Our ships sail again in May 2018!
Muskoka’s steamship heritage is older than Canada. The first ship steamed Lake Muskoka in 1866. In 2017, we mark the amazing RMS Segwun’s, 130 year history. She is North America’s oldest operating mail steamship. Wenonah II, a modern interpretation of a traditional steamship, is named in honour of Wenonah, the first steamship to sail Lake Muskoka. We look forward to welcoming you aboard in 2017.
Before or after sailing, visit the Discovery Centre. Admission is free when you present your steamship ticket.
Royal Mail Ship Segwun
– Built in 1887
– Capacity 97, plus crew
– Port of registry – Toronto
– Length – 125 feet
– Beam – 21.8 feet
– Draft – 6 feet
– Gross Tonnage – 271
– Hull Construction – Iron
– Speed – 6 knots
– Crew – Captain, Mate, Engineer, Stoker-Oiler, Purser, Deck Hand, Catering Staff
– Coal for Segwun comes from Seward, Pennsylvania
– Segwun requires over 250 tons of coal for her 4.5 month sailing season.
In 1887, long before the era of modern highways, the R.M.S. Segwun was built in Glasgow, Scotland, and assembled at Gravenhurst. The ship was originally a side paddlewheel steamer named “Nipissing II” and served as a connection – transporting passengers, mail, and freight from Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst to cottages, resorts and homes that were beginning to populate the Muskoka Lakes. By 1914, Nipissing was withdrawn from service. 10 years later in 1924, following the first world-war, work began to rebuild the superstructure of the vessel and new engines arrived from Goderich, Ontario. In 1925, the ship was given her new name, an Ojibwa word: segwun, meaning “springtime”.
Her maiden voyage took place on July 9, 1925. The photograph above was taken that day as she steamed to Bracebridge. The new steamer proved to be the fastest of the ships on the lakes, continuing her service to Canada Post and the many visitors to the area. By 1958, with mail delivery taking more land routes, Segwun made her last trip and was decommissioned. In 1962 she was converted into a floating maritime museum at Gravenhurst Wharf and thus escaped deconstruction.
Work began in 1973 with help from steamship enthusiasts of the Muskoka Steamship & Historical Society and the Ontario Road Builders, and the RMS Segwun was officially re-launched in 1974 by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. After further restoration, Segwun began her new career in 1981 as a cruise ship on the Muskoka Lakes. As the sole survivor of the fleet, she continues to hold status with Canada Post as an official “Royal Mail Ship”. Each summer she attracts thousands of tourists to Muskoka enabling passengers to see the beauty of Muskoka as it should be seen, by water, as she proudly plies the Muskoka Lakes representing the elegance, style and heritage of Muskoka’s past.
Her ability to adapt to 130 years of changes is a model to us all, as North America’s oldest operating hand-fired steamship, the RMS Segwun is the recognized symbol of Muskoka with many believing that her haunting whistle sounds out as the official “heartbeat” which awakens the region each Spring. With a sailing season of just 145 days, present day Segwun welcomes passengers on board from around the world. Photographs of the Segwun continue to outweigh any other in the region, proving that she is the recognized symbol of Muskoka. Passengers can bask in the gleaming woodwork and panoramic views of the her two dining rooms, the Royal Muskoka Salon – seats up to 34 guests, and the exquisite Islander Dining Room – seating up to 18 guests. Both can be reserved privately during public cruises for dining or celebrations like you’ve never experienced. Currently the RMS Segwun can also be privately chartered for special events of a nature ranging from corporate events, birthdays, and celebrations to even Wedding ceremonies and receptions.
Wenonah II – Capacity 216
– Built in 2002
– Capacity 216, plus crew
– Port of registry – Toronto
– Length – 118.76 feet
– Beam – 27.98 feet
– Draft – 6 feet
– Gross Tonnage – 447
– Hull Construction – Steel
– Speed – 7 knots
– Crew – Captain, Mate, Engineer, Purser, Deck Hand, Catering Staff
Built in the style of a 1907 Muskoka vessel, Wenonah II complements the RMS Segwun. Both ships offer a variety of cruises on all three of the Muskoka lakes. Accommodating up to 216 passengers, Wenonah II combines turn-of-the-century charm with modern conveniences including air-conditioning and an on-board elevator. Passengers can enjoy three dining rooms and three decks offering the ultimate lakeview experience.
