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Princess Marguerite I, II, and III: Three Historic Vessels

HistoryLink.org Essay 7478 : Printer-Friendly Format

After 1900, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) built up its Princess Line, the pride of the Pacific Northwest coastal service, to a fleet of 32 steamships. Most Princess Liners plied the famed "Triangle Route" between Vancouver, Victoria, and Seattle, but some sailed north, servicing isolated ports on Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland all the way to the Alaska Panhandle. The SS Princess Marguerite, built in 1925, and the SS Princess Marguerite II, built in 1948, were the most famous of these small luxury liners. Tragically, in 1942, the Princess Marguerite, serving as a troop ship during World War II, was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean Sea by a German U-boat. Her successor, the Princess Marguerite II, was in service for 60 years under four different owners. At the end of her career, efforts to save the historic steamship for posterity proved unsuccessful and in 1996 she was sold for scrap metal. In March 1997, a former B.C. ferry, the M/V Queen of Burnaby, was renamed the Princess Marguerite III and put on the run between Seattle and Victoria, but the service was discontinued after three seasons. Ships carrying the name Princess Marguerite plied the waters between Seattle and Victoria for 74 years, becoming a part of Seattle's waterfront scene. Her name has a permanent place in Pacific Northwest maritime history, evoking fond memories of favorite summertime cruises and vacations.

A Scottish Princess

The SS Princess Marguerite, launched in 1924, was built by John Brown & Company Ltd. at Clydebank near Glasgow, Scotland, for the Canadian Pacific Railway's British Columbia Coast Service. The 5,875-ton ship was 350 feet in length and 60 feet abeam, and powered by steam turbines and twin screws, giving her a maximum service speed of 22.5 knots. She was a class of vessel the CPR called "miniature luxury liners." The ship was named for Marguerite Kathleen Shaughnessy, the daughter of Baron Thomas George Shaughnessy (1853-1923), a former CPR president and chairman of the board. On March 25, 1925, the Princess Marguerite departed Scotland on her maiden voyage to Victoria B.C. She was designed for the CPR's  Triangle Route, providing continuous service between Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver.

In September 1941 (World War II), the British Admiralty, Ministry of War Transport, requisitioned the Princess Marguerite for use as a troop transport. At mid-day on August 17, 1942, the Princess Marguerite was en route in a small convoy from Port Said, Egypt, to Famagusta on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus with 125 crewmen and 998 British soldiers on board. Despite air cover and an escort of three destroyers and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Antwerp, the Princess Marguerite, was hit by two torpedoes fired by the German submarine, U-83. The torpedoes exploded the ship's fuel tanks and she was quickly ablaze from stem to stern. When the fire reached the munitions stores, explosions turned her into a hellhole. The engineers stopped the vessel and Captain Richard A. Leicester gave the order to abandon ship, but oil burning on the surface of the water made evacuation difficult and hazardous. She sank within 45 minutes with a loss of 55 soldiers and five crewmembers. The survivors were rescued immediately by the British destroyers HMS Hero (H-99) and HMS Kelvin (F-37) and landed at Port Said. News that the Princess Marguerite had been sunk was withheld from the public until January 22, 1945.

Princess Marguerite II

In 1948-1949, two new 5,911-ton coastal passenger liners were built for the Canadian Pacific Railway by the Fairfield Shipbuilders and Engineers Company Ltd., Glasgow, Scotland, at a cost of $4 million each. The sister ships, 373 feet long and 56 feet abeam, were powered by twin-screw steam turbo-electric drives, and had a maximum service speed of 23 knots. They were designed for the now famous Triangle Route between Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver during the summer months. The ships could accommodate 2,000 passengers and had space for approximately 60 vehicles on the car deck. The vessels were fitted with only 51 staterooms, which allowed room for extremely spacious and comfortable lounges, public, areas and decks.  Each ship boasted a Grande Staircase, an elegant wood-paneled formal dining room and coffee shop, a ballroom, a cocktail lounge, an observation lounge, and wide promenade decks.

The keel of the SS Princess Marguerite II, the first of these small luxury liners, was launched on May 26, 1948. The ship left Scotland on March 5, 1949, for her 9,600-mile maiden voyage via the Panama Canal to Esquimalt B.C., arriving on April 6, 1949. After cleanup and repainting, the Princess Marguerite II entered service on April 28, 1949, maintaining a four-hour schedule between Seattle and Victoria. The second steamer, the SS Princess Patricia, arrived in Victoria on June 15 1949. The liners moored near the CPR's Empress Hotel in Victoria's Inner Harbor, and in Seattle at the Canadian Pacific Railway Dock, Pier 64, on Alaskan Way near the foot of Lenora Street.

