A Brief History of Great Lakes Cruising

“At one time there were more people asleep on boats on the Great Lakes than on any other ocean of the world” – marine historian Harry Wolf.

The North West and North Land offered 7-day Great Lakes cruises

Most people don’t realize that the five Great Lakes – Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior – are where the seven-day cruise originated. This dates to 1894-1895, when the Northern Steamship Company introduced the North West and North Land, with their motto “In all the World, no trip like this.” Among the North Land‘s first passengers was one Samuel L Clemens, better known to most as Mark Twain. Part of the Great Northern Railway system, these ships were described as the “largest, most complete and luxuriously equipped passenger boats in the world.” The return voyage from Buffalo to Duluth or Chicago took seven days, and one of the most popular stops was at Mackinac Island, where automobiles are still not allowed to this day.

A Georgian Bay Line cruise advertisement from 1916

Many more cruise ships followed, on both sides of the border, carrying happy crowds for many decades, with cruise directors, live bands and even radio broadcasts from on board. The better-known included Great Lakes Transit’s Juniata, Octorora and Tionesta and Georgian Bay Line’s North American, South American and Alabama, and, on the Canadian side, Canada Steamship Lines’ Hamonic, Huronic and Noronic and Canadian Pacific’s Assiniboia, Keewatin and Manitoba. These ships were all between 300 and 400 feet in length, 3,000 to 7,000 tons, and carried between 280 and 500 passengers each.

The great Seeandbee offered 7-day cruises around the Great Lakes in the 1930s

Overnight lines also got into cruising when the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company began a Detroit to Chicago service via Mackinac Island in 1924, with the 500-berth Eastern States and Western States. This service became  the company’s “Cruise Division.” In 1933, the Cleveland & Buffalo Transit Company, which had been offering end-of-season cruises from 1921 with its four-funnelled 1,500-passenger 6,381-ton Seeandbee, began offering seven-day Great Lakes cruises all summer long. Unlike the traditional cruise ships, these were big side-wheel paddle steamers, the largest in the world, and they continued cruising until 1950, when D&C, deprived of its overnight business by the advent of the superhighway, closed down. Their most interesting amenity was suites with private balconies, many decades before they were introduced into modern-day cruise ships.

Canadian Pacific’s Assiniboia offered weekly cruises between Georgian Bay and Lake Superior

Most of the traditional ships, in typical lakes fashion, had their engines aft, presaging modern-day cruise ship design. These ships carried on for several years, until Canadian Pacific’s  Assiniboia and Keewatin were withdrawn in 1965, and the Georgian Bay Line’s South American in 1967, victims of obsolescence and new fire regulations. The Keewatin, which was a museum ship at Douglas, Michigan, for forty years was moved to Port McNicoll, Ontario, in June 2012 while the 100-passenger Norgoma, which sailed between Georgian Bay and Sault Ste Marie for the Owen Sound Transportation Company, is at Sault Ste Marie.

The Stella Maris II cruised the Great Lakes for one season  in 1974, photo by Richard Duncan

Overseas ships have also cruised the Great Lakes. From 1959, when the St Lawrence Seaway opened, to 1963, the Oranje Line offered cruises on three passenger/cargo ships carrying 60 to 115 passengers each between Montreal and Chicago while on their voyages to and from Europe. In 1959, Sun Line operated the first Stella Maris into the Great Lakes on a number of cruises from Montreal to Toronto, Hamilton and Rochester. Midwest Cruises of Indianapolis offered two seasons of Great Lakes cruises between Montreal and Chicago with the 233-berth Stella Maris II in 1974 and the 168-berth Discoverer in 1975, but then closed down. More recently the lakes have seen the 90-berth French-flag Le Levant, built in 1998, and the 96-berth German-owned Orion, which Travel Dynamics engaged for the trade in 2004.

In 2009 and 2010, Travel Dynamics operated the 100-berth  Clelia II on the Great Lakes

Between 1997 and 2011, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 420-berth 14,903-ton Columbus became the largest ship to cruise the lakes. Although she left the fleet in 2012 she will return in 2014 and again in 2015 as the ms Hamburg. Most recently, in 2009 and 2010, Travel Dynamics operated the Clelia II, and in 2012 and 2013 the US-flag Yorktown .

Replacing the Yorktown in 2014 is Pearl Seas Cruises’ new 210-berth Pearl Mist, which enters the Great Lakes for the first time this year. Built in Halifax and completed in Chesapeake Bay, she will cruise between Toronto and Chicago on itineraries that include Georgian Bay, while other itineraries will include the River and Gulf of St Lawrence.

Full details of the new Pearl Mist cruises are available from The Cruise People Ltd of London, England. Please call  +44 (0)20 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk for further information.

About these ads

2 thoughts on “A Brief History of Great Lakes Cruising

  1. I would like to know which scholarly sources you have used to write this article? Where did you get this information from?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s