Four Years Ago This Weekend: The Keewatin Came Back To Canada

By  Kevin Griffin

In June of 2012, I was privileged to be invited to join the s.s. Keewatin for her tow from Mackinaw City, Michigan, to her old home port of Port McNicoll, Ontario. The Keewatin is not only the last  Canadian Pacific passenger ship, but also the world’s last surviving Edwardian passenger liner. My connection with her is that at the age of seventeen, in the summer before I entered university, I landed my first real job working as a waiter on her sister ship Assiniboia.

Click here for the whole story.

Cunard Line Announces 175th Anniversary World Cruises – s.s. Keewatin To Turn Over Her Engine This Week – Celebrity Millenium Cancels Balance Of 2013 Alaska Season

THE CRUISE EXAMINER at by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 26th August 2013

s.s. Keewatin at Port McNicoll, circa 1912

Both Cunard Line and P&O Cruises announced their 2015 world cruises this week, to go on sale next Thursday. All three of Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria will offer such itineraries in 2015, as will P&O’s Arcadia and Aurora. In Canada, meanwhile, engineers have succeeded in reviving a 106-year old quadruple-expansion steam engine of the Clyde-built s.s. Keewatin, which is due to turn again for the first time this Thursday (vessel shown above in Port McNicoll about 1912). Meanwhile, pod failures have meant the cancellation of the rest of Celebrity Millenium’s 2013 Alaska season.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                                        (See previous columns)

New Expedition Company in the Costa Rica to Ecuador Range – Other Cruise News: One Ocean Plans Two Northwest Passage Transits This Summer – Keewatin Casts Off For Canada Tomorrow


          by Kevin Griffin

     The Cruise Examiner for 18th June 2012

This week we report on Sea Voyager Expeditions, a new expedition company that will offer departures to Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Costa Rica. The ship they will be using is the 60-guest Sea Voyager, which once worked for Lindblad. Far from the tropics, in the Canadian Arctic, four ships will be offering transits of the Northwest Passage in 2013, but One Ocean Expeditions is planning to operate two such passages this summer between Kangerlussuaq and Coppermine, in the Canadian Arctic, with the Akademik Ioffe. And today The Cruise Examiner crosses the Atlantic to join the 105-year-old former Canadian Pacific passenger ship Keewatin for the last leg of her voyage back to her old base in Canada.

                                          (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

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 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.

Great Video Shots of the Former Canadian Pacific Steamship Keewatin Being Towed Out of Saugatuck-Douglas, Michigan, Last Week

From the lens of Roger Lelievre, publisher of the Great Lakes shipping guide “Know Your Ships,” this video positively brings the 105-year-old s.s. Keewatin alive again.

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

The Cruise Examiner for 23rd January 2012: New Small Ship Cruise Services in the South Pacific – Other Cruise News: The Keewatin is Prepared for her Homecoming


          by Kevin Griffin

     The Cruise Examiner for 23rd January 2012

As ships get larger and larger it is pleasing to see new small ship services opening up at the other end of the size scale, two of which in the South Pacific have recently come to the attention of The Cruise Examiner. A new organisation called Pacific Schooners has been formed to offer 7, 14 and 22-day cruises around the Cook Islands in the 30-passenger saili-assisted Tiare Taporo, which has recently been converted from a Grand Banks side trawler. Further to the south, a company called Island Escape Small Ship Cruising, now offers 5- and 6-night cruises in Vanuatu, Tonga and New Zealand’s Bay of Islands in the 24-passenger catamaran Island Passage. Further north, on the Great Lakes, the new owners of the former Canadian Pacific passenger ship Keewatin are preparing to have her towed from Douglas, Michigan, were she has spent the past forty-five years as a museum ship, to her old home port of Port McNicoll, Ontario, on Georgian Bay, where she is to become the centrepiece of a new resort development, and possibly a new cruise ship port as well.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                          (See previous columns)

Plans for the s.s. Keewatin Come Together as She is Readied for Her June Tow to Become the Centrepiece of a New Resort Community at Port McNicoll on Canada’s Georgian Bay

Photograph of s.s. Keewatin and dredging equipment at Douglas, Michigan, courtesy of Eric Conroy at the s.s. Keewatin Project

And now for a happier story than the recent Costa cruise ship tragedy and tales of a Shakespearian captain.  What you are looking at here is the 105-year-old former Canadian Pacific Great Lakes passenger ship Keewatin.  At 3,856 gross tons and with dimensions of 350 x 44 feet, she has just been rescued from an uncertain future to become the centrepiece of a new resort development at her old Georgian Bay home port of Port McNicoll, Ontario.

The Keewatin is shown at Douglas, Michigan, near Saugatuck, where she has been used as a maritime museum for the past forty-five years. She has been shorn of her lifeboats in order to lighten ship for a scheduled June tow from Douglas to Port McNicoll. In the foreground is the dredging equipment that was hired to cut the channel from Douglas that will free her. The Edwardian steamship was lying in a bed of mud until December 2011, when she was finally floated again, and after inspection  was said to be in marvellous condition.

This dredging, which is being paid for by the ship’s new owners Skyline International Development Inc, will also open up the dock at Douglas to small cruise ships such as Travel Dynamics’ 2,354-ton Yorktown, 257 x 43 feet, which is scheduled to call at nearby Saugatuck several times this year on her cruises between Detroit and Chicago. The Yorktown has a passenger capacity of 138, compared to Keewatin‘s 288 when she was in service between 1908 and 1965.  For those wishing to cruise the Great Lakes in 2012, the Yorktown will be offering a total of thirteen 7, 10, 11 and 14-night cruises, with fares from $3,995 for seven nights, including the cruise, all port charges, lectures, shore excursions and wine with lunch and dinner.

When she returns, the Keewatin, shown here at Port McNicoll during her days of regular service between Georgian Bay and Lake Superior, will become a floating community centre and centrepiece for Port McNicoll’s renaissance. Plans are to build a new resort hotel and condominiums and rebuild the old dockside railway station to its original plans. On board, Keewatin will also feature a museum on her main deck and a kind of market in her old main cargo deck, which in her last years was used to carry about forty cars. This will also be made available for community functions. Berthed very near to her old berth, from which she used to sail from every Wednesday for Sault Ste Marie, Port Arthur and Fort William (the last two now called Thunder Bay), the ship will become the hub of what has until now been a sleepy Ontario town.

Just this month Skyline has also acquired a set of vintage railway rolling stock to become part of the scene. The port, with deep water, will naturally be seeking to attract a certain amount of cruise ship trade, and with an attraction such as the Keewatin will be well equipped to do so.

For more information on either the s.s. Keewatin or how to book a Great Lakes cruise in the m.v. Yorktown please contact The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail