Updated: Jul 6
British Columbia's first automobile ferry.
"1923::The Launching of the Motor Princess at the Yarrows Shipyard in Esquimalt, British Columbia"
Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1923)
Victoria, British Columbia
On March 31, 1923, British Columbia's new Motor Princess was launched from the Yarrows Shipyard in Esquimalt Harbour. She was the province's first ship specially designed and constructed to transport automobiles between the mainland and Vancouver Island. Yarrows had built the one-of-a-kind automobile ferry in just 97 days to become a new addition to the West Coast fleet of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and to establish a new cross-border link between Canada and the United States.
"1923::The Maiden Voyage of the Motor Princess"
Photos: BC Archives (D-01201 and F-02837)
Clip (bottom left): Vancouver Daily World (1923)
On May 21, 1923, the Motor Princess embarked on her maiden voyage with distinguished guests aboard. She sailed through the islands and across the border to arrive at Bellingham, Washington, where the small American city had built a unique two-tiered pontoon slip to receive her.
A large crowd welcomed the new Canadian automobile ferry, which was sure to strengthen international ties. Two days later, on the anniversary of the first CPR passenger train to arrive in Vancouver from the East Coast in 1887, regular automobile ferry service between the two ports was underway. For a while, hotels at both ends were busy, but the excitement of the new ferry line would prove to be short-lived.
"1923::The International Link"
Map Clip: The Acadian (1925)
Wolfville, Nova Scotia
The Motor Princess was considered a large ferry for her ability to transport 50 vehicles and 250 passengers. Her scenic journey between the ports could be enjoyed from her onboard saloon, restaurant, smoking room or promenade deck. Each port offered two sailings a day, but more sailings were desperately needed. The Vancouver business community, upset by the CPR's decision to connect the new island ferry to a port south of the border, was appeased when the CPR offered island travellers an alternative route that brought the auto tourists back to the mainland via Vancouver's Canadian port. Upon reaching Nanaimo on the new Island Highway, cars and their passengers could be transported to Vancouver by a CPR ship that had been altered to accommodate them. This improved island service further increased tourism in the area and highlighted the need for larger auto-carrying vessels. It became evident that the Motor Princess could not meet the auto ferry demand independently nor compete with a Vancouver-Nanaimo connection.
"1925::The Final Year"
Ad Clip: The Tacoma Daily Ledger (1925)
By her second summer on the Sidney-Bellingham route, the success of the Motor Princess had been overshadowed by other new automobile ferries operating from other ports. In 1925, the CPR gave the line one more chance at success and heavily advertised their new auto ferry throughout North America. Ultimately, the Motor Princess proved less profitable than they had first anticipated. At the end of its third season, the Sidney-Bellingham connection was shut down for good.
"1923::Vancouver Island's First Automobile Ferry Leaving Victoria, British Columbia's Harbour"
Photo: City of Victoria Archives (M07515)
The Vancouver Island Publicity Bureau continued to work closely with automobile clubs in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles to ensure that Vancouver Island was the ultimate summertime destination for vacationing tourists. At the same time, they worked to develop coastal, provincial and island highways to accommodate the world's new automobiles and their vacationing owners. Their hard work paid off, and further modifications were made to support the industry and Vancouver Island's auto ferries.
"1956::The Motor Princess Reconstructed for Gulf Island Service"
Photo Clip: The Province (1992)
Vancouver, British Columbia
The Motor Princess continued to service British Columbians on some of the province's busiest routes. In 1961, she was acquired by BC Ferries, overhauled, and sailed as the Pender Queen until her retirement in 1981.
After a short stint as a floating restaurant, she was purchased in the 1990s by an enterprising Vancouver businessman, overhauled again, and operated as a floating luxury fishing lodge.
In 2003, the Canadian Coast Guard reported that the Motor Princess had arrived at her final destination when she sank in Naden Harbour in Haida Gwaii. She was eventually raised and demolished.