The End Of The Newfoundland Coastal Ships; The SS Kyle
Harbour Grace, Conception Bay
Located on the west side of Conception Bay, is the small community of Harbour Grace. The community has a rich history in everything from pirates to aviation. However, driving into the community the first thing you’ll notice is an old steamer ship slightly tilted and pushed up onto the beach. Some see it as an eyesore, but many have come to see it as a symbol for the community.
The ships name is the S.S. Kyle. It was 220 feet long, 32 feet wide, 21 feet deep, and had a gross tonnage of 1055. The Kyle is a reminder of the famous Alphabet Ship Fleet that was built and put into service by the Reid Family Company during the early 20th century. Built for the purpose of servicing communities along the coast of Newfoundland, the Kyle also became the first regularly scheduled ship to service parts of Labrador with passengers, cargo and medical supplies and personal.
The Kyle was built in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd. in 1913. The ship’s hull was built with thicker and stronger steel to help strengthen it against the ice flows of the North Atlantic. Then on April 17th, 1913 it took its maiden voyage from England to what was then the Dominion of Newfoundland. Built for the Reid Family Company, the Kyle was named the same as all the ships in the Reid’s coastal fleet; after names of towns in Robert Reid’s homeland of Scotland.
The SS Kyle was used mainly as a passenger and cargo transport to service outport communities along the coast for the majority of its service years. During this time it became known as the strongest and fastest of the Alphabet Fleet, able to withstand large ice chunks and flows and with the help of its six furnace engines could achieve speeds of up to 19 knots (~35 km/h).
During World War II the Kyle was used as a transport vessel between Newfoundland and the Mainland for Newfoundland military personnel to train and prepare before going overseas to the frontlines.
After years of service, the Kyle was sold to Shaw Steamships in Halifax in 1959. It was then renamed the Arctic Eagle and was used as a sealing vessel. The Kyle was built to withstand the northern sea ice and for long-distance voyages. In 1961 it was sold again to the Earle Brothers from Carbonear for $100,000 to be used once again for the seal hunt. During this time the ship was given its original name back.
Six years later in the early winter of 1967, the SS Kyle hit an iceberg and was brought into Harbour Grace so that its owners could decide its future and whether it would be worth the money to fix.
On February 4th, 1967 during a storm, high winds and waves broke the Kyles moorings and pushed the Kyle ashore to its final resting place. During inspection afterward, the salvage job was deemed too expensive to repair or even move the ship. The decision was made to leave the ship where it was and the hull was then purposely flooded so the ship could not float away or tip over in a storm.
In 1972 it was sold to the provincial government for $4,000 and was left to rust away.
The Kyle remains today in the same spot it has since 1967. And although it is located in the harbour surrounded by water, it provides an interesting story for those who visit the community.
Sources & Further Exploring
Smallwood, J. R., & Pitt, R. D. W. (1981). Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John's, N.L.: Newfoundland Book Publishers. (Articles: “Harbour Grace” & “Kyle, S.S.”. Available online through the Centre for Newfoundland Studies collections database)
SS Kyle. Town of Harbour Grace’s website found at www.hrgrace.ca/tourism-heritage/attractions/ss-kyle/.
Learn more about the SS Kyle by exploring SS Kyle: Newfoundlands 1st Scheduled Ferry Boat website found at www.sskyle.org.