The RMS Segwun — a.k.a. the “Royal Mail Ship" or the "Grand Lady of the (Muskoka) Lakes" — was built 127 years ago and the iconic symbol of Muskoka needs some costly tender-loving care after years at sea.
As well as routine care, the immediate need is to replace the decking under the ship’s wheelhouse, said John Miller of the Muskoka Steamships & Historical Society.
The membership-based, not-for-profit charity owns the Segwun, along with sisters Wenonah II and Wanda III, and operates the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre, all home ported at Gravenhurst Wharf.
Its beginnings are traced to the Muskoka Lakes Navigation Co. formed in 1866 by A. P. Cockburn that operated the first Muskoka steamship, Wenonah.
The company had 19 steamers sailing lakes Muskoka, Joseph and Rosseau until 1958 taking people, goods and mail to resorts and cottages.
Estimated cost of the Segwun project is $125,000 with $50,000 raised so far for the work that must be done before the 2015 sailing season, Miller said.
Fred Mischler, a master boat builder who has worked on the ship for 35 years, will repair damage to the wheelhouse decking and replace the wood flooring.
It will ensure Segwun is “preserved in impeccable condition” to continue her popular voyages on the lakes for future generations, Miller said.
Segwun sails on the Muskoka’s blue-black waters with a variety of voyages for another month this season.
It’s called the “Real Muskoka” experience and it’s the real deal, too, as she is still powered the old-fashioned way – hand-fired by coal.
Her Ojibwa name means springtime and her haunting whistle awakens Muskoka each year.
Throughout the season, cruises range from one-hour sightseeing sailings to overnights, Millionaires Row cottage viewing and a kid’s pirate ship sailing.
Still available are one-and two hour sailings, lunch and sunset dinner cruises, winding up during the Bala Cranberry Festival weekend on Oct. 19, 2014.
During our lunch cruise last weekend, Richard Tatley, Muskoka’s resident steamship historian and author, provided informative and humourous dialogue as the ship passed islands, coves, opulent vacation homes and landmarks. On the menu were rolls, Caesar salad, chicken pot pie, French apple pie, coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and there’s also a licensed lounge.
With a capacity of 97 passengers plus crew, the Segwun has gleaming woodwork and offers panoramic views from its two dining rooms – the Royal Muskoka Salon and the Islander.
The ship can be chartered for special events such as wedding ceremonies and receptions, corporate gatherings, birthdays and celebrations. Cruise passengers also receive free admission to Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre on the wharf.
Open year-round, it showcases the “rich history of life on the water in Muskoka, with particular focus on the steamship, boat-building and resort era.” Its Grace and Speed exhibit is called Canada’s largest in-water collection of antique and classic boats. Visitors can see a boat builder’s workshop and wooden boats as well as blow steam whistles and start up a working engine.
The society’s goal is to operate cruises to “preserve knowledge of the steam era and to let the public experience the fun, romance and history of the Muskoka Lakes.”
NEED TO KNOW
– Segwun cruises leave from Gravenhurst Wharf at 185 Cherokee Lane. Details about cruises and donations are at realmuskoka.com. Fares range from $20.95 for a one-hour cruise to $94.95 for sunset dinner cruises on Saturday nights.