A few summers ago an elderly gentleman came into the office at the resort. He walked up to the front desk and asked me if he could go aboard the Canadian Princess. He wanted to walk through the hallways, look at the chart room and view the bridge. I told him everyone is welcome to go onto the boat and that we have tours available upon request.
“I used to work on that ship,” shared the man who was just visiting the area. “It was in the late 30s and my job was to bring the Captain coffee.”
The manager on duty took him on his special own tour of the ship. He walked down the narrow corridors, running his hand against the wall. He stopped at a state room, now fit for tourists complete with a wash stand, double bed and bunks.
“This was where I slept,” he said. “But it looks a lot more comfortable now!”
He told stories of what the Chart Room looked like and how he was just a young teenager when he lived and worked aboard. He said he held the lowest rank on the ship which was called the William J. Stewart in those days. The vessel was named to honour William J. Stewart, the first Canadian Chief Hydrographer who served in that position from 1904 to 1925.
There is a lot of history behind the Canadian Princess. She was built in Collingwood, Ontario in 1932 to replace the hydrographic vessel called “Lilooet”. The ship operated on the field from mid-April to mid-October charting the entire coast of British Columbia out of her home port in Victoria. She carried a crew of 55 and 7 officers.
During World War II she worked for the Royal Canadian Navy. Among completing top-secret assignments she placed defence booms and made surroundings suitable anchorages for other navy ships.
In 1944, as the ship passed through Seymour Narrows near Campbell River, she struck Ripple Rock and hit it hard. The ship was rushed and breached in Plumper Bay to avoid completely sinking. She took a lot of damage there in addition to the original gash caused by Ripple Rock. She had a massive rip along the bottom of the ship and extensive damage to the interior from being breached at Plumber Bay. It took almost a month to get her afloat.
In 1979 the William J. Stewart was purchased by Oak Bay Marine Group and towed to Ucluelet. She was refurbished and renamed the Canadian Princess. She now holds comfortable state rooms, a restaurant and a lounge as well as common areas and an outdoor patio on her deck.
Our visitor left us with a renewed appreciation for the Canadian Princess Resort and the rich history our ship has. We thanked him for sharing his stories with us and welcomed him back to the resort for a visit any time. He smiled and waved good bye.
I often wonder what life would have been like out at sea aboard the William J. Stewart. I imagined what the Chart Room must have looked like with large tables and piles of paper charts spread out on them. Instead of happy sport fishermen sitting around tables near the bar, there were officers and specialists carefully charting our coastline for the first time.
I imagined the bridge of the ship. Instead of our desks and offices filled with filing cabinets, computers and telephones there was a wheel house and, as I can imagine, a really big steering wheel! I pictured a young teen of 14 or 15 years, carefully carrying a cup of hot coffee up the steep stairs to the bridge, trying not to spill it as the ship rocked with the sea. Ducking into the bridge and holding it out to his Captain.
Have you been aboard the Canadian Princess?