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BEHIND THE SCENES: Iconic SS Keewatin bids farewell to Port McNicoll

MidlandToday editor Andrew Philips takes us behind the scenes

The SS Keewatin, which arrived with great fanfare in 2012, has left its home port for the final time in North Simcoe. Wayne Coombes, the president of Friends of Keewatin, said that the ship would depart Port McNicoll at 5 p.m. last Monday instead of its original Tuesday morning exit. The tug captain made this decision to get ahead of an incoming storm. The ship is being pulled to a shipyard on Lake Ontario for repairs.

The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes is the ship's new home, and Phil Gaudreau, a spokesman for the museum, said that following months of repairs in dock, the Keewatin would resume its voyage to Kingston, arriving late summer or early fall. The fate of the ship's 11-year stay in Port McNicoll was sealed last month when Skyline Investments Inc. announced that it was donating the Keewatin to the Limestone City museum.

Museum manager Doug Cowie saw the ship off last Monday along with former Friends of Keewatin president Eric Conroy. Cowie earlier stated that the museum has the necessary finances to keep up with the high costs of maintaining a ship like the Keewatin, which when it leaves Port McNicoll will be headed to a shipyard for funnel painting and deck repairs. Cowie believes that Kingston already draws a large number of tourists annually without the Keewatin, meaning that there will be thousands ready to enjoy what the ship has to offer.

Video summary:
The SS Keewatin, an Edwardian-era ship with a rich history of ferrying wealthy passengers around the Great Lakes, is making its final voyage from Port McNicoll to a museum in Kingston. The ship was originally going to be part of a development in Port McNicoll, but when the land was sold, the ship became a "white elephant" waiting for a new home. The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston, with its financial backing and drawing dock, was a good fit for the ship.

Before the SS Keewatin goes to the museum, it will undergo three to four months of repairs in Hamilton. The museum plans to open the ship for the next tourist season in the spring and summer. Residents of North Simcoe who were involved in campaigns to keep the ship in Port McNicoll are disappointed, having launched appeals to Canadian Heritage to keep the ship there. However, the museum's Canadian Heritage designation was the impetus for the ship's move to Kingston.

Although the ship's departure is a big loss for Port McNicoll, it will get some great exposure at the Marine Museum in Kingston. The SS Keewatin's long history on the Great Lakes and its connection to the Edwardian era make it an important piece of Canadian maritime history.