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Canadian Pacific Ships

Canadian Pacific Ships

In the early 1880s, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) negotiated with the Government of the United Kingdom to establish trans-Pacific steamship routes between Vancouver and the Far East. The trans-Pacific services of Canadian Pacific were begun by Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the Canadian-American builder of the railroad network in 1887. In that year, Sir William chartered three vessels from Cunard Line; the SS Abyssinia, the SS Parthia, and the SS Batavia—as a beginning of the CP fleet. The agency for chartering and managing the ships was secured by Adamson, Bell and Company for the first three years. When the new shipping line had shown to be profitable, Canadian Pacific decided not to renew the contract with Adamson, Bell and Company and to run the line itself.

In 1891, CPR adopted a new name - the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company (CPSC). The CPSC became one of the many shipping companies operating in and out of Liverpool. The company expanded as people emigrating from Europe to North America provided a larger number of passengers and the company also started holiday cruises. As with other shipping companies, CPSC had larger ships built to cope with the demand. In 1915, CP changed the name of its shipping business to Canadian Pacific Steamships Ocean Services Ltd.

Canadian Pacific was an important contributor to the Merchant Navy in World War I. Like other shipping companies, Canadian Pacific provided ships to carry troops in both World Wars. CP lost 18 ships in the war.

RMS Princess Irene

In World War I, some ships were refitted as Armed merchantmen or auxiliary minelayers. These were operated by the British Royal Navy, not CP Ships. For example the RMS Princess Irene and the RMS Princess Margaret were requisitioned at the point of completion by the Royal Navy for war service. They were manned by Navy, not CP. Neither ship was delivered to CP, Princess Irene exploded in 1915 and Princess Margaret was purchased by the Admiralty after the war.

In World War II, the CP fleet carried over a million tons of cargo and a million troops and civilians during the Second World War. The Company lost twelve vessels due to enemy action which is a larger loss than any Western company. Empress of Britain was the largest ship lost to enemy action during the Battle of the Atlantic. Company ships participated in both the Battle of the Atlantic and the Battle of the Pacific. Notably, the Merchant Marine who operated the ships were denied veterans' benefits by the Canadian Government until 1988.

RMS Empress of Britain (Wikipedia).  Photographer ©Stewart Bale,
Source, Canadian Pacific Archives Date, 1931

From 1956 to 1961, the company acquired its last three steam passenger ships RMS Empress of Britain, RMS Empress of England and RMS Empress of Canada. Competition from airlines forced CP to retire these ships in the 1970s. The company looked towards bulk and tanker fleets as replacements for its steamships.

Empress of England

 RMS Empress of England, an ocean liner, was built in 1956-1957 by Vickers-Armstrongs, Newcastle, United Kingdom for the Canadian Pacific Steamships. The ship was launched in 1956; and she undertook her maiden voyage in 1957. She was a near identical sister ship to Empress of Britain. The Empress of England was intended for sailing between Liverpool and Montreal. The ship was launched by Lady Eden, the wife of the Prime Minister Anthony Eden on 9 May 1956. Empress of England's maiden voyage began on 18 April 1957. The ship sailed from Liverpool bound for Montreal, Quebec. Trans-Atlantic crossings continued until starting her last regularly scheduled crossing which began on 14 November 1969. The ship accomplished some cruises before she was sold in March 1970.

RMS Empress of Canada, (right) Liverpool (1961). © John Ragla, Licence Creative Commons

RMS Empress of Canada was an ocean liner built in 1961 by Vickers-Armstrongs, Walker-on-Tyne, England for Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd.. This ship, the third CP vessel to be named Empress of Canada. Empress of Canada was planned for the transatlantic route from Liverpool to Canada for the Canadian Pacific Line. She was a slightly enlarged sister ship and running mate for Empress of Britain and Empress of England on the route from Liverpool to Montreal. During the months that the St. Lawrence was frozen (typically November to April) the ships sailed from Liverpool To St. John, New Brunswick. After completing 121 transatlantic voyages and 82 cruises for the Canadian Pacific line she made her final arrival at Liverpool on November 23rd 1971, thus closing for good the Liverpool-Canada link. She remained at Liverpool until December 14th and then sailed for London's Tilbury docks for lay up, arriving (for the first and only time) at her port of registry on December 17th.

RMS_Empress of Canada (1961) © John Ragla Licence Creative Commons

In 1971, the company changed its name to CP Ships Ltd. and container ships were added as Intermodal freight transport became popular. Intermodal transportation integrated well with CP's rail assets. In 1972, CP Ships regular transatlantic passenger service from the Port of Liverpool finished following the sale of Empress of Canada.

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