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Canadian Pacific Railway

Atlantic Steamship Lines

Desire for a service on the North Atlantic as part of an Imperial Highway that became known as the All Red Route, connecting England with Canada and the Far East, was first realized when the Elder Dempster company and its Beaver Line was acquired by the CPR in February 1903, for £1,417,500, (c.$6.9 Million then or about $140M in 2003!) consisting of a fleet of fifteen ships including four near-new passenger liners, Lake Chaplain, Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and Lake Manitoba. Small and slow, they never-the-less provided a basic service between Liverpool and Montreal.

Lake Manitoba at 469 feet and 8850 gross tons was the largest Beaver Line ship acquired.

Thomas Shaughnessy soon placed an order in November 1904 with the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Glasgow, Scotland for two luxurious liners which were 550 feet long, 14,000 gross tons and capable of eighteen knots, the Empress of Britain and the Empress of Ireland. They went into service in 1906 carrying first and second class passengers along with a lot of third-class (steerage) emigrants heading for western Canada, totalling 1,580 passengers.

The Empress of Ireland (link) would go down in history as being the greatest maritime disasters (link) when in 1914 it sank in minutes in the St.Lawrence taking 1,015 lives out of the 1,477 on board.

These two postage stamps were issued in 2004 to commemorate two great shipping magnates.
The cancellation marks represent the dates of the arrival of Cunard's Britannia in Halifax
and the departure of Allan's North American from Liverpool.

The Canadian Magazine April 1906


The biggest advance came on September 8, 1909 when control of the Allan Line (link) was purchased for £ 1,709,000 ($8,305,000) from Sir Hugh Allan, (biography) although it was kept a secret until 1915! Imagine doing something like that in this day and age! Allan's eighteen ships carried 49,000 passengers across the Atlantic while CPR's own eleven ships only carried 46,000 in 1908.

During the Great War (WWI) the CPR ocean going ships and Allan Line were amalgamated on October 1, 1915 and on January 1, 1916 Canadian Pacific Ocean Services, Limited was formed. It was renamed again on September 1, 1921 to Canadian Pacific Steamships Limited.

Metagama (501 feet 12,420 gross tons) was one of nine cabin class Atlantic liners built between
1914-1919 along with several other ships built or acquired, some of which were lost during the war.


Timetable 1929


Cruises were also operated in addition to the regular schedules, at times when ships might otherwise be kept in home port due to lack of passengers. Growing until the peak year in 1933 in the depth of the Depression, 51 cruises were operated. These cruises included ports in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands and the West Indies. They were elaborate undertakings with every on shore detail looked after by the CPR including transportation to key sightseeing places. Thi could require a fleet of 150 automobiles, each one numbered and carrying a small house flag. (On world tours these could total an incredible 6000 automobiles!) Farther distances were covered using special trains with the best equipment of equipment and sometimes doubleheaded. Other forms of transportation included 500 rickshaws at dockside in Singapore.

Around the world cruises became a popular and profitable aspect of Canadian Pacific ship operations. Begun in 1924 each year one or two such cruises would be run with Empress ships assigned to the Atlantic. Well-to-do travellers could afford the extended cruise both in time and expense. One such cruise on the Empress of Australia sailed from New York on December 2, 1929 scheduled for 137 days! None of this "Around the World in 80 Days" stuff! Passage began at $2,000, real money in those days and about $22,000 in today's money! World cruises featured stops in many ports in Southeast Asia, the Philippines, China, Japan, and Hawaii.


Mont ships

Three cabin-class ships were built for North Atlantic service, in 1921, the Montcalm and in 1922, Montrose and Montclare. They accommodated 554 cabin passengers in two and four-berth state rooms, and 1,250 third-class passengers in two, four and six-berth state rooms. In later years this was changed to 520 in cabin, 278 in tourist class and 850 in third class. In addition, the Empress of Britain was refitted as a cabin class ship and renamed in April 1924 as the Montroyal. The Montrose was originally intended to be named Montmorency for the famous falls in Quebec, while the Montclare was to be named Matapedia for the New Brunswick river of the same name.

