Spring traffic at the Straits of Mackinac

The past few days, I’ve been really curious as to the ships that pass through the Straits and my front window.  Recently a 100 year + old ship , the SS Keewatin came through, towed by another ship and in transit to Canada….. it really got me thinking about the purpose that ship served prior to being a museum in southern Michigan.  The story as told to me is that the SS K. was one of the ships that came to Port McNicoll, Ontario every season from 1912 – 1965 carrying prairie grain which would then be sent via railway to Eastern Canada & overseas.  There was a railroad station on the waterfront and therefore, the SS K was also a passenger ship – for the wealthy.   People would take the train from Toronto to Port McNicoll.  In 1965 Canada Rail decided to end its Great Lakes shipping service so everything stopped and hundreds of people left the Port McNicoll area in search of other jobs.  The SS K was slated to be demolished but it was purchased by a man in Kalamazoo who wanted to turn it into a museum & it has been in Lake Kalamazoo ever since.   Because of the upkeep provided, most of the machinery still works although it cannot travel this far under its own power.
A developer (Skyline Investments), Gil Blutrich, purchased all of the Canada Rail 1000+ acres of property in Port McNicoll (all on the water) with an intent to build a luxury lifestyle community.  This currently is under construction on the far side of Port McNicoll.   He has been intent on buying the SS K with this becoming a floating restaurant and community centre to his 1 1/2 billion dollar ‘vacation community’.  He also plans to duplicate the dockside railway station with 6 historic rail cars which will also house a restaurant and clubhouse for a marina.  There are a number of people who have relatives who used to work on the SS K and there is 1 man  (used to be a cabin boy) who is now the project manager for bringing the SS K back to the area.  Obviously there is a big celebration planed for the day of arrival – June 23.
Yesterday morning as I opened my eyes and saw the early morning sun cast it’s golden glow on another strange looking ship, I grabbed the binoculars and saw this low, long vessel, looked like a cruise ship, (not that common to see) this wore the label, Grand Mariner..…a little Internet research showed it to be one of 3 ships cruising Americas Inland Seas…smaller boats that carry around 100 passengers, geared towards a laid back cruise, good for shallow waters and channels…a more senior audience it said…..a social and well-travelled group.  Good commentary by the captain and an all around enjoyable 5 to 11 days at sea and a BYOB policy.  I imagined the good time they were having discovering small tourist towns scattered through the Great Lakes and making new friends and embarking on new adventures at each port…. and I wished that some day, I would be lucky enough to ride that ship.
On my way to work, I notice yet another cruise ship tied up at Dock 2, downtown St. Ignace….I have to say it just gives you a little chill when you see one of these grand vessels and imagine all the different people, lifestyles and adventures they’ve been privy to . It also reminds you of our deep history with the Chief Wawatam Car Ferry and the lives and culture that had been impacted by it’s presence at the Straits of Mackinac.

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