The Empress of Britain

                                     © David W. Watts



The Empress of Britain did Canada proud

Across the Atlantic and ‘round the world

And all who saw her soon avowed

There’ll never be another like her again

To wear the Canadian crown.


Quebec 1930:  there came to call

The most magnificent Canadian ship of all

Too large for up-River to Montreal

Hove to in the cove where Wolfe once came: to land, to claim and to fall…


Canadian Pacific and Beatty’s pride:

Mauritania’s speed and Titanic’s size

A few feet shorter, a few more wide

With splendour unsurpassed inside: a monarch of the seas…  



She ushered in the decade of Normandie

Cunard’s Queen Mary and the first QE

Conte di Savona of Italie

In her gleaming hull it was there to see: majestic on the waves…


She brought the world to Canada’s door

Took King and Queen home just before

She put on the grey fatigues of War

To take troops around the globe


Until that day in ‘41

U-boats attacked and broke her run

For three days, disabled, she still held on

Till bombers brought her down.


In mass, speed and splendour she held the prize

Cruising on the St. Lawrence or southern skies

A Royal yacht of unparalleled size

And of seagoing heroes, she was the Allies` largest loss of the war…



The flagship of an Empire–hotels and trains

Energy, resources, ships and planes

Her presence, the standard of the reign

Red and white proclaimed:  “Canadian Pacific spans the world!”





Notes on “The Empress of Britain


1            “Empresses” were Canadian Pacific’s deep sea passenger and mail ships. “Princesses” were CP coastal liners, mostly in British Columbia, Washington State and Alaska. “Beaver” ships were deep see cargo vessels that each carried 12 passengers for those who might like to take and a passage off the beaten track.

The Empress of Britain II (there were three in all) was Canada’s answer to the North Atlantic competition that began a generation earlier with Cunard’s launch (Samuel Cunard of Nova Scotia) of Lusitania and  Mauritania, the first deep sea ships powered by steam turbines rather than piston engines, and the fastest ships in the world. They were followed by White Star Line’s tri of Olympic, Titanic and Britannic that were 50% larger but not as fast, providing for the first time at sea such luxuries as gymnasia, swimming pools and Turkish baths in the extra space that the Cunard competition gave to engines to maintain its speed record.

Serving the northerly Saint Lawrence route (and Saint John, NB during winter freezeup), Canadian Pacific had at first used smaller ships. But in rebuilding the fleet at the end of the Great War, CP’s first Canadian born president Edward Beatty aimed higher. It was Beatty who built the Royal York Hotel, who commissioned the Trans-Canada Limited luxury train (see Notes on “The Selkirk Locomotive”) and ordered the second Empress of Britain to replace a namesake that had just been retired.

1-2         The new ship was Canada’s answer to Titanic. She was approximately the same tonnage, somewhat shorter but broader, much faster and even more luxurious. Too large to make it up the Saint Lawrence to Montreal, she tied up at Quebec City below the Chateau Frontenac. For the winters when even Québec was closed, she shed two of her four propellers to make slower round-the-world cruises out of New York where she became the favoured choice of many Brits and Americans.

3            Some of her contemporaries from other countries and companies. She began the decade than included the building of Cunard’s first two “Queens.”

4-5         The Empress of Britain’s most public moment in her civilian life was her charter by the Canadian government to take King and Queen (George VI and Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother) back to Britain following their 1939 tour of Canada.

5-6         Three months later, with the outbreak of World War II, she was requisitioned as a troopship. With less than a year’s military service and a total life of only a decade, she was sunk off the west coast off Ireland after a prolonged assault by German bombers and U-boats (submarines): the largest ship lost by the Allies in the War.

7            Godfather Edward Beatty planned to built a sister ship on the same scale to join her on the north Atlantic run and draw more traffic from New York. Beatty went grey overnight on news of her loss, dying three years later at 65. She represented the apex of Canadian Pacific as the world’s largest transportation company.