A History of Port McNicoll

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the growth of navigation between Great Lakes ports brought cargoes from Chicago, Duluth and the Lakehead for transfer to rail lines that stretched to the Atlantic and that carried other goods west. In particular, many freighters were bringing their cargoes to the grain elevators at Midland and elsewhere.

The trestle over Hogg’s Bay

Port McNicoll, named after a Vice President of the CPR, was founded in 1909. The Canadian Pacific Railway had decided to build its own port on Georgian Bay, to replace its terminus in Owen Sound. Port McNicoll provided a fine harbour and a location easily reached by train, resulting in a more direct and shorter route for shipping western wheat to the eastern seaboard. Construction of a grain elevator, railway depot and a half-mile – long wooden trestle over Hogg’s Bay began in 1908.  In 1912, the CPR moved its 5 steamship fleet from Owen Sound to Port McNicoll.

Their freighters the Alberta, the Athabasca and the Manitoba brought in western grain from Thunder Bay to be stored in the CPR elevators, and then shipped by rail to eastern ports. However, the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in 1959 cut the amount of grain coming into the elevators of the Bay ports drastically. Better highways and the development of the trucking industry further changed the modes for shipping lighter freight.  The last of the CP freighters, the Manitoba, was withdrawn from service in 1950. The rail line, trestle bridge and grain elevator have since been demolished.

SS Keewatin docked in Port McNicoll

The twin passenger ships the Assiniboia and the Keewatin serviced the Port McNicoll terminal for over fifty years.  In the beginning the majority of their passengers were immigrants heading west, but later, as traffic patterns changed, they carried mostly tourists.  “Boat trains” from Toronto brought in passengers to take the scenic route across Georgian Bay and Lake Superior to Thunder Bay. However, improved highway and airline systems ended passenger service in 1965.

There is no longer rail and steamship service to Port Mc Nicoll, but substantial residential and commercial development is planned for the waterfront, to include the 2012 repatriation of a restored Keewatin as a maritime museum.


Haskill, Mary. Nosing into the Past: Life and Times in Huronia. Huronia Museum, 2002.

Leitch, Adelaide A.: The Visible Past, the Pictorial History of Simcoe County, The County of Simcoe, 1992

This entry was posted in CPR, heritage, history, Port McNicoll, SS Keewatin and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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