The Princess Marguerite II continued this service through the summer of 1974. On the morning of September 15, 1974, the ship sailed from Elliott Bay on her last trip to Victoria, ending 70 years of service by CPR steamers between the two cities. In April 1975 the Princess Marguerite II was sold to the B.C. Steamship Company Ltd., a subsidiary of the British Columbia government. The cost of the ship plus 8.7 acres of CPR property bordering Victoria's Inner Harbor was $2.5 million. 

The vessel was given an extensive overhaul and refit at the Yarrows Shipyard in Esquimalt before returning to service on June 1, 1975. The ship was licensed to carry 1,800 passengers, and the car ferry service was eliminated. The Princess Marguerite II, her two funnels emblazoned with the red, white and blue Union Jack of the B.C. government and painted white and gold from stem to stern, returned to Seattle amid great fanfare. Among the dignitaries on board were Washington State Governor Daniel J. Evans (b. 1925), British Columbia Premier David Barrett (b. 1930) and Seattle Mayor Wesley C. Uhlman (b. 1935).

At the end of the 1979 summer season, B.C. Steamship Company decided that because the Princess Marguerite II was over 30 years old, lacked mandatory sewage holding tanks and had a high rate of fuel consumption, she should be scrapped. She was replaced on the Seattle-Victoria run by a B. C. Ferries passenger-car ferry, the M/V Queen of Prince Rupert, renamed the Victoria Princess. But this vessel had a capacity of only 800 passengers and, because she had inadequate docking facilities in Victoria and Seattle, carried no vehicles. The B.C. Steamship Company leased a Boeing hydrofoil they named the Flying Princess to supplement the service.

The M/V Victoria Princess was perceived as just another ferryboat that lacked the Princess Marguerite's charm and, because of poor public patronage, the 1980 summer season was a financial disaster. Thousands of residents and merchants in Victoria and Seattle pressured the B.C. Steamship Company to "Bring back the Maggie." The British Columbia government ordered a feasibility study and determined the Princess Marguerite II could be modernized and overhauled for $4.7 million, adding at least 15 years to her service life. The ship was sent to the Yarrows Shipyard in Esquimalt for another major refitting.

On May 8, 1981, the Princess Marguerite II returned to service. In addition to the sewage-holding tanks, the ship was fitted with a new galley and boilers. To meet safety and engineering standards, new life-saving equipment was installed and the ship's electrical systems were modernized. The passenger areas were reconfigured to include a solarium on the stern plus areas for playing cards and electronic games. Because of the rising cost of oil, the ship's high rate of fuel consumption was still a problem. To increase revenue, the B.C. Steamship Company restored the practice of carrying automobiles and bicycles.

In September 1986, the B.C. Steamship Company decided to operate a second ship on the Seattle-Victoria run for the 1987 season. The 430-foot Vancouver Island Princess, formerly owned by B.C. Ferries, was scheduled to operate on a reverse schedule from the Princess Marguerite II. The Vancouver Island Princess had a 140-vehicle capacity and a high clearance deck enabling the ship to carry tour busses and large recreational vehicles. The company was banking on Victoria's popular tour-bus industry to fill the ship. In addition, the provincial government instituted gambling and slot machines on both vessels. During the 1987 season, the Princess Marguerite II and the Vancouver Island Princess carried about 275,000 passengers and 25,000 vehicles. The gambling operation brought in an additional $800,000 in revenue.

In February 1988, the British Columbia government began looking for a private company to share in the operation of the B.C. Steamship Company as a joint venture. The government would retain a minority interest in the company and run the casinos as required by Canadian law.  They sold the two vessels to the Stena Line of Sweden, a large company operating cruise ships, ferryboats, and hotels throughout Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, for $6 million. The new B.C. Stena Line Company, formed in July 1988, decided to operate the Princess Marguerite II on a year-round schedule starting with the 1989 season. The vessel was refurbished with new duty-free shops, dining rooms, and a large gambling area with slot machines. To make the voyages more pleasant, the number of passengers was reduced from 1,800 to 1,400, and the automobile ferry service was again discontinued.

