Travel Story 

The Lady Rose and her crew

B.C.'s living maritime heritage

Sunday, July 11, 5:30 a.m. Vancouver – Thank God!

(Final entry in the 1937 logbook of the Lady Rose (nee Sylvia) at the end of her maiden voyage from Scotland)

By the time we pulled away from the dock the smell of coffee was already wafting up from the galley and we filed down the narrow stairway leading to breakfast. Armed with pancakes and bacon, hot off the grill, the four of us slid into a booth beside one of the big portholes and watched the town of Port Alberni fade into the distance. On the marine chart, under the glass top of our table, we traced our route down the long Alberni Canal and planned our kayaking strategy in the island-studded waters of Barkley Sound. For Janet and Robert it was the start of a new adventure. Betty and I were returning to a favorite destination.

I got a second cup of coffee and a big smile from cook, Juanita, and made my way up to the wheelhouse for a chat with skipper Brooke George. He has owned and operated the Lady Rose for 25 years, longer than any of her previous owners. He nudges the polished wood and brass helm, guiding her through the narrow channel, and tells me a bit about his ship.

Built in a River Clyde shipyard 66 years ago the Lady Rose, originally christened Lady Sylvia, was the last vessel commissioned by the Union Steamship Company of Vancouver. She was designed to operate in the sheltered waters of the British Columbia coast but getting here from Scotland was an epic 9,800 mile journey that lasted more than two months. Buffeted by Atlantic gales, there were days when the little ship could barely make three knots against the raging seas that lifted her racing prop clear of the water sending shudders through her hull and anxiety through the crew. But she made it – and the triumph of her tumultuous maiden voyage proved that the Lady Rose could handle just about anything nature could throw at her.

After her arrival in Vancouver, Union Steamships put the Lady to work in Howe Sound, where she ran a scheduled service until the outbreak of World War II. Then, with windows boarded up and her hull painted battleship grey, she was pressed into service as a local troop transporter. After the war she returned to scheduled freight and passenger service in the Gulf Islands. But new roads, expanded air travel, and container ships cut into the traditional dual role of the coasters and by the end of the 1950s the little boats were running out of business.

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