All text and photographs (unless stated otherwise) © Paul Timmerman
One of the better known passenger ships of north west America was the Prince George, a small steamship owned by Canadian National Railways.
In 1946 Canadian National Railways placed an order at the Esquimalt yard of Yarrows Ltd for the largest passenger ship built on the Canadian west coast. Her designer was W.D. McLaren of Vancouver.
The Prince George was primarily a cruise ship, although she did have two holds for carrying cargo. She could also carry cars, although these had to be lifted on board by crane and were taken to the right deck by lift.
Her interiors were like these of the other Canadian National ships: lots of wood panelling could be found onboard. Meant to sail for tourists visiting Alaska, she had a forward facing observation saloon which for example today still is a prominent feature onboard the Hurtigrute, the Norwegian coastal express service sailing the Norwegian Fjords. Besides her beautiful woodwork, Prince George was noted for her classic dining room and central staircase with bronze handrails.
Cabins on board Prince George
Launched in 1947 and completed in mid 1948, she followed the same pattern for several years: cruising in summer out of Vancouver through the Inside Passage to her most northern destination Skagway before returning. The Prince George would spend the winter time in lay-up.
She continued in this role until 1975, when it was announced that this season would be her last. But alas, several weeks before the start of the season, she suffered a fire while still in the port of Vancouver. Part of her passenger accommodation was destroyed and the season was lost. Canadian National decided to leave the “cruise scene” altogether now.
Prince George at Skagway, Alaska (collection of Andrew Waveryn)
She was quickly sold to a new firm called the British Columbia Steamship Company. They would be the first of an endless row of owners of the Prince George. She was to be used along the coast of British Columbia. Her new owners wanted to have her exterior decorated by native Indian artists, but this never came to pass. Next, she passed into the hands of the Wong Brothers Enterprises Ltd., who in turn had plans to use her as a floating hotel. However, she remained in lay-up and nothing happened. Wong sold her to Luka Holding Ltd., but when this firm started to miss payments, Wong repossessed her.
Local businessmen now formed Canadian Cruise Lines, and they acquired the Prince George.
5 million dollars were spent to get her back into service. She emerged with a white hull and a yellow and blue crown on her smokestack. A series of week-long cruises were planned out of Vancouver.
It were her engines which caused a lot of trouble however. Prince George was fitted with so called uniflow steam engines.
Familiar Alaskan route of the 'George'
To run these old engines, specialist engineers were needed. Her first season in active service after 6 years in lay-up was a failure.
Sold again to a firm of the same name, she was further refitted and her 1982 season went better. She was back on her familiar route to Skagway. This cannot be said of the following year, when she ended up being arrested for debt………
The Prince George continued passing into the hands of many owners, serving as a floating hotel (e.g. Expo ’86) or accommodation ship (for the workers who cleaned up the oil leaked out of the tanker Exxon Valdez in ’89).
Prince George –still retaining her original name after all these years- ended her days as a cheap floating hotel, looking more and more shabby on the outside, but still with remarkably well preserved interiors.
In 1995 a fire ended her days..... The next year she was sold to Chinese breakers. She didn’t make it to the breakers however, she sank while under tow on October 24th 1996.
Photographs below (top row) are from Andrew Waveryn who took these pictures at Britannia Beach (there were plans to use the ship as a floating museum in connection with the closed copper mine at Britannia Beach at the time) shorly before the tragic fire; the other pictures showing the still smoldering wreck and the pictures of what was ultimately left of her were taken by Jim Stephen.
Click on picture for larger image.