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Campaign signs on to keep SS Keewatin in Port McNicoll

Local group hopes to stop historic ship from moving to a Kingston museum

A new campaign’s a sign of the times for those busy working to keep the SS Keewatin in her home port.

Dan Travers, who’s spearheading the latest effort, said volunteers delivered more than 200 ‘Keep Keewatin Home’ signs over the weekend to residences across Simcoe County.

“The support has been overwhelming,” said Travers, whose petition to keep the Edwardian-era vessel in Port McNicoll has now garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

“This community has a close connection with the SS Keewatin. I get calls and emails from people who served or sailed on her regularly. It is also, perhaps, the last connection we have to that maritime era in this region and residents would be devastated to see it leave.”

The campaign is asking anyone who would like to display a sign to click here to download and print one or send an email ([email protected]) with an address for contact-less delivery to their doorstep.

The sign campaign evolved from the work of a public-action group that’s also created a twitter feed and website, which was spurred on in part by a MidlandToday story in November that outlined how the ship’s owner Skyline Investments had given its approval to a project headed by a Kingston museum to move the vessel there.

“We hoped that Friends of Keewatin would be granted the federal heritage designation to allow them to take possession of the ship from Skyline Investments,” Travers said at the time.

However, the Friends application was rejected last year, and the group learned the Maritime Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston has put in for a designation with the intention of taking the ship there.

Travers, who's a college professor and the author of two books on public history, has also penned an open letter to Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault calling on the federal government to reject any attempt to move the ship to Kingston, and instead work with the Friends of Keewatin to keep the ship in Port McNicoll.

“When the Kee was brought to Port McNicoll in 2012, residents rejoiced not only for the arrival of this treasured piece of history, but because of the economic and employment benefits the ship might create," Travers said, who noted that while the vessel “operated out of Port McNicoll for over 50 years, Kingston, Ontario has absolutely no historical connection” to the ship.

The letter goes on to note that by considering a move to Kingston, Skyline Investments and the federal government are also failing to deliver on the promises made to area residents.

“When the Kee was brought to Port McNicoll in 2012, residents rejoiced not only for the arrival of this treasured piece of history, but because of the economic and employment benefits the ship might create.”

Considered the only Edwardian-era passenger steamship in existence, Travers said the Keewatin is part of the physical and heritage landscape of North Simcoe.

But Travers said there’s another reason local residents should fight for the Kee.

“Our residents are tired of seeing opportunities leave our riding for the GTA or other more populous regions, along with federal funding. This simply will not stand,” Travers writes in his letter.

“The Keep Keewatin Home campaign is now calling on you, Sir, to reject any moves to send the Keewatin to Kingston and to reconsider a proposal by Friends of Keewatin for heritage designation.”

Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton has also sponsored a parliamentary petition which needs only 100 more signatures before it can be tabled in federal parliament.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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