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Canadian Pacific Railway

First Ships

The first chartered sailing ship was the 835 ton wooden barque W.B.Flint which arrived in Port Moody July 27, 1886 with 17,430 half-chests of tea (1,240,753 pounds) much of it destined for Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal, Chicago and New York. The cargo was sped across Canada by special CPR trains (about 30 carloads) the first leaving Port Moody on July 30th. arriving in Montreal on August 6th. New York received delivery on August 9th. forty-nine days after leaving Yokohama. Five more ships followed that abbreviated season bringing more than 4,000 tons of freight for the new railway. Most of the ships left Canada with lumber.

The Flora B.Stafford is mostly hidden behind the freight shed where it is unloading its cargo having arrived at Port Moody on August 27, 1886 the day before the W.B.Flint (top) sailed back to the Orient with a cargo of lumber. The white ship in the harbour at left is the Royal Navy's ironclad, H.M.S. Triumph. The Atlantic Express is due to depart for Montreal. Beull collection/Canadian Railway Museum

Creation of an Imperial Highway to connect England with Canada and the Far East for trade and carrying of the mail was a goal of the CPR from the beginning. The lure of ancient Cathay (China) to trade for its riches of silk, tea, spices and other fine fare such as porcelain and even gold was an early benefit to the building of the Pacific railway.

Sailing ships were at first leased to engage in this trade and to accommodate travellers. Steamships soon replaced them as sail faded from the ocean. Three steamships were leased for the 1887 season, the Abyssinia, Batavia and Parthia (below), bringing tea, rice and silk as well as mail and first class passengers along with Chinese steerage emigrants heading to San Francisco. The United States soon stopped their immigration.

The 3,651 ton Abysinnia arrives at Vancouver from Hong Kong and Yokohama on June 14, 1887 having taken only 13 days and 14 hours for 4,294 miles from Japan, a big reduction in the time taken by sailing ships in 1886. She was carrying the CPR's first steamship passengers (22 first class and 80 Chinese in steerage) not long after the first train had arrived there on May 23rd. Cargo, mostly tea, totalled 2,830 tons, about 80 box car loads.

Parthia unloading cargo summer of 1887. Note her funnel almost hidden in the rigging.
Notman Collection/Canadian Pacific

They are alike in every detail, 485 feet long, 51 foot beam, 36 feet depth and 6,000 tons register, twin screws, triple expansion engines, 10,000 horse power, speed 19 knots. They run between VANCOUVER and VICTORIA, B.C. and YOKOHAMA, KOBE, NAGASAKI, SHANGHAI and HONG KONG. The saloons, library, and staterooms are marvels of beauty and luxury. They are lighted by electricity, are thoroughly well ventilated and for comfort excel anything afloat. 160 first-class and 40 second-class passengers can be accommodated. (Note: up to 700 steerage passengers could be carried, although this was not mentioned.)

Of these magnificent vessels, constructed under supervision of the English Admiralty, with numerous watertight compartments, insuring perfect safety, and equipped with all the most approved appliances devised by modern marine engineering for obtaining speed, comfort and luxury, one will sail from Vancouver, B.C., subject to unavoidable changes, ONCE EVERY THREE OR FOUR WEEKS. These vessels are in every respect superior to any other ships that have as yet sailed the Pacific Ocean. Their route is 300 mile shorter than that of any other trans-Pacific Line.

The above description covers the three Empress ships ordered in October 1889 from the Naval Construction and Armaments Company, Barrow, England; the first of which, the Empress of India, "set sail" from Liverpool, England on February 8, 1891 for Hong Kong and from there on April 7th. to Shanghai, Nagasaki, Kobe and from Yokohama on the 17th., arriving in Victoria on the 28th. having taken eleven days, 7 hours and 27 minutes establishing a new Pacific record, and finally arriving in Vancouver later the same day. Since the regular Atlantic Express had long departed, a special train left at 6.10 p.m. carrying the mail and through passengers including Van Horne himself in one of two business cars. The three ships had cost the CPR a total of almost $3 and one half million but, the investment was justified.

The Imperial Government had awarded a ten year mail contract which provided annual subsidy of £45,000 with another £15,000 from Canada. The Empress ships ran for fifteen years without penalty for late arrival!

Maiden voyage of the Empress of Japan

The S.S. Aberdeen was leased by the CPR.

Tin can, original size 8 1/2 inches high by 5 1/4 " square.
Old Time Trains museum collection

Early ships

Atlantic service

Canadian Pacific Line link



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