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CP Ships

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CP Ships
FormerlyCanadian Pacific Steamship Company
Founded1887 (1887) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
FounderWilliam Cornelius Van Horne
FateMerged with TUI AG
HeadquartersCity Place Gatwick,
Area served
Key people
Ronald Niel Stuart, Samuel Robinson, John Wallace Thomas
Footnotes / references
House flag of CP Ships

CP Ships was a large Canadian shipping company established in the 19th century. From the late 1880s until after World War II, the company was Canada's largest operator of Atlantic and Pacific steamships. Many immigrants travelled on CP ships from Europe to Canada. In 1914 the sinking of the Canadian Pacific steamship RMS Empress of Ireland just before World War I became largest maritime disaster in Canadian history. The company provided Canadian Merchant Navy vessels in World Wars I and II. Twelve vessels were lost due to enemy action in World War II, including the RMS Empress of Britain, which was the largest ship ever sunk by a German U-boat.

The company moved to a model of container shipping from passenger, freight and mail service in the 1960s due to competitive pressure from the airline industry. The company was a part of the Canadian Pacific Ltd. conglomerate. It was spun out as a separate company in 2001. In 2005, it was purchased by TUI AG and is now part of the company's Hapag-Lloyd division.

The Atlantic and Pacific passenger liners of Canadian Pacific were always British-flagged and largely British-manned and were not part of the Canadian Merchant Marine, ownership being with the British-registered Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd. subsidiary.

MV CP Ambassador


Early era (1881–1915)[edit]

Advertising booklet, c. 1930.

In the early 1880s, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) negotiated with the Government of the United Kingdom to establish trans-Pacific steamship routes between Vancouver, British Columbia and the Far East.[1] The trans-Pacific services of Canadian Pacific were begun by Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the Canadian-American builder of the railroad network in 1887. In that year, Sir William chartered three vessels from Cunard Line; SS Abyssinia, SS Parthia, and SS Batavia—as a beginning of the CP fleet.[2] The agency for chartering and managing the ships was secured by Adamson, Bell and Company for the first three years.[3] When the new shipping line had shown to be profitable, Canadian Pacific decided not to renew the contract with Adamson, Bell and Company and to run the line itself.[4]

In 1891, CPR adopted a new name — the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company (CPSC).[5] The CPSC became one of the many shipping companies operating in and out of Liverpool. The company expanded as people emigrating from Europe to North America provided a larger number of passengers and the company also started holiday cruises. As with other shipping companies, CPSC had larger ships built to cope with the demand.[6]

In the late 19th century, CPR initiated an ocean-going service between the port of Vancouver and Hong Kong, with calls at Japan and China, and later at Manila, Philippine Islands and Honolulu, Hawaii. This service provided a link for CPR's transcontinental railroad passenger and freight services. Passengers could travel from England to Eastern Canada, travel across the railway to Vancouver, and on to Asian destinations. During 1887, temporary steamship service was initiated on a Vancouver-Yokohama-Hong Kong route.[7] From 1887 through 1941, the Canadian Pacific Railway provided steamship service between Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and Hong Kong with calls at Japan and China, and later at Manila, Philippine Islands and Honolulu, Hawaii. Three ships were built at Barrow-in-Furness in England, and the three sailed together towards Vancouver in 1890, with initial voyages projected for January 15, February 15, and March 15 of the new year. An 11-foot (3 m) scale model of the ship was put on display in Canadian Pacific's New York offices. In an effort to lure American-Chinese passengers to sail with CPR from North America to Shanghai and Hong Kong, prominent members of the Chinese community in New York were invited to examine the scale model and its amenities.[8]

In 1915, CP changed the name of its shipping business to Canadian Pacific Steamships Ocean Services Ltd.[9][10]

In 1891, CPR and the British government reached agreement on a contract for subsidised mail service between Britain and Hong Kong via Canada.[11] The route began to be serviced by three specially designed Empress liners—RMS Empress of China, RMS Empress of India and RMS Empress of Japan. Each of these "Empress" steamships sailed regularly in the period from 1891 through 1912. In that year, Empress of China struck a reef near Tokyo, and she was subsequently towed to Yokohama where she was scrapped. Empress of India would continue in service through 1914. RMS Empress of Japan sailed regularly from 1891 through 1922. These three ships and the others which comprised the "Empress fleet" carried mail, passengers, and freight speedily across the Pacific for over half a century.[12]

In 1903, the company took over the ships and services of the Beaver Line and began operating ships on the Atlantic between Halifax, Nova Scotia and the United Kingdom. In 1906, two vessels were built in Scotland: RMS Empress of Britain and RMS Empress of Ireland. These two vessels had a full capacity of 1,530 passengers. There were accommodations for 310 first class, 470 second class passengers, 500 third class and 250 steerage passengers. The CP transported many immigrants from Europe to Canada, primarily from Great Britain and Scandinavia.

CP acquired the successful Allan Line, and expanded to become a major international cargo carrier and operators of luxury passenger liners such as Empress of Britain and Empress of Canada.

Sinking of Empress of Ireland[edit]

RMS Empress of Ireland

In 1914, the Empress of Ireland collided with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad in the Saint Lawrence River. The Empress sank in just 14 minutes and 1,012 perished. Its death toll makes it the deadliest maritime disaster in Canadian history.[13][14]

Empress of Ireland was heading down the channel near Pointe-au-Père, Quebec in heavy fog. At 02:00 Storstad crashed into the side of the CP liner. Storstad, though damaged, did not sink. Empress of Ireland took severe damage to her starboard side and began to list and take on water. Some passengers managed to get into lifeboats quickly. The ship began to list too far, and additional life rafts were not able to be launched. The ship rolled to its side ten minutes after the collision. Four minutes later the ship had sunk. Only 465 survivors were rescued. A board of inquiry found Storstad responsible for the sinking.

World War I (1914–1918)[edit]

SS Mount Temple aground in Canada before the war.

Canadian Pacific was an important contributor to the Merchant Navy (United Kingdom) in World War I. Like other shipping companies, Canadian Pacific provided ships to carry troops in both World Wars. CP lost 18 ships in the war.

In World War I, some ships were refitted as armed merchantmen or auxiliary minelayers. These were operated by the British Royal Navy, not CP Ships. For example, RMS Princess Irene and RMS Princess Margaret were requisitioned at the point of completion by the British Royal Navy for war service. They were manned by naval personnel, not CP. Neither ship was delivered to CP – Princess Irene exploded in 1915 and Princess Margaret was purchased by the Admiralty after the war.

Inter-war period (1919–1938)[edit]

Side elevation plans of Empress of Britain

CP purchased eleven new steamships to replace its losses during the war. New liners including RMS Empress of Australia, RMS Empress of Britain, RMS Duchess of Atholl, SS Duchess of Bedford, SS Duchess of Richmond and SS Duchess of York served on the Atlantic Ocean, while RMS Empress of Canada and RMS Empress of Japan were among the largest liners on the Pacific Ocean during the inter-war period. The company also built a fleet of "Beaver Ships" cargo liners for fast freight service in the 1920s, which were some of the most advanced steam freighters of their time: Beaverford, Beaverdale, Beaverburn, Beaverhill and Beaverbrae.[15]

In 1939, the CP Ship Empress of Australia transported King George VI and his royal consort, Queen Elizabeth from London, England to Quebec City for the 1939 royal tour of Canada. This was the first-ever visit by the monarch to a dominion. The king chose to visit Canada using a Canadian luxury liner rather than an established British royal yacht. Empress of Australia was considered to be a royal yacht after her use by the king.

World War II (1939–1945)[edit]

Beaverford at Montreal in 1933

In World War II, the CP fleet carried over a million tons of cargo and a million troops and civilians during World War II.[6] One CP ship, the freighter SS Beaverford, made the most notable military action in the company's history in 1940 as part of Convoy HX 84 when she engaged the German Deutschland-class cruiser Admiral Scheer for five hours before sinking with all hands, a sacrifice that allowed most of convoy HX 84 to escape.[16] The company lost twelve vessels due to enemy action which is a larger loss than any Western company. Empress of Britain was the largest ship lost to enemy action during the Battle of the Atlantic. Losses also included all of its fleet of "Beaver ship" cargo liners. Company ships participated in both the Battle of the Atlantic and the Battle of the Pacific. Despite their extensive and dangerous war service, the CP mariners, part of the Merchant Navy, were denied veterans' benefits by the Canadian Government until 1988.

Post-war period (1945–2005)[edit]

From 1956 to 1961, the company acquired its last three steam passenger ships Empress of Britain, Empress of England and Empress of Canada. Competition from airlines forced CP to retire these ships in the 1970s. The company looked towards bulk carrier and tanker fleets as replacements for its steamships.

In 1971, the company changed its name to CP Ships Ltd. Container ships added as Intermodal freight transport became popular. Intermodal transportation integrated well with CP's rail assets. In 1972, CP Ships regular transatlantic passenger service from the Port of Liverpool finished with the sale of Empress of Canada.

In 1984, CP Ships entered a joint venture with Compagnie Maritime Belge called Canada Maritime to secure North Atlantic container traffic for its rail facilities at the Port of Montreal. This "new" company prospered and the fortunes of CP Ships revived in the early 1990s. In 1993 Canadian Pacific bought out its partner and merged it with CP Ships. The next decade saw the company grow through acquisition. In April 1995 CP Ships purchased the Cast Group out of a bankruptcy proceeding, and subsequently bought Lykes Lines in July 1997 also out of bankruptcy, Contship Containerlines in October 1997 at a profitable level, Australia-New Zealand Direct Line in December 1998 also being profitable, Ivaran Lines in May 1998 (unprofitable), TMM Lines (unprofitable, 50% in January 1999, rest 50% in January 2000), in August 2000 Christensen Canadian African Lines (CCAL) at small profitability and Italia Line in August 2002 at breakeven business results. By 2001 it was the seventh largest carrier in the world, and dominated the North Atlantic. When it was spun off into a separate company it represented 8% of Canadian Pacific's revenues and was a source for a large portion of CPR's rail traffic — much originating from CP Ships' Montreal Gateway Terminals.


On August 21, 2005, German conglomerate TUI AG offered to acquire CP Ships Limited for 1.7 billion (US$2.0 billion) in cash, and merge it with TUI's Hapag-Lloyd division. On October 19, 2005, CP Ships and TUI AG jointly announced that 89.1% of CP Ships shareholders had accepted Ship Acquisition Inc.'s August 30 offer for US$21.50 per share on October 25, 2005.[17]

CP Ships archives were held by CP Limited until 2012 when it was donated to the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology.[18]

Fleet events[edit]


There are several notable civilian events in the CP fleet.

World War I[edit]

CP ships served in the Merchant Navy (United Kingdom) in World War I.

World War II[edit]

Empress of Britain arriving at Greenock with Canadian troops aboard. (HMS Hood is visible in the background.)
Empress of Asia on fire and sinking after being attacked by Japanese aircraft en route to Singapore.

CP ships served in the Canadian Merchant Navy in World War II. Twelve ships were lost to direct enemy action. Two additional ships were lost to accidents.

  • In 1940 RMS Empress of Britain was attacked by a Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor bomber and, while being towed back to port, was torpedoed by U-32, a Kriegsmarine U-boat. She was the largest vessel sunk by a U-boat in WWII. 45 men were lost in the initial attack.
  • In 1940 SS Beaverburn was torpedoed by U-boat U-41. One sailor was lost and 76 were rescued by the US tanker Narraganset.
  • In the first hours of 19 June 1940 RMS Niagara sailing from Auckland, New Zealand, sank giving a position of 35° 53′ south, 174° 54′ east in the Hauraki Gulf as a result of an explosion whose origin was not known at the time of distress messages. By afternoon mines identified as German had been swept up.[20] It was later determined that the mines had been laid by the German auxiliary cruiser Orion.[20] All crew members were rescued.
  • On 5 November 1941 SS Beaverford was part of Convoy HX 84. The convoy was escorted only by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay. The convoy was attacked by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer. Jervis Bay attacked Admiral Scheer to give the convoy the chance to scatter and escape but was quickly sunk. When Admiral Scheer caught up with the convoy, the lightly armed (one 4-inch gun) Beaverford turned to attack the cruiser, engaging it for five hours until Beaverford exploded and sank with all 76 crew.[21] Delayed by Beaverford, thirty-two of the convoy ships were able to escape in the darkness with Admiral Scheer destroying only six ships of the convoy.
  • In 1941 SS Beaverbrae was bombed by a Focke-Wulf aircraft and sunk. All crew members were rescued.
  • In 1941 SS Beaverdale was torpedoed by U-boat U-48. 21 crew were killed. Captain Draper navigated one lifeboat 300 miles to Iceland. The other lifeboat was rescued at sea.
  • In 1942 RMS Empress of Asia was sunk by nine dive-bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service near Singapore. 40 crewman survived with Leonard H. Johnson awarded the OBE for his actions.
  • In 1942 SS Duchess of Bedford sank a U-boat with its deck gun two days out of Liverpool. It also damaged a second one. Captain Busk-Wood was awarded the OBE for this action.[citation needed]
  • In 1942 SS Princess Marguerite was sunk by U-83 with over 1,000 troops on board. Swift action from its escorts allowed the rescue of most persons on board. 55 crew were lost with the ship.
  • In 1942 SS Duchess of Atholl was sunk by the German submarine U-178 2,000 miles off Ascension Island with 831 people on board. Five crewmen were lost in the initial torpedoing, everyone else was rescued from lifeboats by HMS Corinthian.
  • In 1943 RMS Empress of Canada was sunk by an Italian submarine off Cape Palmas. 392 of the 1,800 people on board were killed, many were Italian prisoners of war.
  • In 1943 SS Duchess of York was sunk by long range Luftwaffe bombers. Twenty-seven crew were killed.

Notable captains[edit]

Ronald Stuart receiving his VC from King George V outside Buckingham Palace

Corporate timeline[edit]

  • 1881 Canadian Pacific Railway was founded.
  • 1891 Shipping assets are incorporated into Canadian Pacific Steamship Company.
  • 1915 Name changed to Canadian Pacific Steamships Ocean Services Ltd.
  • 1971 Name changed to CP Ships Ltd.
  • 2001 CP Ships Ltd. is spun out from the conglomerate Canadian Pacific Limited and became an independent company.
  • 2005 CP Ships Ltd. is acquired by TUI AG

· 2013 Name Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd (abandoned by TUI AG) is registered by Eyecon Brands Ltd. of Ontario, Canada.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Canadian Railroad Interests; To Connect with Steamships to Japan" (PDF). The New York Times. 28 November 1884.
  2. ^ "Pacific Air Routes Replace Ship Line; Canadian Company Abandons Pre-War Service of Fleet, Maps Overseas Flights". The New York Times. 10 April 1949.
  3. ^ Connell, Carol Matheson (2004). A Business in Risk – Jardine Matheson and the Hong Kong Trading Industrie. Westport: Praeger Publishers. p. 5. ISBN 0-275-98035-9.
  4. ^ Jones, Stephanie (1986). Two Centuries of Overseas Trade – The Origins and Growth of the Inchcape Group. Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press. p. 174. ISBN 0-333-37172-0.
  5. ^ Tate, E. Mowbray (1986). Transpacific Steam: The Story of Steam Navigation from the Pacific Coast of North America to the Far East and the Antipodes, 1867–1941. Cranbury, New Jersey: Cornwall Books. p. 144. ISBN 0-8453-4792-6.
  6. ^ a b "CP Innovations". E. Chambré Hardman Archive. Archived from the original on 25 May 2011.
  7. ^ "Railway Management; the Canadian Pacific" (PDF). The New York Times. 13 May 1887.
  8. ^ "The Chinamen Were Pleased; They Viewed the Model of the Canadian Pacific's New Ships". The New York Times. 23 December 1890.
  9. ^ "To Transfer C. P. R. Fleet; Ships and Railroad to be Managed by Separate Companies" (PDF). The New York Times. 25 February 1915.
  10. ^ "Canadian Pacific Divorces Ships; Forms Company to Take Over Its Boats and Those of the Allan Line, Which It Owns. PRICE IS PUT AT $24,000,000 Railway to Get All of New Corporation's $10,000,000 Stock and $14,000,000 Debentures" (PDF). The New York Times. 24 August 1915.
  11. ^ "Rivals of Pacific Mail; Canadian Pacific Steamers Cutting into China Traffic". The New York Times. 10 October 1891.
  12. ^ Postal History Society of Canada: trans-Pacific mail service and the "Empress fleet" Archived 2008-03-08 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Investigating the Empress of Ireland". Shipwreck Investigations at Library and Archives Canada. collectionscanada.gc.ca. 8 May 2018.
  14. ^ The Golden Age of Liners. BBC Four. Timeshift, Series 9, Episode 2.
  15. ^ "SS Beaverford", Clydebuilt Canada’’
  16. ^ Pigott, Peter (2010). Sailing Seven Seas: A History of the Canadian Pacific Line. Dundurn Press. p. 139.
  17. ^ Press release, 19 October 2005, archived from the original on 30 September 2007
  18. ^ Torrance, Adele (24 April 2019). "Uncovering family history aboard a Canadian Pacific steamship". Ingenium Canada. Archived from the original on 24 October 2020. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  19. ^ Cruise line history. Retrieved 2013-01-10
  20. ^ a b Gill, G. Hermon (1957). Royal Australian Navy 1939–1942. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 2 – Navy. Vol. 1. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. pp. 125–126. Archived from the original on 25 May 2009. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  21. ^ "The Story of Beaverford". Archived from the original on 28 January 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  22. ^ "No. 30194". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 July 1917. p. 7424.; "No. 31021". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 November 1918. p. 13694.
  23. ^ Snelling, Stephen. 2002. The Naval VCs, p. 142.
  24. ^ Obituary for Captain Ronald Neil Stuart Archived 23 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine, The Times. Retrieved May 23, 2007.
  25. ^ a b c "Capt. Samuel Robinson, Who Won Fame For Rescue Work in Jap Quake, Dies," New York Times. September 7, 1958.
  26. ^ a b c d National Maritime Museum, Greenwich Archived March 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Vancouver Maritime Museum Archived January 5, 2013, at archive.today
  28. ^ "No. 32973". The London Gazette. 12 September 1924. p. 6778.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]