In The Wake of the s.s. Keewatin – Other Cruise News: Cruising The Great Lakes in 2012

          THE CRUISE EXAMINER at Cybercruises.com

          by Kevin Griffin

     The Cruise Examiner for 2nd July 2012

On Saturday, June 23, at 1:30 pm, the 105-year-old former Canadian Pacific Great Lakes passenger liner s.s. Keewatin arrived back at Port McNicoll, her home port between 1912 and 1965, for the first time since she was towed away to Douglas, Michigan, for use as a floating maritime museum in 1967. Today, The Cruise Examiner publishes a photo essay taken during the last leg of her voyage from Mackinaw City to Port McNicoll. She sailed into Port McNicoll on a glorious summer Saturday, welcomed by a fleet of a thousand small craft.

The Cruise Examiner was invited onto the last leg and has recorded parts of the voyage for the future, especially two clips of the ship under way once more after not having moved for forty-five years. Here are some of the results of that voyage:  Photo essay of the Keewatin‘s voyage from Mackinaw City to Port McNicoll.

Although Canadian Pacific ships have not cruised the Great Lakes since 1965, there has been a recent revival in this destination and New York-based Travel Dynamics International still has some space available for 2012 on their 2,557-ton US-flag m.v. Yorktown.
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THIS WEEK’S STORY
                                                      (See previous columns)

Former Canadian Pacific Passenger Liner s.s. Keewatin Finally Returns to Her Former Home Port of Port McNicoll on Georgian Bay

          THE CRUISE EXAMINER at Cybercruises.com

          by Kevin Griffin

     The Cruise Examiner for 25th June 2012

On Saturday, June 23, at 1:30 pm, the 105-year-old former Canadian Pacific Great Lakes passenger liner s.s. Keewatin arrived back at Port McNicoll, her home port between 1912 and 1965, for the first time since she was towed away to Douglas, Michigan, for use as a floating maritime museum in 1967.

Next week The Cruise Examiner will publish a photo essay taken during the last leg of the voyage from Mackinaw City to Port McNicoll. After  anchoring overnight at an island called the Giant’s Tomb on Thursday and Friday, she sailed into Port McNicoll on a glorious summer Saturday, welcomed by a fleet of hundreds of small craft.
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Seen here leaving Mackinaw City and leaving the sunset behind on Monday, June 19, she averaged about 5.1 knots on her tow, often sneaking up on her lead tug Wendy Anne, seemingly anxious to get home again! She now lies once more at her former berth. Here are some of the results of that voyage:  Photo essay of the Keewatin‘s voyage from Mackinaw City to Port McNicoll.

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NEXT WEEK’S STORY
                                                     (See previous columns)

Former Canadian Pacific s.s. Keewatin, Last Surviving Edwardian Liner in the World, Sails on Tuesday For Her Old Home Port in Canada

This photo by “National Post” photographer Darren Calabrese shows the finish on this Clyde-built steamship.

From Kevin Griffin, managing director at The Cruise People in London: I have been posting recently on the subject of the s.s. Keewatin‘s voyage back to Canada and this week, at the invitation of former Keewatin crew member and project manager Eric Conroy, I will actually be joining this historic ship for the final leg of her homeward journey. Eric and I both started our careers as 17-year-old waiters on these ships, he on Keewatin and I on sister ship Assiniboia.

Conroy, who worked two summers on the Keewatin and wrote a book about it called “A Steak in the Drawer” (the title came from ordering an extra steak and putting it in a drawer for later consumption), has been in charge of this project. This involved purchasing the 3,856-ton vessel, the last surviving Canadian Pacific passenger ship and possibly the last surviving Edwardian liner in the world, and bringing her home to Canada. In November, the firm that engaged him, Skyline International Development Inc of Toronto, purchased the 105-year-old Clyde-built ship and after having dredged the harbor at Douglas, Michigan, where she had been used as a museum, at a cost of $1 million to release her, had her towed to Mackinaw City, where she has been waiting.  All of this has been made possible by Skyline International and its founder and president Gil Blutrich, whose vision has brought this about.

Photographer Darren Calabrese rolls up his sleeping bag after spending a night on board in Mackinaw City.

On Monday morning, I cross the Atlantic to join the ship as one of five riding crew, five sailors, a cook and a cameraman, for the final leg of her tow to the Georgian Bay port of Port McNicoll, her base for several decades. In Port McNicoll, the Keewatin will become the centrepiece of a new waterfront park and part of a new resort community being developed by Skyline International, which also owns the King Edward, Cosmopolitan and Pantages Hotels in Toronto and the Deerhurst and Horseshoe resorts in Muskoka and Barrie, Ontario. 

