Monday, October 31, 2011

An Empress

If you are walking along the seawall at Stanley Park you might happen to see something in the distance that may seem a bit off. Somehow out of place.

And you decide to walk closer to investigate further.

It is very beautiful looking out over the water. But whatever is it doing in the middle of the seawall?

In 1890-1891 the Naval Construction and Armament Co. of Barrow, England built an ocean liner called the RMS Empress of Japan - she was also known as the Queen of the Pacific - for Canadian Pacific Steamships.

She was a beauty! This Empress and her twin- sister Empresses (there were three in total) were the first vessels in the Pacific to have twin propellers with reciprocating engines. Over the course of her lifetime the Empress traversed 2.5 million miles and made 315 Pacific crossings.

This is a replica of the figurehead that was on the Empress of Japan. The original has been restored and now resides in the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Although this Empress was part of a fleet of Empresses she stands out from the others. Perhaps because she held the speed record for crossing the Pacific for over two decades. Captained by Captain Henry Pybus, the RMS Empress of Japan won blue ribbon for record crossing of the Trans-Pacific crossing of 1897. (As you may remember I wrote a bit about the Captain in an earlier entry.)
The RMS Empress of Japan was built to carry mail (RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship) and passengers but there was an agreement of commission between the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Canadian federal government and the British government with a clause that stated that in the event of war the Empress would be refitted to meet with Admiralty requirements. So the ship was refitted as an Armed merchantman during World War I.

The Empress of Japan served well during war and she was the only one of the three original Empresses to return to the Trans-Pacific route.

But she was weary and in 1922 the Empress of Japan was retired, she swung at anchor in Vancouver Harbour for four years. In 1926 someone abroad purchased her and she was beached on the north shore of Burrard Inlet to be scrapped locally.

The tragedy of it all. This once beautiful ship who had sailed the seas so proudly was now run aground and being torn apart by indifferent workers. The wall hangings were ripped apart and being used as rags, the mahogany panelling was being cast into the water and the once majestic figurehead that had helped guide the Empress through the seas had been discarded and slated for destruction.

But all was not lost. Some Vancouverites descended on the wreckage site to salvage what they could and to this day if you happen to walk into the right home you would be able to see remnants of this glorious ship.

And the editor of the Daily Province, Frank Burd, heard about the disposal of the figurehead and went into action. It is rumoured that some reporters found themselves with a unique assignment that day: to rummage through the dump looking for parts of a large wood carving and removing those pieces.

The figurehead was found and it was erected at Stanley Park in November of 1927. But it was wood and even with the occasional slap of paint - it was not painted in anything close to the original colours though - the figurehead began to deteriorate.

But then Norman Hacking, marine editor at the Province, became involved. The figurehead was removed and replaced with the fibreglass copy. The original sat in the work yards of Stanley Park for years before being transported to the relative safety of the Maritime Museum. There it waited fourteen years before it was moved to a laboratory to be restored. (It is quite a long process of how the figurehead was restored. If you are interested then please visit this page of the History of Vancouver website.)

Now the figurehead is a proud display of a colorful piece of maritime history at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a very cool bit of info! My Great Grandfather is Frank Burd. Its interesting to see how much he's all over the web, esp in Vancouver!