When Canadian National Steamships abandoned their cargo and limited passenger service to the West Indies in 1958 from Montreal and Halifax, it meant the virtual end to what little remained of the ocean going fleet under the Canadian flag. It was a sad day to witness the close of that fine fleet of ships made up of the small "Park" class and the newer Canadian Cruiser type. The "Cruiser" class were built in 1946 and 1947, and three yards constructed these fine motor ships, CanadianVickers, Davie and Burrard. Each built one while all the diesels were constructed by Canadian Vickers on license by Doxford.
The untimely strike by the S.I.U. spelled the doom for the fleet and all the ships were eventually sold to Cuba before Castro came to power. The Park class lay idle in Halifax until they were eventually towed to Spain and scrapped. The newer ships were tied up in Baltimore and with much red tape the CANADIAN CONSTRUCTOR left for Cuba, and is still in service as the CONRADO BENITEZ. Last fall she made a visit to the port of Montreal and one of our members had the good luck to photograph her. The CANADIAN CHALLENGER is running under the name of ITALIA for the Hellenic Lines of Piraeus.
News of the Canadian National Steamships "Lady Nelson" and "Lady Rodney" going out of the Canada-West Indies service in November 1952, brought a wave of nostalgic memories to thousands of people on the North American Continent as well as Bermuda and the British West Indies. Many of them believed it meant the end of the C.N.S.S. service to the Caribbean.
Actually the Canadian National Steamships will continue to ply the sea lanes between Canada, the British West Indies and British Guiana with three modern motor vessels and five freighters. They are the CANADIAN CRUISER, CANADIAN CONSTRUCTOR and CANADIAN CHALLENGER with a deadweight tonnage of 7,500, passenger accommodation for 12, general cargo space of 370,000 cubic feet and refrigerated cargo space of 16,000 cubic feet.
Powered by the largest set of diesel engines ever built in Canada, these ships were built in this country following World War II, the CRUISER being the first vessel constructed in Canada for the merchant marine in post-war years. They are 436 ft. long, 59 feet beam, 25 feet load draft, and possess a speed of 16 knots. All are mail carrying vessels.
When the five famous "Lady" ships started sailing from Canada, the LADY NELSON being the first, leaving Halifax December 12, 1928, they were looked upon more as the result of a trade agreement than trim, yacht-like vessels sailing between Canada and the Caribbean. But through the years, the LADY NELSON, with her subsequent sisters, LADY DRAKE, LADY HAWKINS, LADY SOMERS and LADY RODNEY, became more than the fulfilment of an agreement -- they became a symbol of the ties that existed between the mainland countries and the islands they touched.
It is little wonder then that there was a feeling of loss when the LADY HAWKINS, LADY SOMERS and LADY DRAKE were sunk by enemy action during World War II. And there was a certain pride shared by thousands when the NELSON, following a torpedoing in Castries Harbor, St. Lucia, was raised and towed to drydock for a complete refitting as Canada's first hospital ship. The RODNEY too, was taken over by the Canadian Government, converted into a troop ship during hostilities and a repatriation vessel for thousands of servicemen, their wives and dependents following the peace.
They were not big ships as far as tonnage went. Built by the Cammell Laird & Co., at Birkenhead, England, the LADY NELSON had a gross tonnage of 7970 tons, the same as the LADY HAWKINS and the LADY DRAKE built shortly afterwards. The LADY RODNEY and LADY SOMERS were slightly larger, being 8194 gross tons but the passenger accommodation was different. In the first three, it numbered 132 first class, 32 second and 53 third plus 48 deckers, while the LADY RODNEY and SOMMERS carried a total of 125 first class passengers only. But they earned the title of sisters for all were outwardly of the same design made by A. T. Wall & Co., of Liverpool and their interior resembled each other even more closely. And sisters they were in name, being christened after the wives of five famous British Admirals who won fame for their exploits in the Caribbean. The NELSON was the first to make a maiden voyage and was consequently flagship of the fleet.
