By Scott Sullivan
The S.S. Keewatin, a historic steamship towed after 45 years in Douglas to Port McNicoll, Ontario, in 2012, will stay there … for the time being.
Friends of the S.S. Keewatin CEO and president Eric Conroy — who brokered the sale of the 350-long vessel from Tower Marine owner R.J. Peterson to Toronto-based Skyline International, told The Commercial Record last week a deal had been struck for the S.S. Titanic’s 111-year-old sister ship to stay in its current home, pending final approval.
Here, Peterson maintained and operated the last of the Great Lakes Edwardian steamships as a tourist museum from 1967 until selling it to Skyline.
The firm intended to incorporate the Keewatin into its plan to develop an 11-kilometer piece of shoreline in Port McNicoll into a community with hundreds of homes, a yacht club, marina, retail shops and entertainment facilities, said Conroy.
But the company ended up doing little with the property and sold it last spring to a partnership that includes China-based CIM International.
The reported $42-million sale did not include the Keewatin, which forced Skyline and the Friends group — established to save, restore and operate the vessel as a museum — to begin searching for a new home.
The Friends and Conroy shopped the ship to the larger nearby Georgian Bay city of Midland, but its council shot down the deal this winter claiming the group’s March 19 deadline — meant to ensure Skyline received a federal tax receipt for giving the vessel to the city — was too rushed. A ship of that age and size is no small commitment. Members said they wanted more time to do due diligence.
Conroy then approached Tay Township, on Owen Sound to the west, as a possible new home for the ship. Tay, Midland and Port McNicoll all have ties to the Keewatin’s Canadian Pacific Railways active past.
He further is working to have the Friends take ownership of the vessel. In order for the group to provide Skyline with a tax receipt, the ship would need to become a Class A museum.
“When the government looks at this, they will want us to have a long-term lease for where the ship will be kept and to see that we are financially capable of managing it,” said Conroy, who has a fundraising goal of $1 million in mind.
CIM to the rescue. The Chinese firm recently presented Skyline with an offer to acquire the vessel and keep it in Port McNicoll.
“They were the ones that said they didn’t want the Keewatin,” Conroy said. “That’s what set the whole thing off in the first place.
“But, you see, they weren’t from here,” he told the Owen Sound Sun Times last week. “They didn’t even know what Georgian Bay was.
“Over the last six months, I guess they’ve done research and now realize (the Keewatin) is something they shouldn’t let go of. They came back to us last week with a substantial offer to stay.
“The offer is to provide the property, financial support and involvement,” Conroy told the Sun Times. “This is more along the lines of doing what Skyline was going to do — tying it into the marketing of homes. So they’ll be a marketing partner, plus.”
The offer must still be signed by Skyline, he said, and ratified by Tay Township since the vessel would remain docked at a township park.
“So that will take time. But it’s a good offer and we’re quite happy with it,” he said.