All three Mont ships (Montroyal, the first Empress of Britain had been retired in 1930) were requisitioned in September 1939 for the war effort. The Montrose was lost to a German submarine attack on December 2, 1940 off Ireland. The Montcalm and Montclare finished out the war and continued in naval use until withdrawn in 1950 and 1954 respectively and scrapped.



Duchess ships

Duchess of Richmond

Four more new ships were built in 1928, the Duchess of Atholl, Duchess of Bedford, Duchess of Richmond and Duchess of York . The latter ship was originally intended to be named the Duchess of Cornwall, but this was changed and for the first time royality launched a merchant ship when Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York did the honours at the John Brown Company shipyard at Clydebank on 28 September 1928. These were cabin-class ships named Duchess to fit their lesser status. At 20,000 tons and 18-knot speed these oil-fired steam turbine-powered ships were nevertheless quite acceptable, in fact, two were to become Empresses. They originally accommodated 580 cabin, 486 tourist and 500 third-class passengers.

Unfortunately, the Duchess of Athol was lost when attacked by a German U-boat October 10, 1939 off Africa. Fortunately, only four crew were killed while 821 survivors were rescued the next day. The Duchess of York was requisitioned in 1940 and later was lost in an attack by German aircraft on July 11, 1943 while on troop transport duty. A modest number of lives were lost with survivors picked up by other ships in the convoy. It was the twelth Canadian Pacific ship lost to enemy action in World War II and the last ship so lost.

The Duchess of Bedford and Duchess of Richmond eventually became troop carriers and were the only ones to survive the war, the other two having been lost along with the Montrose, the second Empress of Britain and the first Empress of Canada, as well as all five Beaver freighters.


Empress ships

The first two Empresses were the Britain and the Ireland (see top), another Empress was originally built for the Allan Line in 1914 as the Alsatian, she became the Empress of France after military service during the Great War entering service September 1919. In 1924 she was converted to oil and in addition to being able to make a round trip voyage without refuelling, the number of firemen required was reduced from 117 to only 34. She continued to sail for a few more years until the effects of the Depression caught up with her and she was laid up September 28, 1931 then sold October 1934 for scrap.

Another used ship was the first Empress of Scotland built in Germany as the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria named in honour of the ship's sponsers the Kaiser and the Empress. The 678 foot, 24,580 gross ton liner was said to be the largest ship built and made its maiden voyage for the Hamburg Amerika Line from Hamburg to New York in May 1906. Following the Great War it was turned over to England and sailed the North Atlantic by Cunard until bought by Canadian Pacific in May 1921 and renamed the Empress of Scotland. She sailed the Atlantic and made cruises, including around the world trips, until laid up at the end of 1930 and scrapped.

In addition to the Empress of Britain (re-named Montroyal in 1924) and Empress of Ireland (above) and the Empress of France, the Empress of Australia was transferred in 1927 from the Pacific fleet, and a second Empress of Britain came to the Atlantic in 1931. At 760 feet and 42,348 gross tons this 24 knot ship was the fastest, largest and most luxurious liner of Canadian Pacific. Its four turbines produced 62,500shp from its very fuel efficient boilers. Four diesel generators and two turbine generators produced 3000kw of electricity. First-class accommodation was lavish and tourist was the best there was. All sorts of facilities were available for the pleasure of the 1129 passengers she could accommodate including the largest swimming pool on any liner. The Empress of Britain was the first ship to have with worldwide radio telephone service from passengers' rooms. The first ever telephone call from shore to ship was made May 31, 1931 when the Governor-General, Lord Bessborough, called from Ottawa to CPR President Edward Beatty on board the Empress. She was scheduled to make the voyage in 5 days between Southampton and Quebec City.

