The Prince Robert

From royalty to naval guns

Sooke historian Elida Peers writes about the area's fascinating past

The Prince Robert

 

Built in 1930 at Cammell Laird Shipyard in Birkenhead, UK, (near Liverpool) for the Canadian National Railway’s coastal steamship operation, the Prince Robert was a small luxury liner.  During the mid-1930s she sailed on the Victoria Vancouver Seattle run. At the time she was, along with her sister ships Prince David and Prince Henry, the CNR’s answer to the CPR’s Princess line of coastal steamers.

When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made their epic tour of Canada in May 1939, it was the Prince Robert that carried the royal couple between Victoria and Vancouver, in a journey of three hours, 32 minutes. Outfitted in luxury, the three funneled liner presented quite a different view than the photo shown here, c 1942, when she was in wartime service. Capable of 23 knots, the ship was 385 feet in length.

With the declaration of war in September 1939, the Canadian government sought to build up its naval resources and the Prince Robert was requisitioned to service.  In February 1940 Prince Robert went to Burrard Drydock in Vancouver for a major refit including removal of the luxurious upper decks. Anti-aircraft guns, machine guns and other armaments were installed and in July 1940 the vessel was commissioned at Esquimalt.

Now sailing as the heavily armed merchant cruiser HMCS Prince Robert, she patrolled the Strait of Georgia, trade routes and did convoy duty in the Pacific.  An early highlight in her career was the capture off the coast of Mexico of the German vessel MS Weser which she delivered to Esquimalt.  After another refit, she embarked for Europe in the summer of 1943.

Following her European service, where she carried out duties in the Gibralter area, she was sent to the Pacific. In October 1945, after five weary years of war, the docks of Esquimalt’s waterfront were lined with thousands of waiting folk when HMCS Prince Robert arrived, carrying Canadian personnel liberated from the Japanese prisoner of war camps in Hong Kong.

After the war, Prince Robert went back to civilian life, and with new owners and different re-namings, she left North America, sailing in European waters until 1962 when she was scrapped in an Italian yard.

For this photo, we are indebted to Ted Dever, who grew up in Sooke and says he was proud to serve on her as an Able Seaman in the winter of 1942/43. Perhaps there are other sailors from our area who served on her as well.

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum

 

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