Posted on Friday, October 21, 2011 by Martin Cox
The SS KEEWATIN, the last Edwardian liner, has been a tourist attraction for the last 44-years at Douglas, Michigan on the east shore of the Kalamazoo River, a few miles from Lake Michigan. Built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland in 1907 KEEWATIN ran continuously for almost 60 seasons with her sister SS ASSINIBOIA between Port Arthur / Fort William and Port McNicoll in Ontario, Canada, until retired in 1966.
R.J. Peterson and his wife, a local marina-owning couple in Douglas, took out a personal loan to buy the vessel, saving her from scrap and restored KEEWATIN’s interiors, opening to the public for paid tours in 1967.
Last week, Skyline International Development Co. signed papers to acquire and move the 350-foot SS KEEWATIN from Peterson’s Tower Marina, some 550 miles to Port McNicoll, Ontario, its original home port from 1907 to 1965. The City of Port McNicoll plans to renovate the 104-year-old steamship and feature her as part of a waterfront park.
“The Keewatin is a treasure that needs to be preserved,” said Peterson (who will turn 85 this year), “If I was younger, I wouldn’t be selling it.” “Here, it’s just a local attraction I brought to town. In Ontario, it’s a Canadian steamship with national historic connections,” he added, noting the ship was part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s rail-to-water transportation system of deluxe travel during the first half of the 20th century.
The move will require dredging the lake around the hull that is now surrounded by silt — this, and the tow are estimated to cost USD $1 million. The ship’s draft is 16 to 18 feet but removal of lifeboats (which has already been done) and other items such as furniture, could lessen the draft to 12 feet. The move is expected to take place in 2012, followed by a period of restoration at the Canadian port.
UPDATE: The removal of the KEEWATIN began in March with dredging of the area around the ship’s berth. A tractor pushed on the ship’s port side as a tug worked to pull on her starboard side, at one point giving the KEE a ten degree list. With special thanks to Scott Davis.
UPDATE: May 28, 2012: Douglas and Saugatuck officials organized a farewell ceremony today for KEEWATIN vessel that has been part of the community for more than 40 years. Members of the local Lakeshore Community Chorus sang “America the Beautiful” and “O Canada!” Eric Conroy, spokesman for the Canadian owner of the ship will be onboard coordinating the ship departure when she is towed out of the Douglas at 7 a.m. Wednesday May 30. The ship is expected to enter Port McNicoll on June 23 with a joyous welcome expected for the former Canadian Pacific Railway steamship as she returns to her home port. Bagpipes as the ceremony closed.