Princess Louise was a sidewheel steamboat built in 1869. From 1869 to 1879 she sailed as Olympia under Amereican registry in the famed Puget sound Mosquito Fleet. In 1879, she was sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) who changed her name to Princess Louise, after Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, daughter of Queen Victoria, and wife of the Marquess of Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. Princess Louise served as the last commercially operated sidewheeler on British Columbia’s coast.

John English and Sons for George S. Wright, a pioneer Puget Sound steamboat man, built Olympia in 1869 of seasoned white oak in New York City. She was 180 feet (55 m) long, with a beam of 30 feet (9.1 m), and drew 12.5 feet (3.8 m). She displaced 971 gross tons. Olympia was powered by a walking beam single cylinder steam engine with a 46-inch (1,200 mm) diameter and a stroke of 11 feet (132 inches). The engine was manufactured by John Roach & Sons and generated 350 horsepower. On the 75-day voyage around Cape Horn to Olympia, Washington Territory the vessel maintained an auxiliary brig rig. Capt. James Bolger supervised her construction, and then commanded her on her delivery voyage. She arrived at Olympia on December 3, 1869.

Under the Finch and Wright Partnership, Olympia began service on the busy Olympia-Victoria route on December 7, 1869, replacing Eliza Anderson, a vessel once so profitable she was known as the “floating gold mine”. In April 1870, the Finch and Wright Partnership lost the weekly US Postal Service mail contract to Victoria, British Columbia and the semi-weekly contract to Port Townsend, Washington Territory, to a Capt. J.T. Nash.

By 1878 the old Hudson’s Bay Company’s (HBC) Beaver was losing the shipping competition between Victoria and New Westminster, capital of the Colony of British Columbia. Captain John Irving’s gold rush steamer Wilson G. Hunt was too powerful an adversary to strengthen competition with Wilson G. Hunt; HBC bought Olympia for $75,000 and re-registered her to Canadian registry #72682. They operated Olympia under her original name until May 1879, then renamed her Princess Louise, after Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848-1939), daughter of Queen Victoria, wife of Marquess of Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. In August 1879 Princess Louise ran possibly the first cruise to circumnavigate Vancouver Island.

In 1880, HBC and Irving settled their rate war with a monopolistic arrangement that became known as the “‘arf and ‘arf agreement” where HBC’s vessels carried passengers between Victoria and New Westminster where they transferred to an Irving-owned sternwheeler for the trip to the headwaters of the Fraser River’s navigation at Yale. This suited the HBC as there were no side-wheeler docking facilities upriver of New Westminster.

On August 19, 1880 word reached Victoria the steamship Otter had wrecked five miles (8 km) out of Bella Bella. Princess Louise was dispatched with the Lloyd’s agent and HBC officials on board to attempt salvaging Otter. This proved to be not possible, so Princess Louise returned to Victoria with as much cargo as could be recovered.

In May 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) was recruiting as many labourers as possible for the difficult work of completing the transcontinental rail line down the Fraser River valley. Princess Louise was engaged to transport the first group of labourers recruited from both San Francisco and China to New Westminster on March 25, 1881.

Canadian Pacific Navigation Company Service

In 1883, the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company (CPNC) was incorporated in Victoria with most of the shares controlled indirectly by John Irving. HBC was allocated 1,150 shares in return for transferring ownership of three HBC steamships, including Princess Louise to the new company. 750 shares were specifically allocated for Princess Louise.

Princess Louise departed Victoria her first trip for the new company on March 13, 1883, steaming under Capt. William McCulloch, to Alert Bay, Prince Rupert, Metlakatla, Port, the Skeena River, Wrangell, Alaska, and way ports along the route. Later CPNC assigned that Princess Louise to regular route from Victoria to Burrard Inlet and Port Moody, British Columbia.

The same year Princess Louise was refitted with new boilers, manufactured by Victoria’s Albion Iron Works. Other work was completed and she returned to service before the beginning of 1884. In October 1887, the mayor of Vancouver, then the second largest city in British Columbia next to Victoria, tried discouraging Vancouver Island travel by denouncing the Princess Louise as unseaworthy. John Irving threatened to sue the mayor for libel and banned the mayor from travel on any of the CPNC’s ships.

From 1886 to 1890, Princess Louise operated on northern routes serving communities and the many British Columbia cannery ports. In 1898, she was employed, like many other vessels, to carry gold seekers to the Klondike goldfields. On August 16, 1890, the Princess Louise developed a serious leak forcing her to return to Victoria and was replaced on the Klondike route by Islander. In 1895 the Princess Louise was estimated to be worth $35,000.

In September 1898, Princess Louise returned to Victoria carrying 8,100 cases of canned salmon from Alert Bay. On the trip three crewmembers fell overboard while leaning on a railing posing for a photograph. They were washed beneath the side-wheel and were never seen again.

Canadian Pacific Railway Service

In 1901, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) purchased the CPNC to begin their coastal steamship service. Princess Louise inspired the CPR to name all subsequent coastal liners “Princesses”. In 1901, Capt. James W. Troup, superintendent of CPR Steamships, reported Princess Louise was in poor mechanical condition, her boilers worn out and her engines badly in need of repair. Because her hull was still in good condition, capable of being operated in the often-dangerous waters of the Strait of Georgia, Troup recommended that the engines be replaced, though that was never done. Still, CPR employed Princess Louise as the winter replacement for the sternwheeler R.P. Rithet on the busy Victoria to New Westminster route, and to points on the lower Fraser River. In the summer, Princess Louise was employed as a secondary vessel on northern routes to Rivers Inlet, Port Simpson, British Columbia, and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Ships on this route departed Victoria twice a month, on the 1st and the 15th at 11:00 p.m., stopping at Vancouver the following day on the voyage north.


In November 1906 Princess Louise was sold to Marpole McDonald of Victoria, who removed her machinery, converting her vessel to a barge. In 1908 McDonald sold the barge to Vancouver Dredging and Salvage Company. In 1916, the barge was sold again to Britannia Mining and Smelting Company, which in turn, in 1917, sold her to Whalen Pulp and Paper Co. who, the same year beached, her at Woodfibre on Howe Sound. The unpowered vessel was reported to have sunk a considerable distance away from Woodfibre, at Port Alice, in 1919 on northern Vancouver Island.

Princess Louise Caroline Alberta

Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, left her mark in western Canada especially, even though she never set foot in the west. In addition to this sidewheel steamboat Princess Louise, other namesakes are the province of Alberta, Lake Louise, Mount Alberta and the town of Caroline northwest of Calgary. As well Louise bestowed her name on four Canadian regiments: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s) in Hamilton, Ontario; the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards in Ottawa, Ontario (inactive since 1965); the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s) in Moncton, New Brunswick; and the Princess Louise Fusiliers in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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