Her Last Years

But the Seattle-Victoria service lost money, so on September 14, 1989, B.C. Stena Line, blaming high operating costs, announced that the Princess Marguerite II would be retired, possibly becoming a floating restaurant, hotel or casino on the Victoria waterfront. At 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, September 17, 1989, the Princess Marguerite's familiar steam whistle signaled her final round-trip voyage from Seattle to Victoria. The ship returned its last passengers to Seattle about 10:30 p.m., then departed for Victoria about 3:30 a.m., without fanfare and without passengers.

The B.C. Stena Line put the Princess Marguerite II up for sale in late 1989. Under an agreement with the British Columbia government, the vessel could only be sold to a buyer who would agree to keep her in Victoria. But on November 16, 1989, the B.C. Stena Line, claiming to have lost $10 million on the venture, suddenly went out of business. The Princess Marguerite II and the Vancouver Island Princess were seized under a court order obtained by the Canadian Merchant Service Guild. The guild claimed that B.C. Stena Line had failed to give proper notification before laying off 200 employees and owed about $750,000 in wages, severance, and vacation pay.  The British Columbia government continued to review offers to purchase the Princess Marguerite II, explaining that, if necessary, it would exercise its option to buy back the ship from the Stena Line of Sweden and sell it to the group with the best proposal.

Heritage Canada, a private organization, petitioned Canadian Environment Minister Lucien Bouchard to designate the Princess Marguerite II as a historic ship and asked the owners of the Stena Line to keep her in Victoria. Two Seattle businessmen proposed setting up an international trust to preserve the old steamer as a museum. There were also meetings of Vancouver Island mayors in Courtenay, B.C. to explore ways of saving the vessel.

The campaigns to save the Princess Marguerite II proved unsuccessful and in December 1990, the British Columbia government gave the Stena Line approval to sell the ship for $1.5 million to the Mykris Hotels Group of Bristol, England, for use as a floating hotel. The deal with Mykris Hotels fell through in June 1991 and the vessel was sold to Sea Containers Ltd. of London, one of Europe's largest operators of ferryboats, cruise ships, and hotels. On February 20, 1992, the Princess Marguerite II was towed from Esquimalt to Singapore and refitted as a floating gambling casino for the Asian market. In August 1992, Sea Containers Ltd. agreed to consider proposals for reinstating the steamer to service on the Seattle-Victoria run. Apparently the offers were insufficient because the Princess Marguerite II never returned to the Pacific Northwest.

In January 1995, Eastern and Oriental Express Ltd., a subsidiary of Sea Containers Ltd., entered into a $35 million contract with the Burmese government (now Myanmar) to operate a river cruise liner on the Irrawaddy River between Mandalay and the ancient city of Pagan, and a floating hotel. Their plan was to convert the Princess Marguerite II into a 105-room hotel in Singapore, then tow her to Rangoon, to be permanently moored as the Rangoon River Hotel.  The project, scheduled for completion in mid-1996, was terminated for unknown reasons and instead Sea Containers Ltd. sold the ship for scrap. On April 19, 1996, the Princess Marguerite II was towed to the Alang ship-breaking yards near the port city of Bhavnagar in the State of Gujarat on the West Coast of India. There, in 1997, Arya Steel Ltd. broke her up.

Princess Marguerite III

But that was not the end of the Princess Marguerite story. On March 25, 1997, Clipper Navigation Inc., a Seattle-based company, announced that it had acquired the 426-foot M/V Queen of Burnaby, a 650-passenger, 192-vehicle ferryboat built in 1965, from the provincial government's B.C. Ferries fleet for $120,000 per year in a lease-purchase agreement. The operation was managed by Victoria Ferry Ltd., a newly formed Canadian subsidiary of Clipper Navigation. After making some interior improvements and repainting the vessel red, white, and blue, the ship was renamed the M/V Princess Marguerite III.

In September 1999, Clipper Navigation, claiming a $2 million loss during its three years of service, closed down the car ferry operation and turned control of the Princess Marguerite III back to the British Columbia government. B.C. Ferries (now British Columbia Ferry Services, Inc.) returned the vessel to service, sailing under her original name, Queen of Burnaby. Today (2005), the ferry operates on the route between Comox and Powell River in British Columbia.  Clipper Navigation Inc., doing business as the Victoria Clipper, continues to operate its profitable fleet of high-speed catamarans from Pier 69, providing year-round passenger service between Seattle and Victoria.

