History Page 5c

Great Canadian Ships

Canadian Pacific's West Coast Ships - 1887-1942

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure


Titanic Anyone?

Anonymous ship paintings are a real headache for auction goers. Now why couldn't the painter just have written the name on the back?

So what do you do when a fine folk art ship painting turns up somewhere?

Well, draw on your knowledge as to time and place.

Hmmmh, those mountains... could be the West Coast... and didn't CP (Canadian Pacific) have a pretty extensive shipping business on the Pacific Coast early in the 20th century?

Anonymous Ship, c 1920
Orig. pastel - Image Size - 34 x 54 cm
Found - Port Hope, ON

And didn't those ships have yellow funnels?

And feature in lots of postcards with mountains behind as photographers caught the ships in close as they moved through the Narrows in and out of Vancouver harbour?

Wonder if it's CP's Princess May, who figured in one of the the most famous groundings on the coast, when she ran up on a reef in full view of the lighthouse on Sentinel Island, in Alaska, on Aug. 10, 1910.

Her 150 passengers and crew were safely lowered in lifeboats - note ropes dangling from davits. Later she was refloated on the high tide, but suffering extensive damage from the jagged rocks.

No harm done, this time, but it underlined the dangerous waters along the British Columbian and Alaskan coast, where countless shoals lay in wait for the unwary mariner, and constant fog made it a cat and mouse game of tag, what with skippers wondering just how far off course they were drifting, towards a reef or rock, what with the wind, the snow, the tide...

Oh, but she has only one funnel, so not our ship...

Hmmh... wonder if it's CP's Princess Sophia, you know, Canada's second worst sea disaster of all time, when she too ran aground, eight years later, this time on the Vanderbilt Reef, as she was going down the gut from Skagway, AK, during a nighttime snow storm, Oct. 26, 1918.

When rescue ships arrived, the water was so rough all they could do was take photos right. Hundreds of passengers were still aboard finding it futile to try to launch the boats right in the roily sea.

The rescue boats made for shelter, as night was coming, determined to try again in the morning, when the weather cleared, as it was bound to...

But the weather got worse; night fell; and in the morning, when the ships came back, there was nothing left of the Princess Sophia at all, just her mast top, sticking out of the water. She had completely broken up. During the night all 350 people had perished in the frozen sea or suffocated in the thick oil that covered the site when Sophia's fuel tanks ruptured. Not a single survivor.

Oh, but she too, only had one funnel...

Then it's look through your source books and postcards to see if you can get a better match.

Three black-topped yellow funnels, slightly fore of centre, are helpful, as well as the extensively open rear deck, and the long open promenade deck below the boat deck.

The obvious first choice has to be CP's beloved Princess Victoria, but hey, the funnels are too tall and slim - assuming the artist was accurate, which you can never be entirely sure of in folk art...

The open rear deck is a good match but the overall shape and proportions just don't fit the painting.

Princess Victoria was also an older looking style of boat, sort of 1890s. Probably a later ship is a better fit. So you check CP's list, looking for a later Princess...

What about Princess Kathleen and Princess Marguerite. They were built in the 1920s...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Postcard, CPRSS Princess Marquerite - 1925-1942
Orig. pc - Size - 9 x 14 cm
Found - Winnipeg, MB

Then lo, and behold, you find the perfect answer, a postcard that is an exact match, not only to the ship but the exact place... The Princess Marguerite passing under the Lions - below the white clouds - going out the Narrows of Vancouver Harbour.

Clearly someone, who had an emotional tie to this boat used this exact postcard to make a painting of a ship that is not all that famous... until you do a bit of research.

The Princess Marguerite was built in 1925, for Canadian Pacific Railways, and its triangle run between Vancouver, Victoria, and Seattle (USA).

It would be wrong to associate her, and the CP "luxury mini-liners" with the subway or Go-trains of today, which are cold, impersonal, and noisy, clattering, mechanical monstrosities intended to get somewhere fast, accompanied by a constant assault on the senses.

Not at all like the luxurious Princess Marguerite which became the most famous of the CP west coast fleet of many Princesses.

Untold thousands sailed on her in the 20s and 30s. She, and others like her, became an integral part of the emotional make-up of generations of British Columbians. She provided a sense of romance and adventure to lives of ordinary people; there were few who didn't take a CP Princess excursion, away from a humdrum existence, to an exciting destination along the BC coast. Though lives did change, with the passing generations, the Princesses were always there, providing an emotional connect with one's childhood, or a treasured vacation excursion, every time you saw one sweeping into or out of the harbour.

In 1939 the Princess Marquerite had the honour of carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, then on their first Canadian tour, from Vancouver to Victoria, BC.

Then came World War II.

CPs ferry boats were put to use as troop transports in Europe. The Princess Marguerite and the Princess Kathleen were used in the Mediterranean Sea.

