The Canadian Pacific Steamship SS Keewatin has a long history. Built in 1907 in Govan Scotland, it plied the northern great lakes from Port MicNicoll on Georgian Bay to Thunder Bay on Lake Superior until the end of the steamship service in 1965. In 1967, she was purchased and moved to Saugatuck Michigan, where she remained until 2012, when she was purchased by a land developer building a resort community at the former port in Port MicNicoll. She was restored, and the Kalamazoo River dredged to let her escape her berth, and moved home. I was in attendance in June 2012 for the grand return to her Forever Home at her old home to become a floating museum. Sadly, the next 11 years brought many challenges. Starting with the developer going under and selling the land, the new owners not wanting her on their lands, to the Covid Pandemic, to the inability of the small community to raise sufficient funds, another move sadly became inevitable. The silver lining, is that another museum in Ontario, the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston has been able to acquire her, and raise funds for a restoration. Her destination on this trip, is a dry dock in Hamilton Ontario for repairs, prior to a move to Kingston and display targeted for May 2024.
The Keewatin in happier times, arriving home in Port McNicoll in June 2012.
I had been following the move thanks to MarineTraffic.com and the AIS for the lead tug towing her. When she was scheduled to arrive at Port Colborne for 6am Friday, I assumed that I had no chance to catch her on a work day. As the day progressed, it became apparent that she would be in the canal long enough for me to have a fighting chance with a bit of luck in Friday Traffic to get to St Catharines and catch her, so I got my gear prepped and I hit the roads to battle Friday traffic and the weather. Its 105 kilometers from the house to Lock 2 according to Google Maps, so doable, but challenging, especially in sometimes heavy rain. I however, have realized sometimes I love the chase as much as the catch. That said, as I approached Lock 2, it was clear how many people were out, so I parked at the end of the row along the Welland Canal Parkway and could see the safety bar on the lock was up, which meant the lock doors were open and they were ready to depart. I hoofed it so fast to try and get to a shot, I forgot my tripod! So I got no video and bad video to start. That said, I got the shots I wanted, chased along on foot a bit, before I was soaked and running out of gas, and turned to trudge back to the car.
The SS Keewatin being towed out of Lock 2 by the Molly M I and moving north toward Lock 1 on the Welland Canal.
After drying out for a bit, I decided I would at least drive up toward Lock 1 and see if I could get any more shots. I saw there was maybe a shot from the bridge looking over the ship from above in the lock, but I decided to go around and see if I could get better shots of her coming out of the lock and be a bit less helter skelter than at Lock 2. I succeeded, and found a great spot where many people were at a Tug Boat Dock, where there was a little concrete jetty with a handrail that a couple of people were out on, and I duly joined them. I even remembered the umbrella in the car to combat my mortal photographic enemy of rain…I hate rain so much.
The SS Keewatin coming out of Lock 1 at the north end of the Welland Canal, and some of the big crowds everywhere in St Catharines for the trip through the locks on a very rainy Friday evening.
I will hopefully get a 3rd kick at seeing the Keewatin sailing when she moves from Hamilton to Kingston in 2024. That will be a much more celebratory trip than the one from Port McNicoll to Hamilton which sadly had many online moaning about how she couldn’t stay in Port McNicoll. I am, very prosaic about these things, the best outcome is restoration and care, and if that is in Kingston, that’s where she should go. I think its more important that a ship with Canadian history stays in Canada and on the Great Lakes. That she will be open to the public again is better than the outcome so many historic ships face of being cut up, or slowly decaying to the point where they just sink into the muck. Here’s to many more years of people appreciating the Keewatin in her new home starting in 2024!