Marine Museum to host historic ship SS Keewatin

SS Keewatin is on track to be at the Marine Museum dry dock in fall 2023. Photo via the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston.

This fall, the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston will again have a ship in the museum’s dry dock to complement its extensive collection. The SS Keewatin is the last Edwardian-era (Titanic-era) steamliner formerly owned by CP Rail and built in Scotland in 1907, the Marine Museum shared.

“We’re pleased to steward the Keewatin through the next phase of its life here in Kingston,” said Chris West, Chair of the board of the Marine Museum. “The story of the Keewatin is a story of Canada’s creation as a country. It is vital that the ship, which is the last of its kind, be preserved for current and future generations, and our Museum has the expertise, facilities, and funding to be able to do this.”

Skyline Investments has donated the SS Keewatin (the Kee) to the Museum. According to the museum, Skyline Investments sought to give the Keewatin to a charity which was approved by Canadian Heritage, had the resources to care for the ship, and was qualified to ensure the long-term preservation of Canadian cultural property such as the Kee.

“We’re pleased to donate this historic and treasured passenger ship to the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes to ensure its continued long-term preservation,” said Blake Lyon, CEO of Skyline Investments, in a statement. “Kingston is an amazing location for the Keewatin to receive maximum exposure, and the Marine Museum, with its historic dry-dock, is well qualified to maintain the Kee and showcase its important history – a goal we all share.”

According to a release from the museum, CP Rail steamships such as The Kee ferried tourists, settlers, and cargo throughout the Great Lakes from the early 20th century until their retirement in the 1960s. Of the around 3,800 similar ships built in the United Kingdom between 1900 and 1920, only the Keewatin remains. Following its transportation from Port McNicoll, Ont. this spring to a shipyard for much-needed repairs and maintenance, this historic artifact will be integrated into the Museum’s extensive transportation collection covering the last 200 years of Great Lakes history and offer a new cultural experience in Kingston.

In addition to its illustrious career, the ship has served as a tourist attraction, has appeared on CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries, episode 701, and was featured on a 2020 Royal Canadian Mint coin, the museum stated. There have also been multiple books written about The Kee documenting its technical specifications and history, which the museum plans to explore once the boat docks in Kingston.

From 2012 until the pandemic, the ship was operated as a historical attraction in Port McNicoll with operations managed by volunteers with the charity RJ and Diane Peterson Keewatin Foundation, also known as ‘Friends of Keewatin’.

“While we are saddened Keewatin will leave Port McNicoll, we are pleased that she will be preserved for generations to come at her new home at the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, and will share our experience and expertise with the Museum,” said Wayne Coombes, President of Friends of Keewatin.

“We both recognize and pay tribute to the Friends of Keewatin, the people of Port McNicoll, and the many others who have cared for the Keewatin throughout its lifetime,” added West. “We also thank Skyline for their donation of this amazing ship. The story of the Keewatin and those who played a role in its creation and care will be documented and shared in the Museum once the Keewatin exhibits are ready to be shown.”

The Museum also acknowledges the many supportive members, donors, volunteers, staff, and board members who have helped in the acquisition of this important artifact, as well as those who continue to provide personal artifacts such as clothing, tableware, and similar as part of the ongoing Keewatin exhibit. In anticipation of this announcement, the Museum has raised several million dollars to fund refurbishments, renovations, and towing of the Keewatin.

As part of the acquisition, the Museum said that it looks forward to working with the community to augment existing Keewatin stories, research, and artifacts with more content regarding the role ships like the Keewatin played in Canada’s western expansion.

More information about the Keewatin’s arrival at the Museum, and ways that Kingston and area residents can help welcome the Kee to Kingston, will be shared following the completion of repairs. The Museum has also launched marmuseum.ca/SS-Keewatin to share more information about the ship with Museum fans.

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