Sources:
The H. W. McCurdy Maritime History of the Pacific Northwest ed. by Gordon R. Newell (Seattle: Superior Publishing Co., 1966); Robert D. Turner, Princess Marguerite: Last of the Coastal Liners (Victoria, B.C: Sono Nis Press, 1981); Mike Roarke, "Clipper Hopes to Steer B.C. Ferry to Profits," Puget Sound Business Journal, August 15, 1997, p. 1; Scott Seifert, "Princess Marguerite," Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, May 7, 1981, p. 2; Bruce Johnson, "Maggie: Still Cruising After All These Years," Ibid., June 26, 1984, p. 2; Scott Sunde, "British Columbia Weighing Offers for Stena's Marguerite II," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 21, 1990, p. B-4; "Bid Made for B.C. Stena Victoria Ferry Service Could Resume by May," Ibid., March 12, 1991, p. B-7; "Princess Marguerite Tentative Deal to Sell Car Ferry Falls Through," Ibid., June 20, 1991, p. B-11; "Steamship Readied for Return to Service," Ibid., August 27, 1992, p. B-3; Arthur C. Gorlick, "Princess Maggie May Come Back," Ibid., August 31, 1992, p. B-1; Arthur C. Gorlick, "Marguerite's Fate in Balance," Ibid., April 29, 1999, p. C-1; "It Could Be The End for Marguerite," Ibid., April 30, 1999, p. A-1; Arthur C. Gorlick, "Princess Marguerite Car Ferry Closed Down," Ibid., September 23, 1999, p. C-1; Joni Balter, "Third Ferry to Test Waters of Seattle-Victoria Run," The Seattle Times, September 22, 1986, p. B-2; Carlton Smith, "B.C., State Vie for Winning Hand to Lure Gamblers," Ibid., December 26, 1986, p. A-1; Ronald W. Powell, "Two for Tea to Victoria," Ibid., May 12, 1987, p. C-4; "Princess Marguerite Docked," Ibid., June 20, 1987, p. A-14; "B.C. Calls for Bidders to Run Steamship Line," Ibid., February 2, 1988, p. D-2; Shelby Gilje, "No Smooth Sailing on Crowded Cruise," Ibid., November 13, 1988, p. L-6; Theresa Morrow, "Princesses to Count on Cars," Ibid., May 11, 1989, p. H-1; Dick Lilly, "Bon Voyage! Marguerite Ends Career," Ibid., September 18, 1989, p. B1; "Seattleites Have Plan for Saving Marguerite," Ibid., December 10, 1989, p. B-4; "3 Victoria Groups Bid for Ship," Ibid., December 15, 1989, p. D-14; "Princess Marguerite Is Seized," Ibid., November 29, 1990, p. H-1; "Princess Marguerite Headed to England to Become Floating Hotel," Ibid., December 13, 1990, p. B-7; "Princess Marguerite Headed to England?" Ibid., December 16, 1990, p. B-4; "Marguerite's 'Floating Hotel' Sale Off," Ibid., June 19, 1991, p. B-1; "Marguerite May Sail Again Here," Ibid., August 26, 1992, p. B-2; "Seattle Victoria Run Has 3 Years to Prove Worth," Ibid., April 25, 1994, p. B-3; "Princess Marguerite Headed to Burma," Ibid., February 21, 1995, p. E-5; "Plan to Convert Ferry Founders," Ibid., January 7, 1996, p. B-3; Lisa Pemberton-Butler, "Clipper to Take Over B.C.'s Victoria Ferry Run," March 26, 1997, Ibid., p. D-1; Polly Lane, "Hydrofoil Comeback Proposed," Ibid., October 22, 1997, p. D-1; Patrick Harrington, "B. C. Ferry to Stay Afloat for Summer," Ibid., April 30, 1999, p. C-2; "Allied Ships hit by U-boats -- Princess Marguerite," Uboat.net website accessed July 2005 (http://uboat.net/allies/merchants2058.html).


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SS Princess Marguerite, ca. 1925
Courtesy British Columbia Archives (Image No. D-01213)


SS Princess Marguerite torpedoed and on fire, August 17, 1942
Courtesy British Columbia Archives (Image No. A08204)


SS Princess Marguerite II, ca. 1949
Postcard courtesy Maritime Museum of British Columbia, Victoria, B.C.


SS Princess Marguerite II, ca. 1950
Postcard courtesy Maritime Museum of British Columbia, Victoria, B.C.


Refurbished SS Princess Marguerite II leaving Victoria Harbor, ca. 1975
Courtesy B.C. Steamship Co.


M/V Princess Marguerite III, Elliott Bay, Seattle, ca. 1997
Courtesy Clipper Navigation, Inc.


 
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