On Aug. 17, 1942 while ferrying 1,000 soldiers from Port Said, Egypt, to the island of Cyprus, Princess Marguerite was torpedoed by U-83. Two torpedoes ignited her fuel tanks and ammunition stores and fires that started were soon out of control. The men lowered the boats, and were picked up by assisting ships. Still 55 men lost their lives.

Perhaps one of the survivors, possibly a crewman - always a sentimental lot - wanted to remember her from her better days when the graceful Princess sailed in peace through the Narrows below The Lions - the snow covered peaks in the middle background - out of Vancouver Harbour.

And made this loving pastel portrait from a postcard.

Now the ship, the painter, and the era,have gone... only The Lions, and a fine piece of folk art, survive... And the Princess Marguerite has her name back...

Starting in 1903, Canadian Pacific Railways started to operate a west coast shipping service that it took over and expanded.

For the next 95 years, till it sold out in 1998, CP's British Columbia Coast Service operated passenger ships - later including some cars - on the triangle run between Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle (USA), as well as up the coast to Juneau, and Skagway, Alaska, and points in between. The fleet once boasted 32 ships.

Go to Art Hider

Canadian Pacific Shipping

The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, to tie Canada together, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. Two years later CP started to acquire ships to service its railway depots on the Great Lakes.

In 1887 CP initiated an ocean-going service between Vancouver, British Columbia and Hong Kong, Japan, as an extension of its Canadian transcontinental railway shipping business.

It's White Empress liners - including Empress of Asia left launched in 1912 - became famous for their grace and luxury. The liners sported the fleet's signature yellow funnels.

In 1903, when CP began its west coast British Columbia Coastal Service above - CP also began a passenger ocean liner service between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the UK.

The Empress of Asia passing the Lions in the same spot where Princess Marguerite was captured top.

The Empress of Asia and other CP liners became armed merchant cruisers in World War I, before renewing their peace-time trans-Pacific service when the war ended.

In World War II they were pressed into service for the war effort again, this time as troop carriers.

While ferrying British troops to Africa, Bombaby (India), and Singapore, she was attacked by Japanese aircraft, in February 1942, before she reached Singapore. She caught fire and sank a few days later.

Her anchors were salvaged recently and can be found in a museum in Singapore.

In 1915 CP acquired its famous competitor on the Atlantic run, the The Allan Line. In 1897 the Allan liner Virginian had taken Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier to Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee ceremonies, where he would be knighted. Allan liners had taken Canadian soldiers to the Boer War in South Africa and thousands of immigrants to Canada.

During CPs years of service, it would carry millions of passengers between Europe and Canada.

During both world wars its ships ferried troops for the Allies.

But by the late 1950s airliners, which could transport people in hours, instead of days, decimated the ranks of Atlantic passenger ships, and like many other companies, CP eliminated its passenger fleet.

Both these fabulous prints - inarguably the two most famous Canadian ship portraits in existence - were painted by Great Canadian Painter Art (AH) Hider), in 1912-13.

Art was noted for his fabulous horse pictures in historical paintings. But his ship portraits have never been surpassed, even by his contemporary English marine masters like Walter Thomas, Kenneth Shoesmith, Odin Rosenvinge, Eric Tufnell, or French master marine artists like Edouard Adam.

Shipping companies knew this and hired Art. Gloriously set in company inscribed oak frames, these hung in shipping offices around the world, wherever CP or the Allan Line did business.

To find them today is a rare treat, indeed, as few who have them will ever give them up.

Art's portraits, young left, and mature right, show a warm kindliness that you will commonly see on a Canadian artist's face, but never on a lawyer's..

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005
Great Canadian Heritage Treasures

Canada has a long and passionate relationship with ships and the sea, since all its immigrants, for hundreds of years arrived by ship.

And because it has the longest coastline in the world, and the largest system of inland lakes and rivers, of any country, its people are at one with ships, boats, and waterborne craft of every description for work and for play, as much, if not more so, than any other nation on earth.

It accounts for why Canadians also like marine art, collecting prints, oils, watercolours, and postcards, of famous ships, especially those that played roles in Canadian history.

And why the names of Thomas, Shoesmith, Rosenvinge, Adam, and Tufnell, are well recognized and celebrated among aficionados of the nautical.

And why Art Hider's nautical prints, calendars, and oils are so highly sought after,and prized, as equal to the finest in the world.

Postcard - Scythia c 1925 - Walter Thomas (1894-1971)
Orig. postcard - Size - 9 x 14 cm
Found - Halifax, NS
Postcard - Scythia c 1938 - Kenneth Shoesmith (1890-1939) Postcard - Scythia c 1925 - Odin Rosenvinge (1880-1957)
Orig. postcard - Size - 9 x 14 cm
Found - Prov - Family

Orig. postcard - Size - 9 x 14 cm
Found - Montreal, PQ
Watercolour, King George V - Eric Tufnell (1888-1978) Oil Painting, Milwaukee - Edouard Adam (1847-1929)
Orig. wc - Size - 32 x 42 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
Orig. oil - Size 65 x 95 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005