Salute to the “Princess Patricia”


                                                                                    © David Watts Aboard ship May 1978

                                                                                        and in October 1981


The Princess Patricia is off Stanley Park

With Brockton’s red light punctuating the dark

To her passengers all is conspiring to mark

The beginning of seven days enchantment.


The Princess Patricia steams up Lynn Canal

She’s heading for Skagway, her north port of call

For a third of a century from springtime till fall

She’s sailed the west coast Pacific.


She’s wending her way outside Tracy Arm

Icebergs in the water cause her crew some alarm

Though the breezes are chilling, her passengers warm

In the lee of her Haidaway lounge.


In the mid nineteen sixties she followed the sun

To Puerto Vallarta she blazed a new run

The world wide cruise empire that’s now Number One

Began with the Princess Patricia.


At the end of this season it’s south and homebound

From Prince Rupert, ‘Alert, cross the end of Howe Sound

Her throaty steam whistle no more will resound

Through the inlets and straits of Alaska.


Her trip almost ended, the Princess glides on

A gleaming white phantom, she fades into the dawn

As a last lone reminder of a day past and gone

When a steamer was more than a ferry.


Ninety years back, at Vancouver arrived

A ship from the tropics, about the same size

The Empress of India, first of the line

That ends with the Princess Patricia.


The Princess Patricia steams up Lynn Canal

Then south to Vancouver, her last port of call

As her thirty-third summer fades into the fall

She bids her farewell to Alaska.




Notes on “Salute to the Princess Patricia


Another well kept secret:  the first “Love Boat” was a Canadian ship.  The TEV (Turbo Electric Vessel) Princess Patricia was the last of a line of passenger steamers by which Canadian Pacific served the west coast, including Alaska for seventy-five years. Originally the service was a basic connection with the outside world for the Klondike. After the Second World War with the SS Princess Kathleen it became a luxury cruise operation for summer tourists.

The Princess Patricia ran on the Alaska summer service for the last eighteen of those years, following her reassignment from service on the Gulf of Georgia. She and identical sister ship Princess Marguerite were built on the Clyde for CPR’s Tri-City service between Vancouver and Victoria, BC and Seattle, Wash. They began service in 1949 just as automobiles were becoming commonplace.

A trip to the west coast in those days usually meant arrival by train. Canadian Pacific’s terminal was right beside Burrard Inlet, and incoming passengers could cross the street from the train station to “Pier B-C”—now the site of Canada Place and the Vancouver Convention Centre—and board connecting a steamer for Victoria, the Gulf Islands, Nanaimo or the north coast (Prince Rupert and Alaska).

The daylight crossing to downtown Victoria was a four hour affair including a pass under Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge, a run around Point Grey, south across the Georgia Strait to the Gulf Islands, through Active Pass, then south again past Sidney, around Oak Bay and into the Inner Harbour. Canadian Pacific’s classical British Columbia Coast Steamship hall in Victoria now houses “The Steamship Grill” and a Robert Bateman art collection.  Overnight trips between the two cities took six hours, leaving at midnight.


The ships on this run offered a high standard of luxury including teak decks with polished rails, three eating establishments (dining room, coffee shop and deckside takeout) plus a bar, barber shops, lounges panelled in a dozen different exotic hardwoods and ballrooms with grand pianos. In dimensions, they were simply half size versions of the trans-ocean steamships of legendary fame. The one area in which they did not excel was car carrying capacity. 50-60 vehicles could be carried on a single 7’ high car deck accessed by side doors, and some of this space was taken up by wagons of express and other cargo.

It was this feature combined with high operating costs that limited their lives in inter-city ferry service in the automobile age. Canadian Pacific was already moving to get out of the passenger business when BC Ferries began in 1960.  The two services overlapped for just one summer, and then CP abandoned the Vancouver-Victoria portion of the Tri-City route.  At this point the two sister ships were separated and modified.

The Marguerite continued on the Victoria-Seattle run.  Her ferry capacity was doubled by removing a number of luxury staterooms to create a second car deck.  With the Patricia, the conversion went in the opposite direction.  Most of her car deck was filled with additional staterooms and she went into summer service on the Alaska run where she was successful and popular.

In her second and third years in this new role, the “Pat” picked up a new assignment.  An entrepreneur leased her from Canadian Pacific in the winter down time to pioneer cruises from Los Angeles to Acapulco.  He called his venture “Princess Cruises” after the ship—and the rest is history.  Canadian Pacific would not sell the ship at this point as it was still turning a comfortable profit on Alaska summer operations.    Princess Cruises then went in search of newer, bigger vessels—the Love Boats.  So today’s world wide “Princesses” are named after a Canadian ship that established the international line.

The Princess Patricia ended her service in Vancouver on Thanksgiving Day 1981.  Ninety years earlier another white hulled, two funnel steamer of 6000 tons pulled into Vancouver for the first time.  The Empress of India was the first Canadian Pacific passenger vessel built by Van Horne to extend the transcontinental portage of the Railway to markets in Asia and Europe.

Van Horne also designed the red and white checkerboard house flag flown by the “Pat” with most of her life. That flag, designed thirty years before George V proclaimed red and white as Canada’s official colours and seventy three years before Canada adopted the red Maple Leaf flag, was a sign of our presence around the world for three quarters of a century.  The slogan “Canadian Pacific spans the World” was more than catchy advertising copy.  It shows the reality that Canada was actually built by the Railway—not the other way around—as a link in the northwest passage sought by the explorers.