The subject of repatriating this 105-year-old cruise ship to Canada, brings to mind the cruising history of Canadian Pacific, whose Empresses, Duchesses and Princesses operated so many early cruises. Canadian Pacific, one of the early lines to go into cruising, offered a world cruise every year in the 1920s and 1930s, when the St Lawrence River was closed by ice, as well as cruises between Montreal and New York, to Bermuda, to Alaska, to the Mediterranean and to the West Indies, not to mention the Great Lakes. This, and crossing the Atlantic with Canadian Pacific as a four-year-old boy, was what got me into the shipping business and into cruising.

To know more about the this voyage go to Bringing the Keewatin Back to Canada and for photos see here:  Photo essay of the Keewatin‘s voyage from Mackinaw City to Port McNicoll. And for cruising in general please call The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk.

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

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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.

Crystal’s 7-Night September 2012 Round Trip From Montreal Revives an Old Format – Plus Canada New England Cruises

The five-star all-inclusive (in 2012) Crystal Symphony in a night shot at Montreal

Crystal Cruises has decided to pick up on a formula that has not been used now for twenty years, a 7-night round trip cruise from Montreal on Crystal Symphony on September 30, 2012. By this time she will be all-inclusive for the first time, with wines, bar drinks and on board beverages, as well as gratuities, included in the fare.

Canada New England cruises date to 1894, when the Quebec Steamship Company, with Thomas Cook as its agent, offered the first such cruise in its Orinoco. Typically, these have started in either New York or Boston and ended in Montreal or Quebec, or vice versa. But another type of cruise that was also offered for many decades was the round trip cruise from Montreal, something that was first offered by the Quebec Steamship Company even before Canada New England cruises, and is now being revived by Crystal Cruises.

Quebec’s magnificent Fairmont Chateau Frontenac

Indicative of the gradual progress being made by new cruise ports in the Gulf of St Lawrence, three of the four ports of call, Sept Iles, the Magdalen Islands and the French Atlantic islands of St Pierre et Miquelon, will be first time calls for Crystal. The fourth, Quebec, has recently been voted the most popular cruise port in North America.

Sept Îles is a new and upcoming port, having only opened a cruise terminal in 2010 after Holland America’s Maasdam became the first modern age cruise ship to call there on May 19, 2009. Cruises had once before been operated to Sept Iles, but not since the North Shore highway was extended from Baie Comeau and the last coastal passenger ship cleared for Montreal at the end of 1961.

The new wharf extension at Sept Iles allows cruise passengers to take a new train to visit a native Innu summer camp on the Moisie River. This river is famed for its salmon and has been fished by prime ministers. The Innu themselves are descended from the Montagnais tribes that used to spend their winters in the bush trapping and come down the rivers in their canoes to trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company and others on the St Lawrence in the summer.

Cruising to the North Shore and Labrador was most popular with the Clarke Steamship Co, founded in 1921 by what up until then had been a family involved in publishing and pulp and paper. Below is a typical scene from 1935, with Clarke’s North Voyageur, the first of three ships to carry that name, berthed at Clarke City wharf at Pointe Noire, now part of the Port of Sept Iles.

Meeting the ship is the Gulf Pulp & Paper Company’s locomotive number 20, a unit that had been built for the Intercolonial Railway in 1900 and acquired by Gulf Pulp & Paper in 1924. Behind her are a combination passenger and freight car and a number of flat cars. The bell-mouthed smokestack was to prevent sparks from starting forest fires along the nine-mile railway line that linked the wharf with the pulp mill  town of Clarke City.

Cruises on the North Voyageur, which had berths for 62 overnight passengers, ran 12 nights round trip  from Montreal and started at $100. Ports of call included Quebec, Godbout, Clarke City, Havre St Pierre, Natashquan and Corner Brook, Newfoundland, returning via Natashquan, Sept Iles and Franquelin. Today, ships as large as the Queen Mary 2 call at Corner Brook, which has also seen a revival in cruising.

In 2013, Crystal Symphony will repeat her 7-night Montreal round trip itinerary on September 26 and will add yet another new port, Havre St Pierre, where she will make calls on two other cruises.

Slowly, it seems, cruising the Gulf of St Lawrence is making some progress. Some people have even tried to describe these Gulf and Labrador cruises as a new Alaska.

Here is a summary of all five of Crystal Symphony’s autumn 2012 cruises to and from Montreal.

New York to Montréal, September 19 – 30, 2012 (13 nights). Calls: New York, Newport, Boston, Bar Harbor, Saint John, Halifax, Québec City, and Montreal. From £3,439. (*)

Round-trip Montréal, September 30 – October 7, 2012 (9 nights). Calls: Montreal, Sept-Iles, Magdalen Islands, St-Pierre et Miquelon, Québec City. From £2,623. (*)

Montréal to Boston, October 7 – 14, 2012 (9 nights). Calls: Montreal, Québec City, Halifax, Bar Harbor and Boston. From £2,478 (*).

