This past Thanksgiving weekend, Ye Ed. enjoyed a few days at Sarnia and Port Huron observing and photographing the ships passing on the St. Clair River. Vessel traffic being rather light in this year of poor business conditions, we had quite a bit of time to pass between ships and it was only natural that our thoughts wandered back to dwell a while on previous Thanksgivings . One in particular came to mind and refused to be pushed aside for other remembrances. Perhaps our readers might like to hear about it.
It was ten years ago (can it really be so long?) that we participated in the kind of Thanksgiving that can never be forgotten. For, you see, it was spent aboard the C.P.R. steamer KEEWATIN and under circumstances that were far from usual for a Thanksgiving holiday. Ye Ed. and your Secretary had driven to the Soo on the Saturday of that weekend in October 1965 specifically to catch KEEWATIN and ride her back to Port McNicoll. We drove up because it was long after the end of the normal passenger season for the ships and the company could not guarantee the usual scheduled meeting of the upbound ASSINIBOIA and the downbound KEEWATIN at the Soo on the Sunday. In fact, the ships did meet that day, but another gentleman (now a member of this society) who rode up on ASSINIBOIA had to disembark in the Canadian Lock, no mean feat when it is considered that he had his car with him!
In any event, there were all of six passengers aboard for the short run of the "KEE" from the Soo to the "Port" and we passed a most memorable day on board. We were all there for one reason only and that was to enjoy our last trip on KEEWATIN. It was only a month earlier that the C.P.R. had announced the abandonment of the service in the face of strict new fire safety regulations introduced by the federal government. These regulations were upheld despite considerable public displeasure over the legislation and arguments that the withdrawal of the various Canadian nightboats would adversely effect tourism for the then-upcoming Expo '67.
Perhaps we could have waited and caught the very last trip of KEEWATIN in late November but somehow Thanksgiving seemed more appropriate. And it was. Knowing that his ship was in her last days, Chief Steward Bill Graham laid out a Thanksgiving meal (on Sunday, since the ship would be in dock on the holiday itself) the like of which we have never seen before or since.
But everything was tinged with an underlying note of sadness as we realized that all the little things we did aboard ship we would never do there again. After so many years, our love affair with the lady KEEWATIN was coming to an end. And the worst moment of the whole time came after we had disembarked at the "Port" and were getting ready to drive back to Toronto. Our waiter from the dining room came up to our sad-faced group and pleaded with us to do something to prevent the retirement of his ship. But miracles were a bit out of our line.
Ten years passing have dulled a bit the poignancy of the moment but we shall never forget either the ship or the unfortunate actions of the wise men in Ottawa who saw fit to bring her active service to an end. Their legislation has not encouraged lake operators to build or purchase passenger vessels which will comply with regulations but has had the opposite effect of making them throw their hands up in the air and forget the whole thing. WORLD DISCOVERER (and STELLA MARIS II before her) is a start, but it is not good enough to convince us that the cruise (or even nightboat) business can ever again have a future on either side of the border. And in ten years the travelling public has forgotten the passenger ships to the point that a whole program of re-education would be necessary to make any such regular service work as anything other than a novelty.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.