All aboard! Keewatin soon to open to Kingston public

The SS Keewatin moored at the Great Lakes Museum in Kingston. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

All aboard! The S.S. Keewatin (Kee-way-tin) will officially open to the public on Saturday, May 25, 2024, with a launch party beginning at 11 a.m. to welcome guests for its first season in Kingston.

Ahead of the launch party, the Great Lakes Museum — current steward and owner of the Keewatin — has opened ticket sales for tours. Tour experiences, including visits to both the Great Lakes Museum and Keewatin, can be booked online on the Great Lakes Museum website. Students receive discounted rates, and children under five are admitted free.

“We are delighted to finally unveil this beautiful and historic ship to visitors and the community and to celebrate the hard work of our volunteers, staff, and board members,” said Chris West, Board Chair for the Great Lakes Museum.

“We’re excited to embark on the next phase of this important vessel’s life in Kingston and integrate its story into our collection covering the last 200 years of Great Lakes history.”

The Keewatin, built in Scotland in 1907, was formerly owned by Canadian Pacific Railway. CP Rail steamships such as the Keewatin transported tourists, settlers, and cargo throughout the Great Lakes and across the world from the late 19th century until their retirement in the 1960s. Of the approximately 3,800 similar passenger steamships built between 1900 and 1920, the Keewatin is one of only three to survive. It is the last remaining Edwardian-era passenger steamship liner in the world.

The ship was donated to the Great Lakes Museum in 2023 by its previous owner, Skyline Investments, to capitalize on Kingston’s strong tourism draws and ensure the Keewatin was housed with an organization which could adequately provide for its upkeep. 

Programs and Communications Manager Michelle Clarabut leads a sneak peek tour of the ship in late April 2024. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Keewatin underwent partial restoration work at Heddle Shipyards (now Ontario Shipyards) in Hamilton in the summer of 2023 before arriving in Kingston in the fall. Restoration work will continue on the ship in the years ahead as the Great Lakes Museum works to open additional areas of the boat for visitors.

This spring’s opening for tours was made possible in part due to the support of the Friends of Keewatin, a dedicated community group that previously operated tours aboard the ship in Port McNicoll, Ontario. The Great Lakes Museum even invited the Friends to visit Kingston and show the staff the ropes as they prepared the ship for public tours. Several Friends of Keewatin members visited in April to work alongside Kingston volunteers to stage the ship’s interior for public visits. 

“It is an astonishingly long and detailed process. We are overwhelmed by the generous time commitment from Kingston and Port McNicoll volunteers. We are two teams working on one mission: to preserve and celebrate the Keewatin,” said Kelly Pope-Wiley, Board Vice-Chair for the Great Lakes Museum.

Connie Cochrane (left), the staging lead from Port McNicoll, travelled to Kingston to help the new crew navigate their mission. Here she demonstrates to a Kingston volunteer which antique travel trunks look best in the ship’s hold. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Programs And Communications Manager Michelle Clarabut said she was also grateful for the help, as she led a sneak peek tour of the ship in late April.

“We’re taking our cues from Port McNicoll… They are training us on how to stage her, and then as we go forward, we’ll start to figure out how we want to do it. We’ll make modifications, but this is a starting point. It’s part of the learning process,” explained Clarabut.

Connie Cochrane, the staging lead from Port McNicoll, travelled to Kingston to help the new crew navigate their mission. She said the Port McNicoll group hoped the Friends of Keewatin might get an invitation, so when they received it, they were “absolutely thrilled.”

“Our main purpose was to make sure the ship survived,” Cochrane shared as she demonstrated to a Kingston volunteer how to stack the set of antique travel trunks in the ship’s hold.

“This is a better place for her. You’ll have more tours and a little more money to take care of it.”

Tour options include guided tours of the passenger areas and tours of the engine room. In addition to the tour, the museum will offer an S.S. Keewatin exhibit to showcase artifacts and historical displays relating to the Keewatin and its connections to Great Lakes commerce, people and personal stories, and Canada’s westward expansion. This exhibit will open in June. 

Donations to support the ongoing historical preservation and restoration work are appreciated and eligible for a tax receipt, as the Great Lakes Museum is a registered charity. Visit the Great Lakes Museum website to learn more about supporting or visiting the Museum and S.S. Keewatin.

Unfortunately, S.S. Keewatin is not fully accessible for those with mobility limitations. For more information, please email Michelle Clarabut at [email protected].

The Great Lakes Museum acknowledges the site it sits on and the water it interacts with to be the traditional water and land of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat Peoples, and thanks these nations for their care and stewardship over these shared waterways and land.

About the Great Lakes Museum

The mission of the Great Lakes Museum is to inspire an enduring connection to the maritime heritage of the Great Lakes and preserve the maritime legacy — past, present, and future — of the largest interconnected bodies of fresh water in the world. The Museum is located at the Kingston Dry Dock, a national historic site — 55 Ontario Street in Kingston.

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