Title and statement of responsibility area
Canadian Pacific Steamships Limited fonds
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CA ON00419 CPS
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Dates of creation area
1880 - 1998 (Creation)
- Canadian Pacific Steamships Limited
Physical description area
47.57 metres of textual records and other materials
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Archival description area
Name of creator
The Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) was incorporated in 1881. It was originally founded to construct the transcontinental railway in Canada, but diversified its holdings over time to include hotels, shipping lines, airlines, mining and telecommunications. The CPR created its marine transport arm, the Canadian Pacific Railway Steamships Services (CPSS), and purchased three ships that were launched in 1883 for use on the Great Lakes in support of the construction of the railway.
CPSS expanded next into the Pacific by chartering sailing vessels to bring tea and other commodities from China and Japan, the first of which arrived at Port Moody only three weeks after the first regulary scheduled train had crossed the continent. The aim was to avoid sending empty freight cars east after trains delivered their western shipments. The company decided to establish a regular Pacific steamship service after securing the contract from the British Government for mail service between Hong Kong and the U.K. Mail contracts helped subsidize passenger transport, though the CPR’s future business would come to be dependent on the flow of emigrants to Canada. Freight transport was a secondary focus at this time, with passenger ships transporting low volume, high value freight.
In 1889, CPSS placed an order for three 6,000-ton vessels with Naval Construction & Armaments Company of Barrow, UK, for the Pacific route. The ships were the Empress of India, the Empress of Japan and the Empress of China. Canadian Pacific historian George Musk notes “the traffic brought to the railroad by the Pacific Empresses undoubtedly helped to save the Canadian Pacific from the disaster which overtook so many American railroads during the depression years 1893-1895.” (Musk, 1956, pp.3-4).
CPSS built business on new routes by first chartering ships or signing agreements with established steamship lines, and then purchasing or commissioning the construction of its own ships. At first CPSS depended on other companies for North Atlantic crossings, however Canadian Pacific wanted to control the last link in the route from Asia to the UK, and there was political pressure on the company to introduce faster steamships to compete with steamship lines serving ports in the United States. In 1903, CPSS acquired eight passenger and seven cargo liners from the ‘Beaver Line’ of the Elder Dempster Company to begin its Atlantic passenger and freight services. The Allan Line, which at the time held the British mail contract, introduced the first large turbine-driven vessels in North Atlantic service, in 1905. To be competitive, CPSS ordered the passenger liners Empress of Britain and Empress of Ireland and negotiated a half share in the mail contract, in 1906. Gradually the two companies began to cooperate. The CPR bought the Allan Line in 1909 but continued to run it as a separate line until 1915. During this time CPSS attended its first Atlantic Conference. These passenger conferences held between rival companies led to agreements on minimum prices. The outbreak of the First World War put the Conference in abeyance. In 1921, the Transatlantic Passenger Conference continued its work.
Fifty-two ships of the CPSS fleet were made available to the British Admiralty during the First World War. They were used as armed merchant cruisers, transports or cargo carriers. Fourteen ships were lost to enemy action or marine accident during the War and others were sold to the Admiralty. Post-war shortages slowed orders for new liners, but the company bought four German ships that had been seized as reparations.
In 1915 the CPR changed CPSS to a separate operating company within its overall corporate structure called Canadian Pacific Ocean Services Limited (CPOS) with its own Board of Directors. The operating company’s head office was in London, England. The name Canadian Pacific Ocean Services Limited was changed to Canadian Pacific Steamships Limited (CPS) in 1921. The name better reflected all of its marine transport services, including those on the Great Lakes and the lakes and rivers in British Columbia. The company entered into the cruise business the following year when the Frank C. Clark Travel Agency of New York chartered the Empress of Scotland for a cruise to the Mediterranean. CPS launched nineteen ships over this period of expansion in the 1920s despite strong ongoing competition from other companies.
During the Second World War, twenty-two CPS ships were made available to the British Admiralty. They served as troopships, armed merchant cruisers, prisoner of war carriers and passenger liners. Only five of these vessels returned to service. Two of the ships were sold to the British Admiralty, the others were damaged or sunk. CPS staff, including Canadian Pacific Chairman and President Sir Edward Beatty, were loaned to various government departments. Seventy-one of these employees were decorated for their service and 236 died in the war.
In June 1948 CPS headquarters moved from London to Liverpool. CPS did not replace its full fleet of passenger liners after the War and began to implement cost-reducing measures. The growth of air travel made CPS passenger service uneconomical and both ocean passenger and cruise services ended in 1971. The remaining passenger liners were, for the most part, sold to cruise companies.
The focus of the company’s marine transport business shifted entirely to freight. In the early 1960s, the revolution in container shipping had transformed freight handling. CPS chartered its first container vessels in 1963. Whereas the marine shipping service had been seen as a feeder to railway service in the past, in 1968 the company decided to begin operating it as an independent profit centre. The name of the company changed to CP Ships in 1969, while remaining a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific limited, and its headquarters moved from Liverpool back to London. The company ordered and chartered new ships. From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, CP Ships expanded through the acquisition of a number of lines.
With the break up of parent company, Canadian Pacific Limited, CP Ships became a separately traded public company at the end of September 2001. CP Ships was then purchased by TUI AG in 2005 and the name was not used after 2006 when the services were incorporated into TUI AG’s Hapag-Lloyd division. The trademark name, Canadian Pacific Steamships, and the right to use its checkered house flag was acquired by Eyecon Enterprises Inc in 2012, and Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd. as an apparel company was incorporated in 2013 (Wikipedia).
Donated to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in 2012.
Scope and content
The fonds consists of archives related to Canadian Pacific Steamships Limited’s promotion and operation of passenger, freight, and cruise lines. The records date from just before the creation of Canadian Pacific’s steamship services in 1883 to the late 1990s. The fonds includes records showing the management of the CPS and its precursors, but also reports from individual voyages of different vessels over time. There is a large series of records that appear to have been compiled together by Canadian Pacific historian George Musk. The fonds is arranged into five series: CPS-1) Business and Operations; CPS-2) Promotional Materials; CPS-3) Voyage Reports and Immigration Records; CPS-4) Musk Collection and CPS-5) Ledgers and Movement Books.
The archives are in good condition. See series-level descriptions for more detailed information on any condition problems or safe handling instructions.
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File or item-level descriptions by series available upon request.
Fonds includes: 47.57 linear meters of textual records; ca. 4600 photographs; 9 film reels : 16 mm; 8 videocassettes: VHS; 1 videocassette : Beta; 1 videocassette : U-matic.
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- Canadian Pacific Railways Company (Subject)
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Arrangement and description by Sian Jones, 2017-2018. Draft French translation, Adele Torrance, 2018. French editing by Céline Mongeau, Larocque Linguistic Services 2018-11.