All photographs British Columbia Provincial Archives unless otherwise credited.
The second Princess Marguerite on the Triangle Route from Seattle near Victoria. CPR
Canadian Pacific Navigation Company Princess Louise, formerly
Olympia. Comox VI c.1890
The Canadian Pacific Railway announced in January, 1901 it had purchased controlling interest in the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company (no relation) and planned to make improvements. CPN had itself had been an amalgamation in 1883 of existing shipping operations some of which had served the earlier government construction of the Pacific Railway on the Columbia River. The CPR had created much of this new demand itself as it sought to move construction material up river to Yale.
CPN's fleet of 14 ships served 72 ports with scheduled services on seven routes: Daily between Victoria and Vancouver; three trips a week between Victoria and Westminster; three trips a month between Victoria and West Coast; likewise between Victoria, Vancouver and northern BC ports; and two trips a month between Victoria, Vancouver and Alaska. There were also daily trips between New Westminster, Ladner and Stevenston; and three trips weekly between New Westminster and Chilliwack.
Princess Victoria, first new ship for the BCCS she began a long and distinguished line of ships.
Captain James W. Troup, manager of the CPR's British Columbia Lake and River Service was reassigned as manager of the British Columbia Coast Steamships Service. He quickly set about making the much necessary improvements beginning with purchase of the 1880 built 1,708 ton Hating, originally the Cass and soon renamed the Princess May for the wife of the Duke of Cornwall and York. He also received approval for a new ship to be named the Princess Victoria. Built by Swann, Hunter & Company, Newcastle, England and powered by Hawthorne, Leslie and Company Limited 5,800 horsepower triple expansion engines fed by six boilers she was a speedy 20 knot 300 foot 1,943 ton steamer of great elegance and permitted to carry 1,000 passengers. Due to a pending strike in England, the wooden superstructure and passenger accommodations were completed at the British Columbia Marine Railways Company Limited in Esquimalt where the most of the CPR's repair work was done. She entered service between Victoria and Vancouver late on August 13, 1903 following a three hour cruise in perfect weather with two hundred and fifty guests during which time she raced along at 19 knots!
Note: Tonnage of a ship is not its weight, nor its carrying capacity; rather it is its size, a measurement of volume. One ton equals 100 cubic feet.
Princess Beatrice November 1903
Another new ship was underway in Esquimalt; the much smaller wooden hulled Princess Beatrice a single-screw 193 foot 1,290 ton ship having 40 rooms with 114 berths intended to replace the SS Islander lost August 15, 1901 when it hit an iceberg off Douglas Island while returning from Alaska with the tragic loss of 23 of its 110 passengers and 16 of her 62 crew. She had her sea trials in early November of 1903 and entered service not on the intended Alaska route but, between Victoria and Seattle on January 20, 1904 after the sinking on January 8th of the Puget Sound Navigation Company's new Clallam in rough weather while crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca bound for Victoria with the loss of fifty-four persons mostly women and children in the sunken life boats. The Clallam was a jinxed ship, at her launch less than a year earlier, the champagne bottle missed her bow and did not break then, when the ensign was unfurled, it was upside down! The day before its sinking, a cargo of sheep had to be left behind when the bell-sheep refused to lead them onboard the ship.
Yet another new ship was quickly ordered for the Alaskan run, the Princess Royal, a larger wooden ship of 227 feet having 72 staterooms with 144 berths also from BC Marine Railways was fitted with large triple expansion engines designed for 15 knots. She made her maiden voyage on July 18, 1907 sailing to Alaska.
In 1905 the CPR acquired the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway which served much of Vancouver Island since 1889, the CPR itself having nothing there. Along with the railway came a small marine fleet consisting of the Joan, a wooden-hulled twin-screw steamer of 831 tons which operated between Nanaimo and Vancouver, and the City of Nanaimo which operated along the east coast of VI. The tug Czar towed Transfer No. 1 a railway car barge that could carry twelve boxcars on the forty mile crossing between Ladysmith and Vancouver beginning December 2, 1900. The CPR soon ordered a new steel-hulled tug from BC Marine Railways ship yard for $75,000. 120 feet in length, she was powered by a single 600 hp engine and capable of 12 knots. Christened the Nanoose, she was ready for trials on July 11, 1908. Traffic grew from 3471 cars outbound and 2891 inbound during 1907 to 17,282 out and 7459 in during 1942. With car ferry operation which began in 1955 figures were 14,357 out and 13,019 in during 1956 changing to 11,504 out and 10,687 in for 1971.