Boston to Montréal, October 14 – 21, 2012 (9 nights). Calls : Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Québec City and Montreal. From £2,307. (*)

Montréal to New York, October 21 – 31, 2012 (12 nights). Calls: Montreal, Québec City, Halifax, Bar Harbor, Boston, Newport and New York. From £2,807. (*)

(*) All fares are per person in double occupancy and include return economy flights and port taxes. Hotels & transfers are additional. Number of nights given for each cruise applies to fly/cruise package from the UK..

For further details on any Crystal cruise, please call Gay Scruton at The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk.

85 Years Ago: The First Cruise Ship To Come To Miami

Have you thought about cruising the West Indies, in a ship that offers space, service and no crowds, to out of the way islands, like it used to be? It’s eighty-five years since the first cruises were offered from Miami, but it’s still possible, if you look around, to find ships that carry just a few hundred passengers and are not overwhelmed by children and attractions. When you get a chance, give us a call on 020 7723 2450 and ask, but, meanwhile, we thought you might find this little story of interest.

Eighty-five years ago, in the winter of 1926-27, the Clarke Steamship Co Ltd of Quebec became the first company to operate weekly cruises from Florida, in its s.s. New Northland. Here is a little background on an important part of history that is now long forgotten.

Winter cruises had been offered from Key West in 1913 and then from Jacksonville in 1914 by the Plant Line’s 3,786-ton Evangeline, the first ship of that name, that operated between Boston, Halifax and Charlottetown in the summer months. These longer 11-night cruises, which took guests down to see the Panama Canal, then under construction, and also called at Kingston, Jamaica, and Havana, Cuba, ended with the First World War. Twenty years earlier, in 1893, another Plant Line ship, the 1,738-ton Halifax, had offered an experimental series of three 10-day cruises between Tampa and Jamaica.

The New Northland arriving at Palm Beach in January 1927

Completed in April 1926 by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the same shipyard that had built Cunard’s famous 31,938-ton Mauretania twenty years earlier, the Clarke ship had actually entered service as the Northland. Before she arrived in Florida, however, she was renamed New Northland, chiefly in order to prevent confusion with the twenty-seven-year-old 3,282-ton North Land that ran between Key West and Havana in the winter (and Boston and Yarmouth NS by summer). With both the Northland and the North Land planning to be in Havana at the same time, there was no point in confusing passengers, let alone port authorities, ship chandlers and others as to which ship they should be going to! Besides, the change of name emphasized the age of the older ship, with which the New Northland also competed for one-way passengers between Florida and Cuba.

While the New Northland had been built to cruise the Gulf of St Lawrence from Montreal to Newfoundland, in the winter time, when the St Lawrence was blocked by ice, she needed to find alternative employment. Thus, for the winter of 1926-27  Clarke chose to place their new flagship into a new weekly cruise service from Palm Beach and Miami to Nassau and Havana. As a cruise ship, she could cater for about 140 first-class passengers.  In order to promote these cruises, a $5,000 model of the New Northland was put on display in the main window of Burdine’s department store (now Macy’s) in downtown Miami.

Downtown Miami, as it appeared in 1927

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The New Northland left Montreal at the end of her first Gulf of St Lawrence cruise season on November 26, 1926, and took a cargo south to Havana before presenting for her new duties in Florida.  She arrived in Miami on Sunday, January 9, 1927, and Palm Beach the following day. Several thousand Miamians came out to inspect the new cruise ship on her maiden call and a similar event was held the next day in Palm Beach, where the new Breakers Hotel had opened twelve days earlier. Unlike today, when ships generally sail on the weekend, the New Northland‘s weekly cruises left Palm Beach and Miami every Wednesday during the winter months. Typical of advertisements that appeared in the Miami Daily News was this one for her third cruise:-

Cruise Havana – Nassau from Miami and Palm Beach. Sailing Wednesday, January 26. s.s. NEW NORTHLAND (British Registry). This palatial ship is your hotel for six days, Full day in Nassau – three in Havana. No baggage transfers. All outside cabins, many with twin beds, private baths. $90 and up.

While she would later be registered at Quebec, for the first few years the New Northland indeed remained registered at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where she had been built, hence the British flag.

The first season went well, but things had been going on in the background. In January 1926, the Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Company, which had been operating the Miami-Nassau overnight service for thirty years, had been replaced by Munson Steamship Lines of New York, who also owned the British Colonial Hotel (now the British Colonial Hilton) in Nassau. In 1926-27, while the New Northland was cruising, Munson had contented themselves with the Red Cross Line’s 2,568-ton Rosalind, a fifteen-year-old second-hand ship that usually ran between New York, Halifax and St John’s NF. But by the time the 1927-28 winter season rolled around, Munson had arranged to charter the much more luxurious New Northland with her two sumptuous lounges, all-outside staterooms, verandah cafe and plentiful outdoor deck areas, to operate its three sailings a week between Miami and Nassau.

