up as she was today, the crane weighted in at 400,000 pounds. The S.S.Bigwin tips the scales at 22 tons.
It's been a long time coming. In fact, it's been a century... Back in 1910 the S. S. Bigwin began plying the waters of Lake of Bays. She had quite an history, including the time her engines failed to go into reverse and she steamed full ahead into the dock at Bigwin Island... Both the dock and the boat survived, but the captain's reputation didn't fare quite so well. A tendency to float slightly off the vertical was one of her hallmarks, too, but she did good and faithful service acting both as a tugboat and then as a passenger ferry carrying passengers to and from fabled Bigwin Inn.
When times changed and people took to the automobile, the lake steamers gradually left the lake. The R.M.S. Iroquois was decommisioned at South Portage -- where she finally burned to the water line, and then sank. The ruined hull was filled in to form the portion of the South Portage Dock where the Heritage Plaque celebrating the Portage Flyer railway now stands. You can still see her hull, if you stand on the dock and look down to the right side.
The S.S. Bigwin, left in the Bigwin Inn boathouse, gradually succumbed to time and neglect, and sank. She lay on the bottom for many years, before a dedicated group got together to lift her, dry her out (sounds like a rehab program... until you realize that after launching, she will need to simply sit in the water for up to a month in order to absorb water and "cure" the wood in the hull) and then worked to raise the funds to restore her. It's been a long journey, and it's pretty much proved the adage that a boat is a hole in the lake into which you pour money. Recently the Lake of Bays Navigation Society and Marine Museum received $400,000 from FedNor to help have the boat ready to go in time for the G8. As if we were going to see Harper and Obama waving from the deck... Never mind, it helped push the project forward, and today, at Dorset, on her 100th anniversary, the S.S. Bigwin went back into the water.
Jeff must have thought at times that this day would never come -- but it did, and he has the spilled champagne on his shirt to prove it.
The crane came from Sarnia. It can lift 500 tons, and costs $40,000/day to rent. It was built in Germany, at a cost of $5 million, and fitted
You need a big crane, when you have to lift a big package. The operation went clockwork smooth. Mind you, there was a 'trial lift' and a quick dip in the water dress rehearsal that took place on Friday.
As befits the occasion, there was a street party in Dorset. Jazz music, vendors pitching S.S. Bigwin hats, clothes and posters (you can buy them at the Dorset dock location of the Navigation Society and Museum) and more people than you could elbow your way through. Luckily, they didn't all try to congregate on Dorset's historic hump-back bridge. That structure was rebuilt after it collapsed under the weight of a heavily loaded horse-drawn wagon. Horses and wagon floated down stream and were retrieved unscathed. The bridge, not so much.
And boats! Trading Bay was packed with boats (which took the pressure off the bridge) A classic boat parade followed the launch, although pretty much all the attention was on the star of the show herself.
There was even a visit from a representative of Chief BigWind. Fitting...
Trading Bay was the location of one of the most important trading centres on the lake for the First Nations, and Bigwin Island takes it's name from the Chief, whose family had summered on the Island for generations.
So, let's raise a glass to the Bigwin, back in the water at last, and looking even more lovely than her youthful photos would indicate.
There's still work to be done before she can take guests cruising down the lake, but Jeff and his group are till hard at it, fundraising for all the work remaining, and keeping this project moving forward. In the meantime, be sure to stop at Dorset and take a look at her, say hello... welcome her home.