Nootka was a 2,069 ton freighter that put into odd ports along the coast. CPR
Cargo, as freight is termed in marine language, though less glamorous was always an important factor in BC coastal shipping just as it has always been on the railway. All ships were equipped to handle cargo and packaged freight shipments however; freight only vessels were also part of the fleet. These were tramp steamers that worked their way along from port to port providing an essential service.
Nanoose at Ladysmith. BC Provincial archives
Tugboats Kyuquot, Nanoose and Qualicum handled five rail barges and two scows between Vancouver on the mainland and Ladysmith and Nanoose Bay on the island connecting the CPR with the Esquimalt & Nanaimo, the CPR subsidiary serving only Vancouver Island. Coal from the mines at Zeballos on the west coast of VI and forestry products including from the pulp and paper cities of Powell River and Ocean Falls were the main cargo. Prince Rupert, the fishing capital of BC and the fishing canneries at Butedale and Namu as well as Port McNeill and Port Hardy, were also served.
Tug Kyuquot and barge Transfer No. 4 leaving
The first new freighter was added to the coastal service in late January 1908 built by Garston Drydock Shipbuilding Company, Garston, England. The Princess Ena was a 1,368 ton 10 knot ship capable of carrying the biggest size of lumber produced by the mills of BC and could accommodate 300 head of cattle.
Pacific Sound Navigation Company operated a fleet of ships in competition with the CPR on various routes including the popular Puget Sound service resulting in rate wars in 1907-08 that saw the regular $2.50 fare cut to $1.00 by PSN and later to 50 cents! The CPR fought back with rate cuts of its own that did not fully match those of PSN relying instead on its faster and more luxurious ships to win trade at times literally leaving them in their wake! They also joined up with Union Steamship Company, a well established business based in Vancouver that served coastal settlements all the way to Alaska providing through ticketing. Eventually, the rate war ended and things settled down however, PSN would continue in operation and years later would once again engage the CPR seriously, by then known as Black Ball Lines.
Grand Trunk Pacific Railway would also provide some competition for the CPR including after being taken over by Canadian National Railways. There were also other small ship companies operating in BC waters but, it would be the provincail government of British Columbia that would eventually take over from the CPR.
A very busy Victoria Harbour!
June 14, 1908 began the famed Triangle Route between Victoria-Seattle-Vancouver when the Princess Victoria carried 28,000 passengers during the season destined to become a very popular service for many decades. The following year three ships plied the waters of the Straits of Georgia and Puget Sound, the Princess Victoria, Princess Royal and the newest Princess, Princess Charlotte which began sailing on January 12, 1909.
Improvements went on with the disposal of PSN and E&N vessels (which went on to serve new owners under new names for many years) following acquisition of new and used ships and tug boats to serve as a lifeline to the many ports of mining, lumbering and fishing communities along BC's coasts. Canned salmon and barrels of whale oil filled the holds of ships until the mammals had been driven almost to extinction by whalers. The era of the paddle wheelers came to an end during this time as well.
Although many bore the Princess prefixes, others did not and almost all were of differing design and size. Although ships were acquired in response to a certain need on a specific route, they frequently were used on other routes especially at different times of the year as traffic ebbed and flowed with the seasons. Seven new and one "pre-owned" Princesses (Adelaide, Alice, Mary, Sophia, Maquinna, Irene, and Margaret along with Queen Alexandra renamed Princess Patricia) plus two used tugs were all acquired shortly before the Great War (WWI) began. Two of the ships, Princess Irene and Princess Margaret turbine powered and fast at 23 knots were both chartered by the British Admiralty before they entered service and fitted out as mine layers. Princess Irene was lost to an explosion in Sheerness Harbour, England on May 27, 1915 while arming 500 mines onboard for her first mine laying sortie killing all 225 officers and men aboard (except for three ashore) along with 80 Petty Officers inspecting the ship and 75 out of 76 dockyard workers. After the war Princess Margaret was purchased by the Admiralty for continued service thus never crossing the ocean to serve the BCCS.
