William Irving’s Pioneer Line was the beginning of Victoria’s long dominance of the province’s coastal steamship service. The Line was merged into the to Canadian Pacific Navigation Co. and registered later in Victoria as The British Columbia Coastal Service. It was important that it was a joint affair as the Hudson Bay Company was winding down operations and switching over to the C.P.R. Charter and the E&N Railway charter connections.
The Pioneer Line Vessels
Vessels are numbered in sequence of acquisition for service
1 Reliance 1876
Wooden stern wheel 16” x 54” 110 hp steamer, 219 tons, 122 x 23 x 4.8 feet, built at Victoria for Captain William Irving. Dismantled in 1895.
2. Onward 1874
Wooden sternwheeler 14” x 54” 90 hp steamer, 283 tons register. 102.5 x 24.5 x 7.5 feet built at Victoria for Captain William Irving. Dismantled in 1876.
3. Glenora 1874
Wooden stern wheel 50 hp steamer 149 tons register, 102.7 x 20.2 x 4 feet built at Victoria for Captain John Irving. Sold in 1876 to Captain William Moore. Sold in 1877 to Captain John Irving. Wrecked at Farr’s Bluff on December 06, 1879.
4. Royal City 1875
Wooden stern wheel 20” x 60” 280 hp steamer 322 tons register, 128.1 x 26 x 5 feet built at Victoria for Otis Parsons. Sold to Captain John Irving in 1895. Converted into a barge in 1881
5. Wilson G. Hunt 1848
In 1878, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was running the Enterprise on the Fraser River run from Victoria. The Company’s rival on this route was Captain John Irving, who held a monopoly on steamboat traffic on the upper Fraser routes but was hindered by the Company’s activity on the lower river. In early 1878, Captain Irving traveled to San Francisco, where he bought the Wilson G. Hunt. In February 1878 she was brought up by Captain Stoddard, cleaned up, repainted, and placed on the New Westminster route against Enterprise. (The Hunt ‘s Canadian registry number was 72676.
In July 1878 the Canadian government announced its decision that the transcontinental railroad would run down the Fraser River valley. There were over 5,000 tons of rails that had been piled up at Esquimalt for the construction of the Canadian Pacific’s extension on Vancouver Island. On July 23, 1878, Wilson G. Hunt transported the first shipment of these rails to New Westminster, where they were loaded on Royal City and taken up to Yale. During 1878 the Hunt, under captains Irving, Insley, and Rudlin, continued to do well against the Enterprise. In October 1878 Hudson’s Bay Company bought Hunt’s old rival, Olympia, renamed her Princess Louise and after a put her on the New Westminster run against the Hunt. Princess Louise was a far superior boat, and by the fall of 1879 the Company forced Captain Irving to come to terms, under which he and the HBC operated Princess Louise, Wilson G. Hunt and Enterprise jointly under Irving’s management as the Royal Mail Line.
Wilson G. Hunt was extensively repaired in 1879, and in 1881 was sold to Joseph Spratt, who was running the steamboats Maude, Caribou and Fly on the east coast of Vancouver Island as the East Coast Mail Line.
6. William Irving 1880
Wooden stern wheel 18” x 72” steamer 737 tons gross, 166.3 x 34.5 x 4.4 feet. Built at Moodyville, Burrard Inlet for John Irving. Wrecked 1894.
7. Elizabeth J. Irving 1881
Elizabeth J. Irving was a wooden stern-wheel 86 hp steamer of 693 tons register. With scantlings of 167 x 33.8 x 2.6 feet, she was the largest stern-wheeler on the Fraser River, and the first to be equipped with electric lighting. Her engine had previously powered the dismantled Royal City. Elizabeth J. Irving was constructed to compete against Captain William Moore’s Western Slope on the lucrative Victoria / Yale run. She was built at Victoria for Captain John Irving’s Pioneer Line and named after the captain’s mother.
Irving took her across from Victoria on her maiden voyage on September 21st 1881, rriving at Hope after dark to showcase her electric illumination. She was greeted with wild enthusiasm. On her second trip she was lying alongside at Hope when a spark from her smokestack ignited her cargo of hay. She was quickly engulfed and burned to her waterline. Though passengers and crew jumped to the wharf it was reported in the Inland Sentinal the skeletons of several First Nations people were found on the main deck.
Elizabeth J. Irving was reported to have cost $50,000.00 to construct and had $20,000.00 in fittings. The vessel had not yet been insured. That Irving salvaged Elizabeth J. Irving’s engine and immediately ordered an even larger vessel to replace her speaks to the profits to be made moving cargo and passengers between Victoria and the Fraser River.
8. R.P. Rithet 1882
Wooden stern wheel 20” x 60” steamer, 817 tons gross. 177.0 x 33.6 x 8.5 feet. Built at Victoria for Captain John Irving. Purchased by Canadian Pacific Navigation Company 1909. Converted into a barge in 1917
Much is owed to the scholarship of Norman R. Hacking and W. Kaye Lamb for the comprehensiveness of the following list. Their book, The Princess Story, A century and a Half of West Coast Shipping is the definitive work on shipping along British Columbia’s coast from 1827 to 1974.