Canadian National Steamships collection [cartographic materials, graphic materials, technical drawings, textual records]

Supplied title note
Title based on the name of the creator of the records.
Collection number
1920-1996, predominant 1930-1976
Physical description
1.76 m of textual records, 5 maps, 3 technical drawings, 14 photographs
Administrative history / Biographical sketch

The Canadian National Steamships Company had its beginnings in 1908 when its predecessor, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP), bought MacKenzie Brothers Steamships Ltd. in order to provide tugboat and barge services from Vancouver to Prince Rupert. Soon, the GTP also began providing shipping services to Victoria, Seattle, the Queen Charlotte Islands, and Skagway, Alaska. On February 26, 1925, the GTP was taken over by the Dominion Government, and it became part of the Canadian National Railway (CNR).

The Canadian National Steamships Act of 1927 united all steamship companies allied with the Canadian National Railway, and these companies then ran under the title of the Canadian National Steamships Company (CNSS). In addition to the GTP’s steamship company, the CNSS now included the Canadian National (West Indies) Ltd., and in 1928, it also included the Canadian Government Merchant Marine Ltd. The CNSS ran routes to Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, the Queen Charlotte Islands, Skagway, Montreal, Halifax, the West Indies, and Australia. The Australia routes were short-lived; in 1936 the CNSS transferred the routes to Port Line, Ellerman & Company, and to the New Zealand Shipping Company. In 1945, the CNSS also took over the operation of the barge and ferry services that MacKenzie and Mann began in in 1916. At various times, these services ran between the mainland and Vancouver Island, and to Prince Rupert, Kelowna, Penticton, Summerland, and Lake Naramata.

In addition to the tugboats and barges that the CNSS operated, they acquired many luxury ships. On their West Coast routes, for example, they sailed the sister ships Prince Henry, Prince David, and Prince Robert. Notably, in 1939, the Prince Robert was used as the “royal yacht” to transport King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their trip from Victoria to Vancouver. From their East Coast ports, the CNSS sailed five luxury ships known as the “Lady Boats.” While the luxury passenger ships were popular among many, their success was limited by the Great Depression. Then, during World War II, many of them were used for the war effort. For example, the Prince Robert was converted into an auxiliary cruiser by the Canadian Navy, and then became the first Canadian anti-aircraft cruiser. Additionally, the Lady Boat Lady Somers was converted into an auxiliary armed cruiser, and the Lady Nelson was converted into a hospital ship.

After World War II, Lady Rodney and Lady Nelson were the only two Lady Boats that had not been sunk. In 1946, they were used to transport war brides from Great Britain to Canada, and then in 1947 they were used once again as luxury passenger cruises to the West Indies. This service lasted until 1952, when the Lady Boats were sold. Similarly on the West Coast, the CNSS only had one remaining vessel after the war; the Prince Rupert continued to be used, and in 1946, it was the first Canadian ship equipped with radar. In 1948, the CNSS put a new Prince George into service, and in 1956, after the Prince Rupert was sold, the Prince George was the only vessel being operated by the CNSS. The Prince George had her last sailing in 1975, and she was sold in 1976.

In 1977, a branch of the CNSS became CN Marine. In 1986, CN Marine re-branded itself as Marine Atlantic. Today, Marine Atlantic runs ferry services between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

Sources from outside the collection:

Legion Magazine: The Lady Boats

TheShipsList: Canadian National Steamship Company

Wikipedia: Canadian National Steamship Company

Wikipedia: CN Marine

Wikipedia: Marine Atlantic

Scope & content

This collection consists primarily of interdepartmental correspondence and other organizational records created by the Pacific Coast branch of the Canadian National Steamships Company (CNSS). Records were created primarily between the 1920s and the 1970s, during the CNSS' years of operation. Some records (see series 23-26) are not CNSS organizational records, and were added to the collection by other interested donors. The series' records pertain to the company's operations in Vancouver, Victoria, and the West Coast of Canada.

Series 1-21 of the collection consist of the CNSS' organizational records; they were donated by the CNSS, and arranged according to the original order indicated by the markings on the company's original file folders. Series 22 consists of miscellaneous organizational records arranged by the archivist. Series 23-26 consist of a collection of ephemera, promotional materials, photographs, and articles that were arranged on the basis of content.

The original filing scheme of the records in series 1-21 was reconstructed during archival arrangement on the basis of the file markings on the CNSS' original folders. All CNSS organizational records that lacked these markings were included in series 22, a series of miscellaneous organizational records arranged by the archivist.

Series 23-26 consists of ephemera, promotional materials, photographs, and articles that were donated by the CNSS, and by other interested donors. These records were arranged based on content.

Related materials
See also W.B. and M.H. Chung maritime history collection (VMM27) for more CNSS records and ephemera.