Canadian Pacific's West Coast Ships - 1887-1942
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure||
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...
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.
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.
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.
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...