Seaspan Ferries History

The underlying principle of intermodal transportation is simple: optimize the movement of people and/or goods between two points.

The initial local water service on the Pacific Coast was first provided by the Hudson’s Bay schooner Cadboro, in 1827, followed by the company’s paddle-wheel steamer, the Beaver. Built in England; the Beaver was brought around Cape Horn to the BC coast in 1836.

The Hudson’s Bay Company continued to exclusively operate the necessary coastal services until around 1877 when Captain John Irving entered the industry with a regularly scheduled service between Victoria and New Westminster by the Pioneer Line (founded by his father William, in 1862).

In 1880, when the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) west of the Rockies got underway, Captain Irving was given a contract to carry passengers and freight from Victoria to Yale, a small community 15 miles outside of Hope.

In 1883, the fleets of both the Pioneer Line and the Hudson’s Bay Company were consolidated to form the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company (CPN), under Captain Irving’s direction.

In 1901, CPR purchased a controlling interest in the CPN. The formal transfer took place, in 1903. As a result, the BC Coast Steamship Service (BCCSS) was formed.

One of the vessels of the new CPN fleet was the former Hudson’s Bay vessel, Princess Louise, which became the precursor to the famed BCCSS fleet of 32 Princess ships. Carrier Princess and Princess Superior are still in service to this day.

By the end of WWII, it was becoming clear that new forms of transportation were necessary. People had their own cars and wanted to travel with them. Princess ships like the Nanaimo, Marguerite, Elaine and Patricia were designed with fairly extensive car accommodations. However, a number of circumstances – most particularly a disastrous strike and the creation of a government ferry system in the late 1950s – combined to effectively end BCCSS’s domination of passenger service between the Mainland and Vancouver Island.

There was still demand for the movement of freight. The transfer barges of the first half of the century gave way to truly intermodal ferries, culminating in 1955 with the Princess of Vancouver, a vessel capable of handling passenger vehicles, railcars, trucks and trailers. This evolution continued with the advent of self-propelled, roll on, roll off vessels that were faster and more efficient. In the initial stages, BCCSS chartered ships to replace the transfer barges, but eventually purchased its own self-propelled ship, a converted US Navy LST renamed Trailer Princess.

Although BCCSS remained a legal name, a new identity Coastal Marine Operations (CMO) was created to reflect CPR’s new Bay of Fundy service on the east coast, in 1977.

Unfortunately, 1981 marked the end of the company’s passenger service. In 1995, CMO’s operations moved from their Coal Harbour location in the Burrard Inlet to a state of the art facility at Tilbury Island, in Delta, BC.

The Washington family purchased CMO on November 17, 1998 and renamed it Seaspan Coastal Intermodal Company (SCIC). In 2011, the company went through a rebranding and is now called Seaspan Ferries Corporation.

On December 9, 2011, Seaspan Ferries Corporation (SFC) acquired the business of Van Isle Barge Services Ltd. (VIB). This includes the acquisition of three barges and the operating rights to their two terminals in Surrey and Duke Point, as well as a charter party agreement with Sea-Link Marine Services Ltd. to provide pusher tug services.

This purchase signals Seaspan’s commitment to the BC marine transportation industry. The drop trailer business is core to Seaspan and this transaction provides an opportunity for SFC to reinvest in its fleet and operations. We are passionate about continuing the legacy of providing first class drop trailer ferry services between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.