The Empress of Britain had the honour of carrying the King and Queen to and from their famous 1939 Royal Tour of Canada and the United States of America. This extensive tour by their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth was the first time a ruling monarch had visited Canada.

In 1939 there were more than 100 passenger liners on the North Atlantic. Plenty of competition!

This Empress of Britain was lost off the coast of Ireland when attacked on October 26, 1940 first by a German aircraft and two days later by a U-boat which itself was sunk two days afterwards by a British destroyer. It was the largest liner lost in the war and although there was not a heavy loss of life, as was often the case during the war news of its loss was censored since it was such a significant ship.

Canadian Pacific Steamships moved its headquarters from London, England to Liverpool. It was returned to London on February 5, 1969 with the advent of container service.

The second Empress of Canada (formerly, Duchess of Richmond) and the second Empress of France (formerly, Duchess of Bedford and originally intended to be renamed Empress of India) were refitted following the war. They now accommodated 441 passengers in first class and 259 in tourist.

In November 1948 the second Empress of Scotland which had originally sailed the Pacific as the Empress of Japan returned from its military service and underwent a lengthy refit before being returned to CPR service on May 1, 1950, this time on the Atlantic. She could now accommodate 458 first class and 205 tourist class passengers, down from 1115. Quebec City was her port destination in Canada while the Empress of Canada and Empress of France which had already returned to the Atlantic service traveled between Liverpool and Montreal. These two ships maintained Liverpool-Saint John, New Brunswick service during winter while the Empress of Scotland went into cruise service between New York City and the West Indies. In the fall of 1951 the Empress of Scotland accommodated a Royal Tour of Canada by Princess Elizabeth (soon to become Queen Elizabeth II) and the Duke of Edinburgh.

In 1952 Montreal became the terminal for the Empress of Scotland as well and when she arrived in May of 1952 she was the largest ship to ever enter the Port of Montreal. She continued sailing the Atlantic until November 1957 after which she was sold becoming the Hanseatic. She continued crossing the Atlantic to New York until September 1966 when a dockside fire in New York ended her career.

Four more Empress class ships were to follow and these were to be the last. The French ship De Grasse was to become a short-lived second Empress of Australia. Built in 1924, this 17,700 ton ship was bought in 1953 and sold in 1955. It replaced the second Empress of Canada lost by dockside fire at Liverpool in 1953.

Large folder describing and picturing the latest Empress ships. 1961
Cutaway view of Empress of Canada
Railfans Unlimited Collection

Third Empress of Britain, a 25,516 ton 640 foot ship began service April 20,1956.



It was followed a year later by a similar Empress of England (above)
which made her maiden voyage on April 18,1957.

These ships accommodated 150 first class and 900 tourist passengers along with 5000 tons of cargo.
Both ships were air-conditioned throughout and were the first British ships so equipped.

Finally, in April 1961 came the third Empress of Canada at a slightly bigger 27,300 tons and 650 feet,
she had accommodations for 192 first-class and 856 tourist passengers.

None of these ships were to last long in Canadian Pacific service, time had changed things as air travel replaced the costly to operate liners. After making 123 crossings of the Atlantic, the Empress of Britain docked from the last one on October 20, 1963. She was later sold in November 1964 to Greek Line and renamed Queen Anna Maria. It would later be sold in 1975 to Carnival Cruise Lines of Miami as their first ship and renamed Carnivale. The Empress of England was sold in 1970 to Shaw Savill Line renamed Ocean Monarch, and eventually scrapped in 1975.

Finally, after completing 121 North Atlantic voyages and 82 cruises the Empress of Canada docked in Liverpool on 23 November 1971 bringing to and end 69 years on the Atlantic and 78 years of Empress tradition. A mere 300 passengers were on board. It was all over for Canadian Pacific ocean travel. She was sold to Carnival Cruise Lines and renamed Mardi Gras.


Cargo ships

Canadian Pacific Line link Images link

Simplon Postcards link
The Ship Postcard Web Site

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