The Canadian Pacific Railway Company

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) started operating steamships in the late 1800s on a trans-Pacific route between Vancouver and Asia, and soon adopted the name the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company for this service. They were operating the steamship lines, which carried passengers, mail, and cargo across the Pacific, and shortly after began operating ships across the Atlantic from Halifax to Britain as well. These ocean liners were the company’s Empress ships.

As more people emigrated from Europe to North America, the company grew. They bought the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company in 1901, and officially renamed it the British Columbia Coastal Service in 1903. This service catered to local travel, trade, industry, and permanent settlements in the Pacific Northwest. The company hired Captain James W. Troup as the Superintendent, transferring him to Victoria to operate this new line. The Princess fleet was thus born.

Captain James W. Troup

Captain James W. Troup was born in 1855 in Portland, Oregon to a family that had a history of mariners on both the paternal and maternal sides. He himself had been involved in the steamboat industry in the Cascades and BC interior regions before joining CPR operations on the West Coast in 1901. He was highly regarded and often credited with the successes of the Princess fleet,which he devoted twenty-five years of his career to. His strong leadership turned the fleet from a ferry service to a successful business venture.

Pre-War Boom

From 1907-1914, nine more Princess ships were commissioned. Not only would these allow for larger passenger capacity, but they would permit better departure times for sightseeing. Troup envisioned a new tourist industry up north, and built a fleet to serve the new, thriving communities of the Pacific Northwest.

The successes at the time are best represented in their earnings:

“In 1907, net profits of $164,510 were earned; in 1910 with an exposition in Seattle that generated heavy traffic, profits soared to $774,100, but settled back to a still respectable level of $498,958 the next year to rise to $630,714 in 1912. On an investment of $4,186,000 by 1912, the net reflected an annual return of about 15 percent.”


The Pacific Princesses: An Illustrated History of Canadian Pacific Railway’s Princess Fleet on the Northwest Coast. Robert D. Turner. Sono Nis Press, Victoria: 1977. pg. 28.

The Start of the War

The start of WWI inevitably affected Troup’s plans for further expansion. Two vessels, Princess Irene and Princess Margaret, which would have been the largest and fastest steamships in the fleet, never actually made their way to BC. Having just been launched in 1914 in Britain, these two ships were diverted for use in the war effort. Irene met her fate in an accident in 1915, and the Margaret was sold to the Admiralty after the War ended.

Back at the home front, the Princess fleet was largely used to help transport troops up and down the coast in preparation for their journey by rail across Canada on their larger voyage to Europe’s front lines. Passenger service still operated, however, but the boom and expansion seen in the pre-war years had slowed down.

The Sinking of the Sophia 

The Great War did nothing to help the growth of the Princess fleet, but the largest blow to the reputations of the CPR and Captain Troup was the sinking of the Princess Sophia, which resulted in lengthy legal battles and lingering feelings that more could have been done to prevent the tragedy.