Georgian Bay Line’s SS South American – The final voyage…

Great video on the final voyage of the SS SOUTH AMERICAN… last American flagged over night passenger ship on the Great Lakes.

The Georgian Bay Line began operation in 1913 with the SS North American, which was launched on January 16, 1913. Due to a very profitable first season, the company launched the SS South American on February 21, 1914. Built of steel, these ships were almost sister ships. The North American had an overall length of 280 feet (85 m) while the South American was 321 feet. They carried passengers between Chicago, Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Duluth, Georgian Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo, and sometimes intermediate ports. In the 1940s, the Georgian Bay Line acquired a third vessel, SS Alabama, a refugee from the bankrupt Goodrich Transit Company where Mr. Davis had begun his career. The three ships tied up at the foot of 16th Street in Holland, Michigan, each winter and until they were permanently assigned elsewhere.

The S.S. South American docked at Mackinaw Island in the 1950s..

Up until World War II vessels like those operated by the Georgian Bay Line were an essential part of the transportation infrastructure of the Great Lakes. The line sold large quantities of point-to-point tickets to revenue passengers who paid publicly tariffed rates to be moved from one port to another. After the war, with increasingly inexpensive motor fuel and reliable, paved roads, point-to-point passenger volume declined and the Georgian Bay Line shifted its emphasis to the cruise ship trade. Both vessels advertised weeklong cruises through the upper Great Lakes, with the South American traditionally visiting Lake Superior and the North American taking the Lake Michigan run. Mackinac Island, in the Straits of Mackinac, was the division point where the Y-shaped arms of the Georgian Bay Line’s service territory came together.

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The final cruise aboard the S.S. South American. 

Various shots of College kids aboard the SS SOUTH AMERICAN from Pontiac Central High School in 1960…

The Georgian Bay Line’s long-term viability was compromised by the seasonal nature of Great Lakes cruise trade. The boats were traditionally fitted out each spring in May and mothballed each fall in late September. After the invention of the passenger jet airplane in the 1950s, North American tourists found themselves able to fly to ports in locations, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, where twelve-month cruising was possible. In addition, cruise ships operating in international waters could hire crews from the Third World and did not have to obey U.S. or Canadian labor laws.

The Georgian Bay Line lost money in the 1960s. In 1963, after the GBL retired the North American, the South American and the Greene Line’s Delta Queen were the last two long-distance cruise ships sailing under the U.S. flag. Neither vessel could meet modern fire-safety standards. In 1966, citing the danger to passengers of a catastrophic fire, Congress passed a law ordering both passenger vessels to tie up to the docks permanently. A series of temporary exceptions were carved out for the Delta Queen, but not for the South American. In 1967, the final Georgian Bay Line boat made its last trip. The North American sank while under tow to what would have been a new life as part of a merchant marine academy, and the South American was scrapped in 1992. The Alabama was cut down to a barge in 1946 and was still afloat as of 2005.

SS South American passes through the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, August 30, 1966.

SS South American leaves Houghton dock (Cohodus-Paoli) in August 30, 1966.

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…

2 comments

  1. Richard Mc Donald

    I was a young man growing up in Holland Michigan were the ships docked .My father at the time was a commercial fisherman at that time they would turn the ships around in the basin of the river so they could dock.I would like to know were i could find or perchas pictures of the these great ships.it would mean so much to me. Thank you in advance

  2. Great website, enjoyed this. Such a different America!

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