The un­cer­tain fate of the S.S. Kyle

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BYMELISSA JENK­INS

It’s a Tues­day morn­ing and 97-year-old Fred LeDrew is re­lax­ing at a re­tire­ment home in Bay Roberts when his phone rings. He an­swers with a busi­nesslike tone. It’s a news­pa­per re­porter, seek­ing his re­ac­tion to news that a sec­tion of the SS Kyle’s su­per­struc­ture had col­lapsed, once again ig­nit­ing the de­bate about what should be­come of the ven­er­a­ble old ship grounded in Har­bour Grace.

LeDrew, who twice went to the Front aboard the Kyle in search of seals dur­ing the 1960s, was un­aware of the cave-in, but is not sur­prised.

The col­lapse hap­pened in re­cent weeks, but some say it was years com­ing to a head. LeDrew agrees.

His words are few, but he shows pas­sion about his ex­pe­ri­ences on the ves­sel and de­scribes how he feels about the cur­rent state of the ship.

“Some­one should have done some­thing about it a long time ago, and kept it in good shape,” he says.

Part of the col­lapsed struc­ture had been vis­i­bly lean­ing for some time, and rust de­vel­oped along the bow of the ship, down to the stern.

Many res­i­dents have been say­ing for years the ves­sel, which is the last of the New­found­land Al­pha­bet Fleet, should have been re­stored. But the funds had not been avail­able.

Govern­ment fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance has been de­nied. The only fund­ing has been through fundrais­ing ef­forts.

In 1996, the ship re­ceived a new coat of paint to re­store it to its orig­i­nal colours, but that was the last time any­thing had been com­pleted.

LeDrew wishes more was done. “She was a nice boat,” he says. LeDrew doesn’t see him­self as be­ing a part of his­tory. But as one of the last people to sail aboard the ship, many would say he is. He laughs at the thought, but doesn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond.

Af­ter a mo­ment, he changes the sub­ject.

“I haven’t been down that way (to see the ship) in a long time,” he ad­mits, adding it had been sev­eral years.

He does, how­ever, re­mem­ber the trips to the ice. Dur­ing that time, LeDrew had the op­por­tu­nity to take in much of the 67-me­tre ves­sel, in­clud­ing the no­to­ri­ous smoke room, which col­lapsed.

“I was all over (it),” he ex­plains. “I spent a fair bit of time on (the Kyle).”

The smoke room was made fa­mous in the song, “Smoke room on the Kyle,” writ­ten by the late Ted Rus­sell. It has been per­formed by both Ted and, more re­cently, his son Kelly. In the song, the smoke room is de­scribed as a place where the sailors and crew tell tall tales of their ad­ven­tures on the sea.

LeDrew doesn’t re­mem­ber the room the same way. He says it wasn’t some­where those on board spent a lot of time.

“We went in there some­times. Not very of­ten, just the same,” he says. “Some­times when you (went) in there, the cap­tain would be in there, the mate and a few en­gi­neers.”

The room now lies un­der a pile of rub­ble.

The provin­cial Depart­ment of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs owns the ves­sel. Min­is­ter Steve Kent said in an email to The Com­pass the govern­ment can’t af­ford to aid in the restora­tion of the 101-year-old Kyle.

“Given the sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing pres­sures for mu­nic­i­pal in­fra­struc­ture, we are not in a po­si­tion at this time to pro­vide any fi­nan­cial sup­port for restora­tion,” the email says.

“Should the Town of Har­bour Grace or a pri­vate com­pany or or­ga­ni­za­tion want to in­vest to bring the SS Kyle up to stan­dards for her­itage pur­poses, I would gladly pro­vide a writ­ten let­ter of sup­port. I would en­cour­age and sup­port a com­mu­nity so­lu­tion.”

A for­mer mu­nic­i­pal leader in Har­bour Grace ex­plains there was an at­tempt by a group to ac­quire the ves­sel about 20 years ago, and the cost for restora­tion at that time was close to $1 mil­lion.

It is un­known how much a restora­tion would cost now, but some say it would be much higher than the ini­tial price tag. There haven’t been any for­mal of­fers to take on the project.

An­other pos­si­bil­ity is dis­man­tling the ves­sel, some­thing LeDrew does not ap­prove of.

“I wouldn’t like to see her torn apart,” he says.

The fi­nal op­tion would be to leave it there, de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in the har­bour.

There have been some con­cerns men­tioned about the en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors if the ves­sel continues to re­main. It is un­known at this time if there is any threat to the ma­rine ecosys­tem.

There are many unan­swered ques­tions, most of which will likely be dis- cussed in the com­ing months by the Town of Har­bour Grace and those with an in­ter­est in the ves­sel.

It is un­known what the fu­ture holds for the his­toric ship. But LeDrew will al­ways cher­ish the mem­o­ries of his voy­ages on the ice dur­ing his trips on the SS Kyle.

LeDrew de­nies hav­ing sto­ries from his trips off­shore that he can share. But with a laugh, he makes it known the ones he does have will re­main a part of him, even if the ves­sel is dis­man­tled.

Pho­tos by Melissa Jenk­ins/the Com­pass

The roof of the S.S. Kyle’s fa­mous smoke room col­lapsed re­cently, leav­ing the smaller struc­ture, the chart room, ly­ing in­side it.

The view of the S.S. Kyle from South Side Har­bour Grace on April 15, af­ter the col­lapse of the smoke room’s roof.

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