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

4 of 25

A lounge at the front of the ship. For almost 60 seasons, the Keewatin sailed first from Owen Sound, Ont., and then from Port McNicoll Ont., to Port Arthur, present-day Thunder Bay, crossing Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

Story continues below advertisement

5 of 25

An original sign points to the lifeboats. The CP ships transported immigrants to Port Arthur, the entry to the Canadian West, then hauled wheat back to Port McNicoll’s grain terminal.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

6 of 25

The original dining room. It took the ship two-and-a-half-days to make the journey one way.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

7 of 25

Instead of waiting on tables, Mr. Conroy’s new job is to restore the ship and make it financially self-sufficient by opening it for tours and special events. The plan is to open the ship’s dining room as a restaurant.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

8 of 25

A table features a menu printed in 1965 and Canadian Pacific-branded tableware, including sterling silver flatware.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

9 of 25

A closer look at the 1960s menu. The ship is a many-layered time capsule. It is fitted with carpet, curtains and furniture from a 1951 facelift.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

10 of 25

Gil Blutrich, left, Skyline developer, and Mr. Conroy, look through boxes of original items. They’ve found Edwardian-era chamber pots and never-used teapots from Britain that pre-date the fifties makeover.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

11 of 25

The less glamourous kitchen. A crew of 86 tended to the needs of 288 passengers.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

12 of 25

A staircase leads down. The Keewatin was retired in 1966. The Port McNicoll port closed in the 1960s and the town lost access to the waterfront because it belonged to Canadian Pacific.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

13 of 25

Need a haircut? Saved from the scrap yard in 1967 by a marina owner in Douglas, Mich., the ship served for years as a maritime museum.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

14 of 25

The original barber’s chair. The ship survived another close shave in 2011 when the marina owner’s son was quoted that if it were up to him, he’d scrap the ship.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

15 of 25

A letter box slot. It took Mr. Blutrich five years to negotiate a deal to bring the Keewatin back to Canada. Then, the Kalamazoo River had to be dredged to tow the ship out. ‘It cost us around $1-million just to get it home,’ Mr. Blutrich says.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

16 of 25

A hallway. A strong believer in preserving the past, Mr. Blutrich and his firm has also restored Toronto’s majestic King Edward Hotel. He also purchased the Cleveland Arcade – a restored glass-roofed shopping centre built in the Ohio city in 1890.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

17 of 25

An original room. Of Keewatin’s 107 cabins, only seven had ensuite bathrooms.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

18 of 25

One of the best bunk rooms.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

19 of 25

A bunk room, recently decorated to show clothes of the day.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

20 of 25

In the bowels of the ship, the original pressure gauge. The 106-metre-long, 3,800-ton vessel utilized machinery similar to the Titanic’s.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

21 of 25

The ship was fitted with a quadruple expansion steam engine and ‘Scotch’ boilers. The 3,300 horse-power coal boiler and could propel the ship to a top speed of 14 knots.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

22 of 25

SS Keewatin and her sister ship SS Assiniboia, were the first Great Lakes vessels fitted with radar. Intended to be a floating restaurant on the Eastern Seaboard, the Assiniboia burned in 1970 when a welder’s torch set off a fire.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

23 of 25

Mr. Blutrich intends to surround this surviving ship with all the trimmings of its glory days – a heritage park, a replica of the town’s original train station and English gardens.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

24 of 25

Plans for the 1,125-acre Port McNicoll Resort Village also include a yacht club, a hotel, two restaurants, a pedestrian-oriented retail village and about 2,000 residential units. There is about 11 kilometres of shoreline to work with. Skyline says that more than half of the 825 acres purchased from CP will remain wetlands, including a protected swan nesting area.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

25 of 25

The Keewatin in the rain – the grand old lady back home.

charla jones The Globe and Mail

Report an error