Tuesday Tales from the Archives: Staying Aboard for Old and New Generations
December 18, 2017
This year (2012) marks the 125th anniversary of the Town of Gravenhurst, and it also marks the 125th anniversary of the R.M.S. Segwun. Segwun is not only the last coal fired steamship in Canada, but it is also one of three Royal Mail Ships in the world. Segwun has been a part of Gravenhurst since Gravenhurst first originated back in 1887. Not only has Segwun brought great tourism to Gravenhurst, but it has a very rich history in the making.
Segwun was first known as the Nipissing (II). Until 1914 she was running just fine, but then her walking beam broke at Milford Bay and she was towed back to Gravenhurst by Islander. Nipissing (II) sat at the Gravenhurst dockyard until 1924. Two years before she was to be fixed, the 100 Mile Cruise was created. The other ships in the Muskoka fleet performed this cruise, while the Nipissing rotted away in the dockyard. The 100 Mile Cruise would start at Gravenhurst’s docks and travel its way through Port Carling, to Lake Rosseau, and then on to Natural Park in Lake Joseph. The cruise was actually about 86 miles, not 100 miles.
In 1924, Nipissing (II) was falling apart and needed fixing, so a new engine was added, as well as the paddle wheel was removed. The only remaining object of the Nipissing (II) was its hull. The ship was now known as the R.M.S Segwun.
In 1958, Segwun hit a shoal on Lake Muskoka which stopped her operation. In 1962, George Morrow and Jack Vincent sold Segwun to the town of Gravenhurst for a $1.00. From August 1962-1969 Segwun sat a as a floating museum, run by the town of Gravenhurst.
One story goes that on a spring day while Segwun she was tied to the docks among the ice, Marian and Cyril Fry doing some work on the boat museum. Just then Segwun started to rock back and forth and the chains broke. Mr. Fry states “we went on the first cruise of the season.” Throughout the times as Segwun was a museum Marian Fry did history displays. Marian states “I always made Cyril go down to the basement for me. It was scary.” The fee to go through the museum was 35 cents for adults and 15 cents for children. The museum closed in 1969. The Segwun was more than just a steamship; it was a floating museum for almost a decade. It told the history of itself.
The ship was pulled from the water (dry docked) and purchased by the Ontario Roadbuilders Association. By 1974, the R.M.S .Segwun was re-launched (celebrated with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau). Two years later the Ontario government gave a $400,000 to help with the restoration.
Since the re-launching of R.M.S Segwun, it was been running ever since. For 125 years the residents of Gravenhurst have grown up with the Segwun. “I have sailed with the Segwun back many years ago, and it was a breath taking experience,” former youth resident Brooke Jonsson states.
“Segwun is a beautiful landmark, and is a wonderful historical landmark for Gravenhurst.” Haley Koing stated. Teenagers of today’s generation only know Segwun as a tourist attraction and a beautiful piece of scenery, but all of them do agree it makes Gravenhurst stand out from other towns. Though Segwun leaves the older generations behind with its own history, the new generations will have new stories to tell aboard the R.M.S. Segwun.
By involving youth in our organization, we plan for the future. We welcome Sarah, a grade 10 student at Gravenhurst High School as a contributor to this newsletter. She plans a career in either history or journalism.