CP Princess Kathleen

Princess Kathleen

The Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) established a scheduled Victoria – Vancouver service in 1897. In 1901 the CPR registered British Columbia Coastal Steamships (BCCS) after acquiring the ships and port services of the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company (CPNC). The CPNC was a link in the long line of coastal steamship operators whose vessels served between Vancouver Island and the mainland since the arrival of the coast’s first steamship, Beaver in 1836.

In 1901 Captain James William Troup was hired to establish BCCS’ headquarters in Victoria. The next year he was appointed by the CPR board as Superintendent of the BCCS. Troup is credited with conceiving and building the Princess fleet.

In 1904 Troup commissioned local architect, Francis Rattenbury to design Victoria’s Steamship Terminal I for the Princess liners on the southern shore of the Inner Harbour. The building was styled as a larger version of the half-timbered mansions Rattenbury was successfully designing for many of Victoria’s wealthy of the day. The terminal opened in 1905. In 1920, with the success of the BCCS, Troup commissioned Rattenbury to design the new and larger Steamship Terminal Il to replace the original. That terminal continues to grace Victoria’s Inner Harbour to this day.

Over fifty years Troup commissioned twenty-eight Princess’ in response to the rapidly expanding economy and population of British Columbia. The Princess’ were the coastal counterparts to CPR’s majestic Empress fleet of passenger liners that served on both Canada’s trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic routes.

The cream-funnelled Princess’s brought prosperity to enterprisers of all sorts along the remote BC coastline and were recognized as among the finest coastal vessels in the world. These pocket liners offered the luxury and amenities of the great Empress liners though on a smaller scale. Many of the Princess’ featured wood-panelled cabins and salons designed by Rattenbury. The Princess’ plied the Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle Triangle Route, and served as scheduled economic and cultural lifelines to the many isolated ports on its Vancouver-Alaska, Vancouver Island, and Gulf Islands routes.

In 1958, the BCCS was struck by the Seaman’s International Union. Within months the Vancouver Island tourism industry collapsed. Then the Black Ball Ferry Line, linking Washington State and Vancouver Island, was struck. Vancouver Island was effectively cut off. Although the Canadian government stepped in to end the strike, it became clear to W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit government that a provincial ferry system operating as a crown corporation was required. BC Ferries’ first route was commissioned in 1960, connecting Vancouver Island’s Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen in Delta. The first two ferries, MV Sidney and MV Tsawwassen, were built by Victoria Machine Depot. The next few years saw the dramatic growth of B.C. Ferries as it took over the operations of the BCCS, the Black Ball Line and other ferry services.

It would be several years before the BC Ferries system would be fully operational, so CPR and CN continued to operate steamships on the Triangle Route and elsewhere, but the end of the line for most BCCS operations was in sight.

In 1965, Princess Patricia II was still serving BCCS’ southeast Alaska summer route. Rather than putting her up for the winter that year, she was chartered for winter cruises from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera. With that charter “Princess Pat” became the founding vessel of the Princess Cruise Line. Another of the line’s vessels, Pacific Princess was later made famous by The Love Boat TV series. Today Princess Cruise Line is one of ten cruise ship brands owned by the Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise ship operator.

In 1974 BCCS halted passenger service entirely. The following year the government of British Columbia purchased the last of the Princess’ Princess Marguerite II, the Victoria steamship terminal, and 8.7 acres of Victoria’s Inner Harbour for $2.47 million.