Thursday, November 17, 2011

Transportation on the Islands

Other than the traditional method of the sea-faring Haida canoes, white settlers generally had to rely on their own transportation. For a good many years the Hudson's Bay Company with their numerous vessels were the mariners of the Islands' coastal service. The Company's most important successor was the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, who for over twenty years served the upper coastal ports and the islands of Haida Gwaii as well. Among their ships were such well-known names as the "Princess Louise," the "Sardonyx," the "R.P. Rithet," and the 'Islander." Some of these carried excursion parties to the Islands under the guidance of the genial and sociable Captian John Irving. The Reverend Charles Harrison, in his stories of the days on the Islands just before the turn of the century, tells of leaving Massett for England on board the Islander and of being entertained all the way to Victoria by the jolly captain.

In 1901 the Canadian Pacific Railway and Steamship Company bought out the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company. Their first ship on the Charlotte run was the "Amur."

In May of 1912 a new steamer, "Princess Sophia," arrived at Victoria after a 14,000 mile journey from the United Kingdom. Her arrival had been eagerly awaited by the Islanders because of news reports stating that she had been built "especially for northern British Columbia and Island service." Such reports, however, were more than a little exaggerated. The Princess Sophia was placed immediately on the northern run to Skagway, but in the same year the Canadian Pacific discontinued their service to the Islands, and the settlers were once more left without direction connection to Victoria or Vancouver.

In 1909 the Grand Truck Pacific Railway commenced a Prince Rupert to Sandspit run with their first vessel, the "Henriette." This was followed in 1910 by the "Prince Albert" and in 1911 by the "Prince John" and the "Prince Charles." For the year 1930 another vessel, the "Prince William," was also in service to the Islands. Until 1940 the Canadian National (Grand Trunk) continued their steamship connection with the Islands, but in that year they sold out to the Union Steamship Company of Vancouver. The old Prince John, by now an honored veteran of the stormy waters of Hecate Straits, was renamed the "Cassair." In 1948 two new vessels were added to the run by the Union Company--the "Coquitlam" and the new "Camosun." Both these ships are extremely modern and even luxurious craft, and thus the pioneering days of transportation to the Islands are ended.

The Massett Leader, 1913
Air Service was introduced to the Islands when the Queen Charlotte Airlines Limited commenced in May 1946. They took over the aircraft operated by their predecessors, Spilsbury & Hepburn Limited, who had operated both a seaplane and landplane for radio-telephone maintenance. When air service to logging camps, mills, and remote villages was required, the charter flights were begun by the Queen Charlotte Airlines. In 1947 the Canadian Pacific Airlines began a daily service to Sandspit, and from that point the Queen Charlotte Airlines continued to carry passengers and freight to major settlements around the Islands.