some more information about the SS Keewatin

Keewatin in Port McNicoll

SS Keewatin

  • The Keewatin was originally designed to complete the link in the Canadian Pacific Railway’s continental route.She and her sister ship Assiniaboia joined three others, the Manitoba, the Athabaska, and the Alberta ( the latter two also built in Scotland) She served this purpose by linking the Railroad’s Owen Sound depot to Fort William Port Arthur on Lake Superior.
  • In 1912 Port McNicoll was established as the new “super port” and rail terminus and the ships moved there. The ships took 212 days to make the trip each way, including half a day traversing the Soo.
  • Port McNicoll was known as the CHICAGO of the NORTH until the trains and ships were discontinued in 1965
  • steamers took on passengers from the “boat train”, arriving from Toronto upbound to Port Arthur / Fort William to connect with their trains there.
  • Downbound, the steamers would carry passengers back to Port McNicoll, returning to Toronto, via Medonte and Midhurst.
  • also carried packaged freight goods for the railway at these ports
  • Retired from service November 1965


  • Built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland as Hull No. 453
  • 350 feet
  • 14 knots
  •  crew 86
  • Passengers 288
  • 3,300 hp coal-fired boiler
  • Quadruple expansion reciprocating single-screw engine (triple expansion was more normal)
  • Four cylinders, work on fur cranks balanced on the Yarrow-Schlick and Tweedy System and four steam expansion chambers
  • 20 tons of coal consumed per day
  • Overall Length: 350 feet
  • Beam: 43. 5 feet
  • Depth: 26 ft. Draft: 16 feet
  • Gross Tonnage: 3,856 tons
  • Top Speed 16 knots
  • Cruising Speed: 14 knots
  • Passengers: 288 (berthed)
  • Officers and Crew: 86


  • Edward Black Anderson
  • Alexander Brown
  • Malcom McPhee 1909-29
  • Francis James Davis 1930-38
  • John Parker Pearson 1939-41
  • Joseph Bishop 1941-46
  • Reginald Walter Jarman 1947-51
  • Robert Mitchell
  • Ernest H. Ridd 1954-57
  • Alexander Campbell 1957-65


  • Forward Crew: Master, First, Second and Third Officers, Boatswain, 3 Wheelsmen, 3 Lookouts, 3 Watchmen.
  • Engine Room/Boiler  Room Crew:  Chief Engineer, Second, Third and Fourth Engineers, 4 Oilers, 3 Watertenders, and 6 Firemen.
  • 7 Deckhands
  • Stewards, Chief and Second
  • Stewardesses, Chief and 2 Assistant Stewardesses
  • 18 Waiters (usually college students)
  • Galley Crew
  • Musicians/Entertainment Steward

Passenger Accomodation: 105 Staterooms

  • 7 deluxe, mahogany panelling, 2 twin beds
  • Outside staterooms – like train sleeping compartments – sleep 3, 2 bunked and 1 on sofa

Porter bell system:

        • One ring – bell boy
        • Two rings – ice water
        • Three rings – ladder for upper berth

About William J. Gibson

62 year old - writer/photographer Canadian, survived open heart surgery, received kidney transplant, sometimes dour, sometimes amusing, over six feet in height, severely follicle challemged
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4 Responses to some more information about the SS Keewatin

  1. Mary Lazier says:

    James McCannell (a 98 year old local man) had a conversation with a friend of mine recently and he said that the S.S. Keewatin and S.S. Assiniboia were originally ordered by Russia, but the order was cancelled when the Duma took over the government in 1906. Czar Nicholas was an autocrat, but Russia was in economic difficulty, and the Bolsheviks were taking over the government. McCannell’s father was a skipper (but his name is not mentioned above) and from him, the story is that in 1907 when the ships were delivered, locals thought it was “The Red Fleet” and that the ships were bringing immigrants to Canada. I have written the Fairfield-Govan shipyards hoping for corroboration of the original order, but have not heard back. Eric Conroy absolutely disputes this story and I can’t remember where I first heard it. Apparently the story was reported in a Tay Newspaper but I don’t know when that was. Do you have any idea how I can confirm this story?
    Thanks, Mary Lazier

    • Thanks for the comment. My Russian history is a little weak. I do know there were two revolutions in Russia, 1906 and 1917. The Bolsheviks took control in the second revolution, October 1917. The Bolsheviks got out of World War One, settling with the Germans. i am not familiar with the “Tay Newspaper”. There was a newspaper in Victoria Harbour from 1914 to 1919. I asked Jamie Hunter and he believes they have some ten issues of it. I have not yet seen them. They are on my Spring to read list. The other place to check is Simcoe County Archive. By all means also tell your story to Jamie Hunter at the Huronia Museum. I am sure he can help you clarify. Thanks, Bill Gibson, tay township Heritage Committee.

      • Mary Lazier says:

        Thanks for your quick reply -I found a site for “The Tay Report” at Victoria Harbour and wrote to them this morning. I have just produced a book called “Stars of Georgian Bay” which tells the story of The Sister Ships. It’s a painting of the ship having been cut in half, being towed by tugs. Sometime between the initial ms. delivery and the final edit I added the juicy nugget that they were originally ordered by Russia, but Eric Conroy the President of “Friends of the S.S.
        Keewatin” disputes this, and says that comment brings into doubt the veracity of the whole book. I sailed on both the ships, the last time in 1959. Even in the far north on Baffin island, I have never seen such Northern Lights as I did that trip, from the top deck of the Keewatin.
        Could you give me an e-mail for Jamie Hunter?
        Mary Lazier

      • wow that was stupid of me, i thought when you referred to Tay Report you were talking about some very old, no longer in production, paper, my silly mistake.

        Jamie Hunter email

        cut in half, this was done to get the boats from Montreal up river and then thru the Welland Canal, the cut ends were sealed. Once thru to Lake Erie, they went to Buffalo, were rejoined and the single unit ship then sailed up thru Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

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