History of Great Lakes Cruising
Cruise Lines are Back on the Great Lakes
I’ll admit that I’ve taken a liking to cruise. It must be the influence of having a sailboat that we have taken from port to port on Lake Huron. Great Lakes Cruising is making a comeback. Recently several cruise ships have announced routes and stops throughout the Great Lakes region. Currently, there are three cruise lines that cover the Great Lakes. Victory Cruise Lines, Great Lakes Cruise Company and Blount Small Ship Adventures. The Great Lakes Cruise Company has four ships that cover a wide range of ports and destinations. One ship, the Pearl Mist is small enough to tackle the famous cruising grounds of Georgian Bay and the beautiful North Channel.
Cruising was the Primary Way to Travel in the 1800’s
In the days before the highway and autos, the only way to travel the vast distances for the Great Lakes was by sail and steamer. In the mid-1800’s until well into the 1950’s one could travel most of the lakes in style and comfort. One of the most famous and beloved ships was the SS South American. The SS South American was a Great Lakes overnight passage steamboat built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works at Ecorse, Michigan. It was built in 1913 for the Chicago, Duluth & Georgian Bay Transit Company. The vessel was launched on February 21, 1914, and was the newer of two sister ships, the older one being the SS North American.
Along with its sister ship, SS North American carried passengers between Chicago, Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Duluth, Georgian Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. These were the heydays of the industry. A businessman could board a ship in Chicago for an overnight trip to northern Michigan. Spend the weekend with the family in the cool northern cabin in the woods and take the ship back to the city on Sunday night for work on Monday. It was noted that Hemingway’s father did just that early in the 1900’s.
Only the South American visited Lake Superior and made a short weekly stop in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula town of Houghton/Hancock. She carried over 450 passengers. The rare picture below hangs in the Rock Harbor Lodge on Isle Royal. It shows tourists being dropped off at the American Dock which still stands today.
The South American was well known for its High School trips in the 1950’s. Southeast Michigan high school seniors would take a small cruise from Detroit to Chicago. The last season for the South American was in 1967. Her final route was to offer trips to the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal.
Sadly, both ships are now part of history. The SS North American sunk on the Atlantic coast while being towed and the SS South American rotted away and was finally scrapped in 1992. However, with the rapid popularity of cruising now taking place, I expect to see more of these small cruising ships ply their way among the Great Lakes.