History of 

Vancouver Cruise

History of Vancouver Cruise

Did you know Vancouver has a rich cruise/passenger service history. Cruises have been sailing out of Vancouver for over 100 years!

Vancouver's First Cruise Ship

April 29, 1891 The ocean liner RMS Empress of India arrived in Burrard Inlet from Yokohama, Japan to open regular service to Asia after setting a new speed record for crossing the Pacific by two days. She was one of three steamships dubbed the “white empresses,” including the Empress of China and the Empress of Japan, built in England for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The first CP train had pulled into Vancouver four years earlier, and the railway company had signed an agreement with the British government to deliver mail to Hong Kong via Canada. The 140-metre-long ship left England on Feb. 8 and sailed to Vancouver via the Suez Canal and Indian Ocean. After departing from Japan, she crossed the ocean in a record time of 11 days, seven hours and 27 minutes. The Empress of India sailed the Pacific for 23 years before being sold to the Maharaja of Gwalior and turned into a hospital ship for Indian troops during the First World War. She was sold for scrap in Bombay in 1923.

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Vancouver Growth

By 1910 the volume of trade had increased such that a second generation of crack ocean liners were built. As such the small, utilitarian facilities had been outgrown. A very large, two decked freight and passenger terminal was built in 1927. This was CPR Pier B and C. Pier A sat immediately to the west and was generally a single decked freight wharf. B and C was the pre-eminent terminal with a Spanish style, First Class lounges, and dock-cranes. Gantries and access ramps were also included to allow cars and foot traffic to cross the expanding rail yards at the foot of Granville Street. Pier B and C sat adjacent to the new CPR Station at Granville Street. It was the premiere wharf on the Pacific shore of Canada—customs and immigration buildings sat nearby to control marine traffic and trade. (other info shows these piers built around or before 1915. The Vancouver Map and Blueprint company shows the piers on its maps in 1921 and 1924. Goad's fire insurance map of 1912 shows the space where the piers are proposed. Wikipedia indicates in other articles, particularly about Pier D and its predecessors that these piers were built around 1915. Yet Leonard Frank photos in the Vancouver archives clearly show huge construction projects for the two piers in 1926-27. However, these photos show construction of the upper superstructure and terminal front facades. It is possible then that the date of 1927 refers to the upgraded terminal.

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CPR Pier

The Canadian Pacific Railway embarked on a series of expansions in the years 1910-15. These included new railway equipment, ships, yards and the Second Hotel Vancouver. With the CPR expanding its Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, and it fleets running both coastally—to Seattle, Victoria, BC and Alaska—and Internationally—to Japan, China, and Hong Kong; the CPR needed more wharf space in Vancouver harbour.

It had the CPR Pier A which was really a single decked freight shed, and a small pier running parallel to the shore next to the train station. Thus the CPR built CPR Pier D on the water in front of the station. This is roughly the site where the Seabus terminal is now. CPR coastal vessels docked here. The large wooden dock, in a "New York" pier style, was opened in 1914.

The Pier burned down in Vancouver's most spectacular fire on July 27, 1938. The same summer as the Tillamook Fire and the Campbell River fire. The Pier was not rebuilt.

Vancouver and the Pier had a very close call on 6 March 1945 when the ammunition SS Green Hill Park burst into flames after longshoremen drained a quantity of whiskey and it caught fire. The ship's hold exploded and the fire spread. Fortunately, it did not extend to other holds, which contained ammunition. It was a five-alarm fire, and took the lives of several longshoremen and firefighters. The tug RFM towed the burning Green Hill Park to the far side of Stanley Park, where she burnt out. Green Hill Park was declared a constructive total loss but was repaired and re-entered service in 1946 as the Panamanian-flagged Phaeax II.

The land upon which Canada Place was built has historical beginnings as the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Pier B-C. This land was granted to CPR for the construction of a railway from sea to sea. Pier B-C’s primary purpose was to serve Canadian Pacific, Royal Mail, NYK, OSK, and other shipping lines trading with the Orient, Australia and New Zealand but it also served the development of British Columbia and the CP Steamships coastal fleet which transported people, vehicles and cargo to virtually every accessible portion of the coast and Vancouver Island until 1955.

The Pier was used for many years until 1970 when the CPR sold its passenger fleet. The wharf was then gutted and sold to the Government of Canada, which erected the Teflon sails of Canada Place for Expo 86.

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A new beginning - Canada Place

In 1978, Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments commenced planning for development of convention, cruise ship and hotel facilities at Pier B-C supported by The Honourable Grace McCarthy. Four years later, the Government of Canada created a crown corporation, Canada Harbour Place Corporation  to develop the Canada Place project on the Pier B-C site. Canada Place would be used as the Canadian Pavilion at the Expo ’86 World Fair. Construction began when HM Queen Elizabeth II arrived on the royal yacht Britannia with The Right Honourable Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada and The Honourable William R. Bennett, Premier of British Columbia to initiate the first concrete pour in a caisson located at the southeast corner of the site.

March 9, 1983 Start of construction of Canada Place

September 5, 1984 First sail raised

October 27, 1984 Last sail raised

April 28, 1986 the ms Noordam is the first ship to dock at the Canada Place Cruise Terminal

May 2, 1986 Canada Pavilion, World’s Fair Expo ‘86 opening

July 29, 2004 Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion Project (VCCEP) is given the green light

November 15, 2004 Vancouver Fraser Port Authority opens corporate offices on north expansion, “The Point”

May 23, 2018 Vancouver welcomes it's 25,000,000 cruise passenger at Canada Place

November 01, 2019 The last cruise ship of the season departed Canada Place.  In 2019, Vancouver welcomed more than one million cruise passengers on 289 ship visits, reflecting a 22% increase in passenger volumes over 2018

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Ballantyne Pier

Ballantyne Pier was built in 1922-1923 by the Vancouver Harbour Board to alleviate dock shortages in Vancouver which came to a head during the First World War. Also, competing railways such as Canadian National RailwaysGreat Northern Railway of CanadaCanadian Northern Railway, and Grand Trunk Pacific Railway needed access to the CPR-monopolized waterfront, which was afforded by a CNR level junction. The Canadian National Steamship Company fleet sailed from this dock.

During the early construction foreman Edward J. Gorman died of injuries sustained during a pile driving accident. Mr. Gorman succumbed to his injuries on April 24, 1922.

The pier was the scene of a vicious 1935 strike, the Battle of Ballantyne Pier.

The dock was gutted in 1992 and rebuilt after a period of disuse. Modern Teflon sails and steelwork were installed from the original, beautiful Beaux Arts facade for cruise ships. Direct to cable TV productions such as Captain Courageous had been filmed there, uranium ships and the liberty ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien have also docked at the pier.

In 1995, the pier was renovated to create two modern cruise ship berths: the East Berth and the West Berth is used as an overflow berth. The dock is equipped with two automatic gangways and a terminal building with baggage handling and customs areas.

In 2014, after many years of service Ballantyne Pier stopped being used as an overflow terminal for Cruise. 

In 2018, Ballantyne Pier had been redeveloped as part of the Centerm Expansion Project. The Ballantyne heritage building facade was preserved as part of this project. 

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