Princess Maquinna docked at Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island. BC Government
The Princesses Maquinna, Mary and Sophia were all designed to carry both passengers and cargo to the isolated coastal settlements. They operated the railway equivalent of a Mixed train. Princess Maquinna (named for the daughter of the famous Nootka Indian Chief Maquinna,) and Princess Mary served the less travelled routes while the Princess Sophia, the largest, was designed for the Vancouver to Prince Rupert and Vancouver to Alaska routes.
The Princess Patricia was acquired in 1911 having been built in 1902 by W. Denny & Bros, Dumbarton, Scotland as the Queen Alexandra and was the second steam turbine-powered passenger vessel in the world. Steam turbines were a great improvement providing fast, vibration free and economical operation. Her top speed of 21.6 knots made for a speedy crossing between Vancouver and Nanaimo where the "Pat" served for sixteen years from May 1912 to May 1928 making 7,324 round trips before going on to other service.
Little-known was the Island Princess a small wooden-hulled boat of just 116 feet formerly the Daily which was purchased in 1917 to serve the Gulf Islands from Vancouver and Victoria until it was sold again in 1930.
Conversion to oil from coal resulted in better steaming and timekeeping along with cost savings mainly due to reduced labour. A coal burning ship required up to 18 firemen and six to nine trimmers. Princess May was the first to be converted in March 1911 and Princess Alice was the first to be built (also, 1911) as an oil burner. Most others were converted as well.
From time to time there were marine incidents sometimes involving the loss of life mostly due to fog or bad weather, none compared to terrible tragedy of the Princess Sophia which grounded on Vanderbilt Reef in the Lynn Canal of Alaska. Setting out from Skagway, Alaska just before 11:00 pm on October 23, 1918 with 269 passengers and 74 crew members she soon ran into heavy snow squalls and near zero visibility leading to her running aground at 3:10 am. Continued bad weather prevented the life boats being used and although ships came to her aid none were able to assist in rescue. Rising tides did not dislodge the ship and eventually, after more than 38 hours aground she sank from sight with the loss of all life save for one dog! Even 50 horses were lost but later divers recovered about $100,000 in gold from the purser's safe along with some trunks of passengers.
Needing a ship to replace the Princess Sophia and with shipyards in England and Scotland backlogged by post war orders the CPR turned to a local shipbuilder, Wallace Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in North Vancouver to build the Princess Louise (named for the first Princess ship the side wheel paddle steamer Princess Louise of the CP Navigation Co.). She made her sea trials on November 30th. 1921; exceeding her designed 16 knot speed. The CPR returned to Great Britain for all its future needs except for one small boat the Motor Princess.
Motor Princess Not elegant but, very practical for the new service.
In answer to the growing demand for automobile travel the CPR decided to experiment with a new type of vessel, a small motor boat designed specifically for ferrying automobiles between the mainland and Vancouver Island. The Motor Princess was a wooden-hulled vessel 165 feet long powered by two McIntosh & Seymour Engine Company six-cylinder diesel engines designed for a speed of 14 knots and built by Yarrows Ltd. at their Esquimalt shipyards and was ready for service on April 7, 1923 in just over three months! This was the first diesel-powered vessel in the CPR fleet diesels having been chosen for their compact size for such a small vessel. She was designed to carry 45 automobiles on two decks and included comfortable accommodations for passengers including a dining room and two staterooms. It ran between Sidney, 18 miles north of Victoria on VI and Bellingham, Washington for three years after which due to stiff competition from Puget Sound Navigation Company it was reassigned to Nanaimo-Vancouver to aid the service provided by the Princess Patricia which had little provision for automobiles having been built too early. A new ship, the Princess Elaine with better auto capacity of 60 cars replaced the Pat and the little Motor Princess was reassigned to a new route between Sidney and Steveston on Lulu Island bridged to the mainland providing a fast convenient ferry service.
A new terminal building was constructed in 1923 next to the Parliament Buildings in Victoria. An imposing looking four-storey structure with concrete columns costing $200,000 it replaced an old wooden structure.