Providing unequalled luxury and pampering, the exclusive Commodore’s Dining Room boasts a private and fully licensed outside patio and doting service staff – sure to impress any gathering of up to 10 guests. For social and corporate entertaining, the private Cherokee Dining Room provides an ideal opportunity to “wine and dine” up to 24 guests. For larger groups, the Sagamo Dining Room accommodates up to 100 guests.
Built in 1915, Wanda III was commissioned for Mrs. Timothy Eaton of the Eaton department stores. Outfitted with an engine of the same design as the engines built for the Canadian Navy Minesweepers during World War I, Wanda III was able to cruise the Muskoka lakes at a speed of 24 miles per hour, a speed unparalleled at the time.
In August of 1996, Prime Minister Jean Chretien rededicated the Wanda III and the yacht proudly began her new voyage on the Muskoka lakes.
Wanda III remains the finest example of the private steam yacht era. She is currently undergoing restoration and is now docked beside the Muskoka Discovery Centre.
The History of THE MUSKOKA LAKES NAVIGATION COMPANY
The Muskoka Lakes Navigation Company (a.k.a. NAVCO), from its founding in 1866 until its demise as a common carrier in September 1958, operated the largest and finest fleet of inland lake steamships in North America. Its only rivals on inland waterways (that is not including the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway and the British Columbia and Atlantic Coasts) were the Canadian Pacific Railway fleet on four inland lakes in British Columbia and the British Yukon Navigation fleet on the Yukon River in the Yukon Territory. These latter fleets, of shallow draft sternwheel steamers with overnight passenger accommodation, provided a quite different service from NAVCO on the Muskoka Lakes.
The Company has operated under several corporate names since starting service in 1886.
- 1866: Small, primitive steamer Wenonah, built and owned by A.P. Cockburn, commenced service on the Muskoka Lakes. As far as is known, this early operation was not incorporated.
- 1881: Company incorporated as “Muskoka and Nipissing Navigation Company” and built steamer Inter-Ocean for service on Lake Nipissing. (See Tatley, Volume I, page 103)
- 1889: following withdrawal of Lake Nipissing service account railway competition, Company started service between Midland and Parry Sound and was renamed “The Muskoka and Georgian Bay Navigation Company” (See Tatley, Volume I, page 149)
- 1903: following withdrawal of the Georgian Bay service, Company built the Royal Muskoka Hotel on Lake Rosseau. It then became “The Muskoka Lakes Navigation and Hotel Company Limited”. This Company dissolved in the 1950’s, following the burning of the Royal Muskoka Hotel and after selling the remaining steamers. (See Tatley, Volume I, page 265)
- 1981: The name and charter of the Muskoka Lakes Navigation and Hotel Company Limited was revived to operate the restored steamer Segwun.
Thus, there are two distinct NAVCO histories. The first is the traditional steam era history where the Company served as a common carrier extension of the steam railways. It started with the one pioneer steamboat serving the earliest Muskoka settlers, grew as the territory developed as a prime tourist area and then declined after 1930 as both freight and passengers moved to the highways. This story ends with the withdrawal of the last steamers, Sagamo and Segwun, in September 1958, with the expectation that neither would run again.
The second NAVCO story starts with the idea of refurbishing RMS Segwun in 1969 and its resuming service in June 1981. This re-born NAVCO is a story in itself with the Segwun restoration being the only successful steamboat restoration in North America. This success story continues with the Company taking on the operation of the heritage steam yacht Wanda III in 1993 and the entirely new cruise vessel, Wenonah II in 2002. The Company is now wholly owned by the Muskoka Steamship & Historical Society, a registered charity and the owner of the three ships. As such, this revived NAVCO is not a common carrier but operates public cruises to preserve knowledge of the steam era and to let the public experience “the fun, romance and history” of the Muskoka Lakes.
With thanks to Dr. Gordon Shaw