Titanic-era steamship S.S. Keewatin chugs by Windsor on voyage to new home

The S.S. Keewatin pictured in the Detroit River near Windsor on Wednesday, April 26, 2023.  (Kerri Breen/CBC - image credit)
The S.S. Keewatin pictured in the Detroit River near Windsor on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (Kerri Breen/CBC - image credit)

A big piece of maritime history chugged right past Windsor Wednesday night.

The S.S. Keewatin is a Edwardian-era steamship that was a contemporary of the Titanic. Formerly located at Port McNicoll north of Barrie, the ship was towed along the Detroit River Wednesday night as it made its way to Kingston, with a stop along the way in Hamilton for repairs and restoration.

"For the Keewatin, it means that it's going to be around in another 100 years," said Eric Conroy, retired president and CEO of Friends of Keewatin. "The Keewatin is a tremendous treasure."

The ship's new home will be at the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston, after it was donated to the museum by the ship's longtime owners. It will receive about $2 million in restorations and repairs before opening to the public, tentatively scheduled for spring of 2024.

Submitted by Eric Conroy
Submitted by Eric Conroy

Conroy, who worked on the ship as a teenager, said the interior of the ship was lovingly maintained by volunteers in Port McNicoll, and the $2-million restoration will replace the deck, among other features.

"The volunteers there have worked very hard to make it back to as close to what it was over its working life," Conroy said. "When it goes to Kingston now, they're doing things that needed to be done there ... They're doing all kinds of cosmetics and they're really going to make it look incredible.

"You put those two things together, you've got quite a piece of equipment, but it is spectacular."

Keewatin older than the Titanic, last of its kind

The Keewatin was built in 1907 by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Glasglow, Scotland, according to the Marine Museum. It was one of 3,800 similar ships built from 1900 to 1920 and is the same type of ship as the Titanic, built in 1912.

Today, the Keewatin is the last of those 3,800 ships, and its sister ship, the S.S. Assinibioa was scrapped in the 1970s after a fire. It was featured in Season 7, Episode 1 of Murdoch Mysteries.

Unfortunately, Conroy said the ship can't remain in Port McNicoll because of the location and expense of keeping up the entirely wood-and-steel ship. Kingston makes a fitting home, Conroy said, because of the dry dock where the ship will be parked and the well-known marine history museum.

Submitted by Friends of Keewatin
Submitted by Friends of Keewatin

According to information on the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes a Kingston's website, the Keewatin will undergo repairs this spring and summer before arriving at the museum's dry dock this fall. The cost of the restoration is carried by the museum and its donors. The ship will be open to the public for tours, historical program and exhibits.

The ship was moved once before, to bring it from Michigan to Port McNicoll. At that time, they had to dig a channel to move the ship — making this move somewhat easier. But it still took 27 volunteers seven weeks, for seven days a week, to secure the ship and pack its contents for the move.

"[The Keewatin] has got so much going for it," Conroy said. "Being in a dry dock and being with the money will keep it well-maintained and the people there know about it means it'll be around for my grandchildren's, grandchildren's, grandchildren."

Kerri Breen/CBC
Kerri Breen/CBC