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Great Lakes Cruising in the Wake of
Charles Dickens & Mark Twain

It is April 24, 1842 and Charles Dickens on his grand tour of “North America” cruises across Lake Erie en route to Buffalo. Dickens records in his diary. “She was a fine steamship, four hundred tons burden, named the Constitution, with very few passengers aboard and had bountiful and handsome accommodation”.

Mark Twain Charles Dickens Later that century, on July 17, 1895 Mark Twain traveling on his “At home around the world” tour, boards the S.S. Northland in Cleveland bound for Mackinac. Twain wrote “All that has been said of this fine ocean ship on the Great Lakes is not exaggerated. Across Lake Erie to the Detroit River, Lake St Clair and the St Clair River is a most charming trip”.

Cruising…perhaps more accurately described as using the Great Lakes for transportation by indigenous North Americans, had been happening long before this. But in 1865 it took on a more formal aspect when Anchor Line, formerly Erie & Western Transportation co, was formed. Then in 1868 Detroit & Cleveland Navigation was conceived and not long after, in 1883, Canadian Pacific expanded into this business with the building (in Scotland) of the Alberta, the Algoma and the Athabasca.

From this time until the early 1970’s Great Lakes cruise and transportation lines emerged, merged, failed and succeeded, much in the same way that we currently see the cruise giants of the 2000’s…merging, failing and succeeding elsewhere. Many cruise ships were built and names from the past still resonate on the mooring walls of Great Lakes ports, where ships such as the Noronic, the Northland, City of Cleveland,Sandbee and the Cape Eternity arrived… decked out in bunting, bands playing and thousand waving from nearby vantage points.

Queen Elizabeth and President Eisenhower officially opened the Seaway in 1959 allowing ships to transit, which are no more than 740 feet in length, 78 feet beam, with a water draft of 26 feet 3 inches and an air draft of 116 feet six inches. This precludes many of the larger high capacity cruise vessels from transiting the locks, but it does leave about 30 ships which could…if they comply with the regulations…cruise the Great Lakes.

Now spring forward to the early 1990’s when several commercial ports on the Great Lakes funded an initiative to revive the long dormant international cruise industry on the same Great Lakes which Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, along with thousands others cruised. Founding members of this modern bold initiative were Duluth, Toronto, Oswego, Saugatuck-Douglas, Milwaukee, Chicago, St Joseph, Parry Sound, Owen Sound, Detroit, Toledo, Erie and Little Current.

In 2002, the cruise ship Le Levant, from Compagnie Isles Du Ponnent and Hapag Lloyd’s C. Columbus enjoyed a successful Great Lakes season, as did American Canadian Caribbean Line’s Niagara Prince and Grand Mariner plus the Nantucket Clipper from Clipper Cruise Line in St Louis. Various other single ship lines also cruise in the Great Lakes/Seaway system including the Canadian Empress out of Kingston Ontario and the Georgian Clipper out of Parry Sound Ontario.

Future activities of the G.L.C.C. include more of the same relentless search for sound commercial relationships between ship owners and tour operator/charterers, plus an expansion of the membership to include more ports, cities and locations on the Great Lakes.



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