For more than a year after the outbreak of the Second World War, the five liners remained in the C.N.S.S. service. Then in October, 1940, the SOMERS was turned over to the British Admiralty for use as an auxiliary unit. Less than a year later she was torpedoes and sunk by enemy action, and in January 1942 the LADY HAWKINS, still in company service, met a similar fate off the coast of Bermuda, with her master, Capt. H. O. Giffin lost with the vessel.
Within the next six months, the C.N.S.S. service was abandoned for the duration of the war. In March, the LADY NELSON was torpedoed in the Harbor of Castries, St. Lucia, and two months later the LADY DRAKE was sunk when torpedoed one day's travel from Bermuda. The NELSON was raised and towed to Mobile, Alabama where she was converted into a hospital ship, her stately cabins being removed to make room for hospital wards, and medical laboratories on board. The LADY RODNEY, last remaining liner of the fleet still in C.N.S.S. service, was taken over by the Department of National Defense in June, to serve as a troopship between Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador. In April 1943, the NELSON was relaunched as a hospital ship and with a group of 70 Canadian Medical Corps personnel and nurses on board, began her lengthy duties as a vessel of mercy.
In the next three years she sailed 199,351 miles between English, Canadian and foreign ports, transporting 21,099 wounded Canadian veterans back home. Meanwhile the LADY RODNEY sailed 109,640 miles to carry 59,568 service personnel, and finally, in November 1945, was transferred to the United Kingdom service to repatriate Canadian soldiers and their brides from Rotterdam and Antwerp to England and then to Canada. In one year of this service she logged 55,283 miles and carried 6,719 passengers while the NELSON, also transferred to repatriation service in April 1946, logged 32,237 miles to carry 2,48l service men and their dependents from the United Kingdom to Canada.
Only then were they released for return to the Canadian National Steamships and once again were reconverted into sleek passenger liners with gracious cabins and comfortable lounges on board for the benefit of passengers making Caribbean cruises. In July 1947, the RODNEY sailed from Halifax to the Caribbean to re-open the British West Indies sea lanes with Canada, and the NELSON followed a month later, both getting enthusiastic receptions as they slipped into such ports as Boston, Bermuda, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada and Georgetown, British Guiana.
But even with their reception, there was a realization that they had served their time. Still seaworthy and strong, but unable to compete with more modern vessels, the "Lady" ships were reaching the end of their career. In March 1952, it was announced that they would retire at the end of the summer season, and did so with the last sailing being made by the RODNEY, leaving Montreal on October 25th for a round voyage and then retirement with the LADY NELSON at Halifax, where they were put up for sale.
Leave Montreal in summer, Halifax in winter. Bermuda (Hamilton and St. George); Leeward Islands (St. Kitts, Antigua); Windward Islands (Dominica, St. Lucia); Barbados (Bridgetown); St. Vincent (Kingstown); Grenada(St. George's); Trinidad (Port of Spain); British Guiana (Georgetown).
M.V. CANADIAN CONSTRUCTOR. Blt. 2-1947. Burrard D. D. Ltd., Vancouver. 436'5" x 59'2" x 25'9". Net, 3935. Gross 6745. DWT 7500. Doxford 6000 SHP. Renamed CONRADO BENITEZ 1962. Registered Havana. Passenger Capacity: 12.
M.V. CANADIAN CHALLENGER. Blt. 12-46. Davie S.B. & R. Co. Ltd., Lauzon. 436'5" x 59'2" x 25'9". Net 3935, gross 6745. 7500 DWT. 6000 SHP. 16 1/2 knots. Renamed CIUDAD DELA HABANA 1958. Sold to Hellenic Lines, Piraeus 1967. Renamed ITALIA. Passenger Capacity: 12.
The OIL TRANSPORT which has been lying at Port Dalhousie for several years, has been sold by Hall Corp., Montreal, to West Indies interests and has left the Lakes as WIT, registered in Bermuda. Will serve as water carrier in Virgin Islands.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.