Today, there is a wide choice of Caribbean cruises, but the absolute best are from the likes of Azamara Club Cruises, Compagnie du Ponant, Crystal Cruises, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and SeaDream Yacht Club, to name just a few that will take you off the beaten path. Not to San Juan, St Thomas and St Maarten but to places like Marigot and Soufrière, Jost van Dyke and Spanish Town, Havana and Santiago, St Barthelemy and Saba. Despite what some may try to tell you, the ship is not the destination at all, it is the means of getting there in great comfort and with good company and a means of enjoying the sea, with excellent cuisine and the type of understated service that really marks out luxury

The Tere Moana, for example, a 3,504-ton ship owned by Paul Gauguin Cruises, has almost exactly the same tonnage and dimensions as the New Northland, although her appearance is totally different. She carries just 90 passengers in great comfort, and no cargo, and visits many smaller ports where the big ships cannot enter. Formerly Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Levant, she sails from St Martin on her inaugural cruise on December 29, 2012.

For further details on any of these ships call The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk.

Cruising Returns to the North Shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence

Cruising has slowly  been returning to the North Shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence, with Baie Comeau, Sept Iles and Havre St Pierre all having hosted modern cruise ships for the first time in the past few years. The first international cruise ship to visit Sept Iles was Holland America Line’s Maasdam, which called on May 19, 2009, on a voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Montreal. The Maasdam berthed at the Monseigneur Blanche Wharf, where until 1961, the Clarke Steamship Company’s North Shore had offered weekly cruises from Montreal as far as Havre St Pierre and Natashquan. That service also carried regular passengers and freight but was closed down fifty years ago after the highway was extended along the North Shore from Quebec City and Baie Comeau. The North Shore then went to cruise in the Greek islands. Recently, however, a $20.4 million 124-metre extension has been added to the wharf to allow cruise ships of up to 985 feet to dock.

Cruising to the North Shore and Labrador was most popular with the Clarke Steamship Co, founded in 1921 by what up until then had been a family involved in publishing and pulp and paper. To the right is a typical scene from 1935, with Clarke’s North Voyageur, the first of three ships to carry that name, berthed at Clarke City wharf at Pointe Noire, now part of the Port of Sept Iles.

Meeting the ship is the Gulf Pulp & Paper Company’s locomotive number 20, a unit that had been built for the Intercolonial Railway in 1900 and acquired by Gulf Pulp & Paper in 1924. Behind her are a combination passenger and freight car and a number of flat cars. The bell-mouthed smokestack was to prevent sparks from starting forest fires along the nine-mile railway line that linked the wharf with the pulp mill  town of Clarke City.

Cruises on the North Voyageur, which had berths for 62 overnight passengers, ran 12 nights round trip  from Montreal and started at $100. Ports of call included Quebec, Godbout, Clarke City, Havre St Pierre, Natashquan and Corner Brook, Newfoundland, returning via Natashquan, Sept Iles and Franquelin. Today, ships as large as the Queen Mary 2 call at Corner Brook, which has also seen a revival in cruising.

A new cruise terminal has gone into service at Sept Iles, with ships now calling regularly from New York and Europe. And the new wharf extension allows cruise passengers to board another train that takes them to visit an Innu summer camp on the Moisie River, a famed salmon river that has been fished by prime ministers.
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In 2012, Crystal Cruises picked up on a formula that has not been used for twenty years now, a 7-night round trip from Montreal on Crystal Symphony, departing September 30. Indicative of the gradual progress being made by the new Gulf of St Lawrence cruise ports, three of her four ports of call, Sept Iles, les Iles de la Madeleine and the French Atlantic islands of St Pierre et Miquelon, were first time calls for Crystal. The fourth port, Quebec, which was visited before returning to Montreal, has recently been voted the most popular cruise port in North America. The 51,0440-ton Crystal Symphony carries 960 guests in great comfort and will be going all-inclusive in 2012.  This Montreal round trip itinerary will be repeated on September 26, 2013, while other Crystal Symphony itineraries will include Havre St Pierre.
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Saga’s Quest for Adventure also offered a new 14-night itinerary last September. Sailing for its Spirit of Adventure brand, she departed Halifax on the 17th for St Pierre et Miquelon, then called on les Iles de la Madeleine, Havre St Pierre, Sept Iles, Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Saguenay, Baie Comeau and Gaspé before returning to Halifax. This 18,591-ton vessel can accommodate 446 passengers.
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For further details of opportunities to cruise the Gulf of St Lawrence in particular or Canada/New England in general please call The Cruise People Ltd on 020 7723 2450 or email us at cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk