Lady Cynthia

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Lady Cynthia (steamship) circa 1938..jpg
Lady Cynthia circa 1938.
Name: Lady Cynthia
Owner: Union Steamship Company of British Columbia
Route: coastal British Columbia
Builder: Original: (1919) Ardrossan Dry Dock & Shipbuilding Co., Ardrossan, Scotland; rebuilt 1924-1925 by Coaster Construction Co. in Montrose, Scotland
In service: 1925
Out of service: 1957
Identification: Canada registry #152899
Fate: Scrapped.
Notes: Originally constructed as HMS Barnstaple, a minesweeper for the Royal Navy.
General characteristics
Type: steel-hulled coastal steamship
Tonnage: 950 gross tons; 390 registered tons.
Length: 219.3 ft (66.8 m)
Beam: 28.6 ft (8.7 m)
Depth: 16.3 ft (5.0 m) depth of hold
Installed power: twin triple-expansion steam engines, two Yarrow water tube boilers.
Propulsion: twin propellers
Speed: 15.5 knots maximum; 13.5 knots average.
Capacity: Licensed for 800 day passengers, 900 during excursions, 500 during winter; 75 tons cargo capacity.

Lady Cynthia was a steel-hulled passenger ship converted from a minesweeper, (formerly HMS Barnstaple), which served in the coastal waters of British Columbia from 1925 to 1957. Lady Cynthia was a sistership to Lady Cecilia, also a converted minesweeper. The ship was generally referred to as the Cynthia while in service.


The Union Steamship Company of British Columbia, owners of Lady Cynthia, had a number of vessels which operated in all areas of the coast of British Columbia. The company however ran a number of routes close to Vancouver where overnight accommodations on board ship would be unnecessary, with the objective being to carry large numbers of day passengers. To distinguish vessels intended for this service from the company's other ships, these day vessels were given names that began with "Lady".[1]

Design and construction[edit]

Lady Cynthia was originally built in 1919 as a Hunt class minesweeper and served with the Royal Navy as HMS Barnstaple. The navy sold the minesweeper in 1924, and it was purchased by the Union Steamship Company of British Columbia.[2] The vessel was reconstructed at the shipyard of Coaster Construction Co., under the management of W.D. McLaren, in Montrose, Scotland.[2] An upper deck was added, and to maintain the ship's stability, sponsons were added on each side of the hull.[2] The sponsons reduced the maximum speed of the ship from 19 to 15 knots.[3] The rebuilt ship had two funnels but the rear funnel was a dummy, added for appearance only.[2]

Lady Cynthia had a gross tonnage of 950 and net tonnage of 390. The ship was 219.3 feet long, with a beam of 28.6 feet and depth of hold of 16.3 feet.[4]

The power plant consisted of twin triple-expansion steam engines and two Yarrow water tube boilers.[2] The ship had twin propellers.[3] The maximum speed was about 15.5 knots but this required firing of both boilers and was reserved for special occasions.[2] Normal speed was 13 knots, and one boiler was sufficient for this.[2]

The ship was licensed for a maximum of 900 passengers on summer excursions, 800 passengers in other summer travel, and 500 passengers during the winter.[4] Cargo capacity was approximately 75 tons.[2]

The official Canadian registry number was 152899.[5]

Entry into passenger operations[edit]

Following reconstruction Lady Cynthia reached Vancouver BC on August 22, 1925.[2] The company placed the ship on the route from Vancouver to Powell River under Capt. Alfred E. Dickson, the company's most senior master for the first trip.[2] Afterwards Capt. John Boden was placed in command.[2] Starting in the 1920s, Lady Cynthia was employed on excursions to Bowen Island, where Union Steamship had owned and operated a popular resort.[6]

Collision with Cowichan[edit]

On December 27, 1925, Lady Cynthia collided with another Union company steamship, the Cowichan, which resulted in the sinking of the Cowichan. The collision occurred when a third Union ship, the Lady Cecilia had brought a Christmas excursion of mostly lumber mill workers from Powell River to Vancouver. Other passengers had come from the north over the holiday, and the numbers returning to Vancouver exceeded Cecilia's capacity. Harold Brown, the company's general manager, had ordered that Lady Cynthia be held on standby with steam up in such an event, and the additional 200 passengers beyond the 400 on Cecilia were embarked on Cynthia.[7]

Meanwhile, Cowichan was coming south under Captain Robert Wilson and encountered fog off Roberts Creek. Captain Wilson was proceeding slowly, listening carefully for the sound of Cecilia 's whistle. Cecilia passed safely by, but then Wilson was taken by surprise 15 minutes later when Cynthia, under Captain John Boden appeared out of the fog, striking Cowichan bow-on amidships.[7] Captain Boden shouted down from Cynthia 's bridge that he would hold the bow into Cowichan to keep Cowichan from sinking. There were only 45 people on board Cowichan, including 31 crew. Captain Wilson of the Cowichan helped all of them board onto Cecilia's foredeck.[7]

Captain Wilson was the last to leave Cowichan. When he stepped onto Cecilia, he called out to Captain Boden:"Pull her out now, Cap, or she'll take us down with her."[8] When Cecila backed away, Cowichan sank almost immediately.[7]

Later service[edit]

In late May 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Vancouver. They departed on May 29, 1939 on board the Canadian Pacific steamer Princess Marguerite. Lady Cynthia and five other Union steamships embarked 2,500 passengers between them to accompany the Princess Margarite, with the royal party on board, as far as Point Atkinson.[9] The superstructure of the Lady Cynthia was reconstructed in 1940, and the dummy after funnel was removed.[6] Overnight cabins were constructed to allow the ship to serve more remote logging camps.[3]

War time operations[edit]

War was declared in September 1939. All the ships of the Union company operated under limited running lights at night, and all portholes were blacked out. Radio silence was maintained, and later anti-mine equipment and anti-aircraft guns would be added to the ships.[9] During the war, the Union company's ships, including Lady Cynthia, engaged in "Win the War Cruises" carrying purchasers of war bonds, with the officers and men donating their time.[9] Gasoline shortages also encouraged people who would otherwise have used their automobiles to take short boat trips on Lady Cynthia to Bowen Island or Howe Sound for recreation.[9]

Post-war service[edit]

In September 1948, another Union steamship, the cruise vessel Chilcotin, while returning to Vancouver, near Texada Island became disabled by machinery failure. Lady Cynthia was dispatched, picked up the 102 passengers, members of an American Shrine group, and transported them to Vancouver, where they could make their connections with trains and airplanes for return to their homes.[10]

In August 1950, Lady Cynthia collided with the Canadian Forestry Service motor launch A.L. Bryant off Bowen Island. The forestry launch was cut in two. Of the five men on board the launch, three were lost and two were rescued.[3]

Union Steamship began encountering serious competition in the late 1940s and early 1950s, from the automobile and from auto-carrying ferries.[10] After 1951, although the company kept ships on some of the more distant routes, only the Lady Cynthia remained in year-round service in the Gulf of Georgia, running from Vancouver to Squamish, BC, in Howe Sound, where there was a connection to the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.[10]

On October 28, 1953, Lady Cynthia rammed and sank the tug Dora. Although the tug sank in five minutes, the nine-man crew of the Dora was taken on board the Cynthia and no one was lost. At the time, Dora had been towing a railway barge with rail cars for the Squamish rail connection.[11]

On July 3, 1955, the Union Steamship Company was hit with a labor strike, which tied up its vessels for most of the summer season which the company depended upon for much of its revenue.[12] In September 1955, once the strike was settled, the company did not return Lady Cynthia to the Squamish route.[12]

Withdrawal from service[edit]

In 1956, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway completed a rail link from Squamish to North Vancouver, and there was no further need for the marine connection with the railway which had once been served by Lady Cynthia.[12]

Lady Cynthia was withdrawn from service and partially dismantled in Vancouver. The hull was sold to Glazer and Sternoff Metals, a Seattle scrap metal concern.[3] On October 3, 1957, the hull was towed out of Vancouver harbor bound for Seattle to be scrapped.


  1. ^ Henry, The Good Company, at page 103.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rushton, Whistle Up the Inlet, at pages 101-102.
  3. ^ a b c d e Newell, ed., McCurdy Marine History, at pages 365, 368, 575, and 630.
  4. ^ a b Rushton, Whistle Up the Inlet, at page 214.
  5. ^ The New Mills' List, “Registered Canadian Steamships 1817-1930 over 75 feet” Archived 2011-10-03 at the Wayback Machine. (accessed 05-18-13).
  6. ^ a b Rushton, Echo of the Whistle, at pages 48 and 55.
  7. ^ a b c d Rushton, Whistle Up the Inlet, at pages 104 to 105.
  8. ^ Rushton, Echoes of the Whistle, at page 54.
  9. ^ a b c d Rushton, Whistle Up the Inlet, at pages 135 and 139-140.
  10. ^ a b c Rushton, Whistle up the Inlet, at pages 158-162.
  11. ^ Rushton, Whistle up the Inlet, at page 175.
  12. ^ a b c Rushton, Whistle up the Inlet, at pages 178 to 181.


  • Henry, Tom, The Good Company – An Affectionate History of the Union Steamships, Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC (1994) ISBN 1-55017-111-9
  • Newell, Gordon R., ed. H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, Superior Publishing, Seattle WA (1966).
  • Rushton, Gerald A., Whistle up the Inlet – The Union Steamship Story, J.J. Douglas, Vancouver, BC (1974).
  • Rushton, Gerald A., Echoes of the Whistle - An Illustrated History of the Union Steamship Company, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, BC (1980) ISBN 0-88894-286-9