Homebound Voyage of Former Canadian Pacific Steamship Keewatin From Mackinaw City Finishes at Port McNicoll Next Week: Scene at Mackinaw With Tug Wendy Anne by Richard Weiss


A personal note from Kevin Griffin, managing director of The Cruise People Ltd in London, England:

I have a particular interest in the s.s. Keewatin as I was privileged at the age of 17 to land my first real job – as a waiter – on board her sister ship s.s. Assiniboia. This was during their last summer of passenger service and just before I entered university. The Keewatin and Assiniboia were built on the Clyde in 1907 and operated Canadian Pacific’s Great Lakes Steamship Service, sailing weekly from Port McNicoll, on Georgian Bay, to Sault Ste Marie and on to the Canadian Lakehead at Port Arthur and Fort William (which combined into Thunder Bay in 1970).

The pay was $173.58 per month but that was upped almost immediately to $240 once I was on board. Meals and berth were included and tips were an added bonus. Clothing requirements were “black shoes, white shirts, black bow tie, navy blue trousers and old clothing for work in port. Jackets are supplied and the navy trousers can be purchased at Del Hasting’s Men’s Wear in Midland.” The jackets were blue serge with brass buttons and were quite warm on a hot summer’s day at lunchtime!

The Keewatin sailed on Wednesdays and the Assiniboia on Saturdays and the two ships met at Sault Ste Marie every Sunday. The cost of such an “Inland Sea” cruise in those days was $90 per person in an inside cabin or $100 in an outside, and the fare included passage Port McNicoll-Fort William and return, berth and meals aboard ship and hotel room and meals in Fort William while the ship handled cargo. These cruises, which  were offered twice weekly, thus consisted of five nights, one of which was spent ashore.

When the boat train from Toronto came alongside at Port McNicoll at 3 pm, passengers boarded the ship, followed by the waiters carrying their luggage (and freshly laundered sheets, towels and uniforms from the Royal York Hotel laundry in Toronto) and she sailed promptly at 3:15 – just fifteen minutes later! At the Lakehead there were rail connections to and from the Pacific via Canadian Pacific’s famous Trans-Continental express “The Canadian.”

The next season, with the passenger service gone (although the Assiniboia still carried cargo for a while), I was given a ticket on “The Canadian” and assigned to Canadian Pacific’s British Columbia Coast Steamship Service, where I joined Princess Patricia, cruising from Vancouver to Alaska. She was built in the same shipyard as Assiniboia and Keewatin and gave her name to Princess Cruises when she was chartered to Stan McDonald of Seattle for two winters cruising from Los Angeles to Mexico. We had to remove all the Mexican decorations in preparation for her next Alaska season. One difference on the West Coast was that the waiters wore cooler white jackets for lunch.

Having sailed as a four-year-old from Liverpool to Montreal in Canadian Pacific’s second Empress of Canada, and later worked for the company in Montreal, I had not only immigrated to Canada with them, but had also managed to collect three employee numbers – in Port McNicoll, Vancouver and Montreal! Meanwhile I crossed the Atlantic again on the third Empress of Canada in 1970. As the Mardi Gras two years later, she became the start of Carnival Cruise Lines and right up until today’s Carnival Breeze, every Carnival ship has had an “Empress Deck.”

Now, I am privileged once again by being one of only a few to be invited to join the final leg of  the tow of Canadian Pacific’s last surviving passenger ship, s.s. Keewatin, from Mackinaw City back to her home port of Port McNicoll. There she is due to arrive at about 1:30 pm on June 23, a hundred years to the day after her first passenger departure from the then-new port, which opened in 1912. Under the auspices of Skyline International Development Inc of Toronto, the Keewatin is to become the centrepiece of a new waterfront park in the newly-revived resort community of Port McNicoll.

Here now are some of the results of that voyage:  Photo essay of the Keewatin‘s voyage from Mackinaw City to Port McNicoll.

For details of present-day Great Lakes cruising please feel free to contact The Cruise People Ltd on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk. We are still very much involved with the Great Lakes, as general passenger agent for the Polish Steamship Company’s cargo-passenger service between Europe and the Great Lakes.

About thecruisepeople
Specialists in sea travel - ultra-luxury cruising, freighter travel, small ships and expedition voyages.

One Response to Homebound Voyage of Former Canadian Pacific Steamship Keewatin From Mackinaw City Finishes at Port McNicoll Next Week: Scene at Mackinaw With Tug Wendy Anne by Richard Weiss

  1. Bex says:

    Enjoy! It’ll surely be a trip down memory lane for you too. Look forward to reading about the journey.

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