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1923::The Motor Princess Automobile Ferry

Updated: Apr 5

British Columbia's first automobile ferry.


1923::The Launching of the Motor Princess at the Yarrows Shipyard in Esquimalt, British Columbia

"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, a state-of-the-art automobile ferry, 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. Equipped with innovative features, the Motor Princess was a game-changer in the transportation industry. Yarrows had built the one-of-a-kind automobile ferry in just 97 days to become a new addition to 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 Automobile Ferry

"1923::The Maiden Voyage of the Motor Princess Automobile Ferry"

Photos: BC Archives (D-01201 and F-02837)

Clip (bottom left): Vancouver Daily World (1923)


1923::Receiving the New Motor Princess in Bellingham, Washington.

On May 21, 1923, the Motor Princess embarked on her maiden voyage with distinguished guests aboard. She sailed to Bellingham, Washington, where they had built a unique two-tiered pontoon slip to receive her. A large crowd had gathered on the American docks to welcome the new Canadian automobile ferry that was sure to strengthen international ties. A regular ferry service between the two ports was underway two days later, and for a while, hotels at both ends were busy, but the excitement of the new ferry line would be short-lived.


1923::The Motor Princess and the International Link

"1923::The Motor Princess and the International Link"

Map Clip: The Acadian (1925)

Wolfville, Nova Scotia


The Motor Princess was a big ship for her ability to transport 50 vehicles and 250 passengers. From her onboard saloon, restaurant, smoking room and promenade deck, passengers enjoyed the breathtaking scenery between ports. 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 to an American port, forgave all when the CPR created an alternative route that brought the automobile tourists on Vancouver Island back to the mainland via Vancouver's Canadian port. From Nanaimo, cars and their passengers could be transported to Vancouver by a CPR ship modified to accommodate them. This improved island service caused a spike in the tourism industry and highlighted the need for larger auto-carrying vessels. The Motor Princess, unable to meet the crowds' demands, could not compete with the new Nanaimo-Vancouver connection.


1925::The Final Year of the Sidney to Bellingham Line

"1925::The Final Year of the Sidney to Bellingham Line"

Ad Clip: The Tacoma Daily Ledger (1925)

Tacoma, Washington


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. The rise of more efficient and faster ferries and the increasing popularity of air travel posed significant challenges for the Motor Princess. In 1925, the CPR gave the line one more chance at success and heavily advertised their new auto ferry throughout North America. However, the Motor Princess proved less profitable than they had first anticipated, and by the end of her third season, CPR officials shut the line down for good.


1923::Vancouver Island's First Automobile Ferry Leaving Victoria, British Columbia's Harbour

"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 along the Pacific coast to ensure that Vancouver Island was the ultimate summertime destination. At the same time, it worked to develop coastal, provincial, and island highways to accommodate the world's new automobiles and their vacationing owners. Their hard work paid off. West Coast tourists flocked to Vancouver Island and forced Vancouver Island's automobile ferries to keep up with the growing industry.


1956::The Motor Princess Reconstructed for Gulf Island Service

"1956::The Motor Princess Reconstructed for Gulf Island Service"

Photo Clip: The Province (1992)

Vancouver, British Columbia


1990::Pender Lady Lodge

The Motor Princess continued to service British Columbians on some of the province's busiest routes. In 1961, she became the property of the new BC Ferries Corporation, was 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 on a nearby shore.


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