Empress of Asia docked (left) at Pier B-C and
Princess Joan at Pier D. 1934
The CPR moved in 1925 from Colman Dock in Seattle to the more modern Bell Street Terminal to handle the two new larger Princesses. Following the loss of Pier D to fire on July 27, 1938 the Princesses were moved to the newer Pier B-C built for the new Empresses on the Pacific Ocean.
The ill-fated Princess Kathleen cruising to Alaska. CPR
Two new ships were ordered after the War and finally entered service for the summer of 1925 on the busy Triangle Route. The Princess Kathleen and Princess Marguerite were 5,878 tons 368 feet long licensed to carry 1,500 passengers with 290 berths in 136 staterooms and room for 30 automobiles, capable of running at 22 knots. Princess Marguerite was named after the daughter of Sir Thomas G. Shaughnessy, second President of the CPR. They replaced the Princess Victoria and Princess Charlotte, with the latter going to the growing Alaska cruise service.
More new ships were soon added to the fleet with the Princess Elaine a triple screw steam turbine ship of 2,027 tons, entering service in May of 1928 on the Vancouver-Nanaimo run replacing the older Princess Patricia. Specially designed for this service it accommodated 60 vehicles and operated at nearly 20 knots which meant she could make a crossing in a scheduled 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Princess Norah docked at Bamfield at the entrance to Barkley Sound on the west coast of VI. CPR
Another "mixed" service ship was the Princess Norah, 2,731 gross tons and 250 feet long with accommodations for 700 day passengers and 61 staterooms with 179 berths. Built in Scotland she arrived in Canada in early 1929. Equipped with a bow rudder to maneuver in confined waters she served the west coast of the Island in the high traffic summer season and Prince Rupert or Alaska during winter months. This allowed scrapping of the 25 year old wooden hulled Princess Beatrice.
Captain James W. Troup finally retired in August of 1928, eight years beyond the normal retirement age if 65, a testament to his stature within the CPR. He died some three years and three months later at age 76.
A major rebuild of the steel-hulled Princess Victoria was carried out in 1929 at Yarrows Ltd. Esquimalt shipyard where her hull was widened by 18 feet, and staterooms reduced to 48 with 92 berths (from 76/152), all to allow for accommodation of 60 automobiles. This was done for the increasingly popular Victoria-Seattle summer service.
Princess Joan departing from Vancouver. Leonard Frank/Vancouver Public Library
Two additional ships were ordered prior to the Black Friday October 29, 1929 stock market collapse on Wall Street which was the precursor to the Great Depression. Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI) and Princess Joan were built (at a cost of half a million dollars each) by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan, Scotland. 5,251 tons with accommodations for 405 first class and 26 second class passengers on the night runs between Vancouver and Victoria they were built for (1000 day passengers) and 70 automobiles. They were powered by quadruple expansion engines fed by four oil-fired Scotch boilers at 250 pounds per square inch pressure with a normal speed of 16.5 knots. Both entered service in May of 1930.
A number of older ships were retired in the 1930's including the Princesses Ena, Patricia and Royal due primarily to the new ships recently received rather than greatly declining traffic with all routes being maintained since the costal communities were dependant upon the service of the CPR ships. In the 12 month period 1937-38 the Princesses Kathleen and Marguerite each steamed some 90,000 nautical miles. (They were soon both taken over by the Royal Navy on September 1, 1941 for use as troop transports in the Mediterranean and one never returned. The Princess Marguerite was lost to enemy action August 17, 1942 but, war time secrecy kept this a secret for two and a half years. Imagine that happening today!) In fact, with the aging fleet of 15 ships it was intended to order two more new ships in 1938 near the end of the Depression however, another war intervened.
Changing conditions brought about the end of the costly night service on the Triangle Route during the war years. It returned only in the summer months after the war.
The last complete pre-war year, 1938, the fleet steamed 676,984 miles, carried 878,290 passengers, transported 63,403 automobiles and handled 146,397 tons of cargo. Additionally, the transfer barges carried 256,696 tons.
The fleet by the end of World War
II included a dozen Princess steamships from the 5,875-ton Princess
Kathleen down to the 1,243-ton Motor Princess. Freighters,
tugs and barges filled out the fleet.
Princess Patricia in CP Rail Multimark crusing in Tracy Arm, Alaska. CPR
Princess of Alberni was a small coastal freighter
acquired secondhand in April 1953 from Mexico as the M.V. Pomare
for Gulf Island and West Coast service. A wooden vessel of 140 feet
and diesel powered she was capable of 12 knots but was a big comedown
from the Princess Maquinna. She carried on for another 5 years
until the service was ended in the summer of 1958 when it and the Queen
of the North were sold to Northland Navigation Ltd., Vancouver which
operated a tug and barge service along the west coast ports to the north.
Princess of Nanaimo Vancouver August 1951 Nicholas Morant/CPR
Modern roll-on, roll-off ferry Princess of Vancouver 5,500 tons 420 feet long.
The last BCCS passenger Princess was the Princess of Vancouver a large diesel-powered ship built by A. Stephen & Sons Ltd., Glasgow, Scotland. Designed for the Vancouver-Nanaimo service which it entered in the summer of 1955 it provided three round trips a day, 362 days a year. In addition to carrying 115 automobiles and highway tractor trailer trucks or 28 boxcars and did so on night and off-season runs when there were less autos. This last feature made her unique to all exisitng vessels. There were accommodations for 770 passengers.
Trouble came May 17, 1958 when a strike by the Seamen's
International Union hit the CPR stopping all ships. Two months later
Black Ball was also struck by two different marine unions. BC quickly
announced it would create its own government-owned ferry service. The
provincial government ordered Black Ball's workers back to work and
a few days later they complied. The CPR being a federal property could
not be so ordered by BC. Struggling against declining profitability
and stiff competition the CPR wanted out, it had better things to do
with its money; like dieselize its entire railway. They promptly announced
the sale of three ships, the Yukon Princess already out of service
along with its two remaining freighters Princess of Alberni and
Princess Norah thus ending service to Vancouver Island coastal
communities and the north coast. In February 1959 night boat service
between Victoria and Vancouver by the Princess Joan and Princess
Elizabeth was ended along with the summer Victoria-Port Angeles
run they also made. Both were sold in November 1960 to Greek shipping
This picture of the Princess Marguerite (under provincial ownership) was taken looking south from below the Custom House when the ship was docked in front of the Victoria Clipper terminal. In the foreground is a float plane. Both modes of transportation would take you to Seattle WA but the ship was more fun. Jim Booth
One of the strangest vessels in the BCCS fleet was the MV Trailer Princess a converted US Navy LST from the Japan theatre of World War II. At 308 feet and powered by two GM 12cyl. diesels it began operating in 1966 between Vancouver and Swartz Bay on VI.
The success of the Trailer Princess led to the building of a new ferry, the Carrier Princess built by Burrard Dry Dock Company in North Vancouver. It was a 365-foot 4,353 ton vessel designed to carry 30 railway freights cars, 50 truck trailers or 150 automobiles. Strangely enough, it also included passenger accommodations for 260! This latter service quickly ended the following year. Four General Motors diesels generated 11,500bhp powering her at speed of 18 knots which allowed it to make three roundtrips daily starting in June 1973.
Princess of Nanaimo August 1972 Phil Mason
Princess Patricia at Pier A1 with Carrier Princess at left rear at Pier A3 in Vancouver.
. N-yard downtown Vancouver. Three diesel units on shop track. White building with awning is the yard office. Burrard Street overpass and ferry wharves in background. Stanley Park in distant background.
Princess ships in Vancouver Harbour 1980's. Leo Bruce Hempell
British Columbia Coast Steamship became Coastal Marine Operations. In October 1995 it was relocated from Vancouver Harbour, near Canada Place to Delta on the shore of the Fraser River ending nearly a century of presence. Canada Place was built where Pier B-C once stood and where Canadian Pacific ships sailed to and from for many years.
It all finally all came to and end on November 17, 1998 when Canadian Pacific's Coastal Marine Operations was sold to Seaspan Coastal Intermodal Company, part of Washington Marine Group.
Over nearly a century of service the BCCS fleet consisted of many vessels including 14 taken over from CPN, 31 passenger ships and 11 freighters, tugs and barges, added by the CPR. A great part of Canadian history.
LINK Port-N-Starboard includes BCCS history and colour photographs.