UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Canadian shipping in the British Columbia coastal trade Schuthe, George Macdonald


Within the last one hundred and thirty years, the coasting tirade of British Columbia has passed through four more or less distinct stages of development the era of the early trading monopolist, the Hudson Bay Company the rise of the small-scale ship owner the growth of corporate shipping enterprise and in the first half of the twentieth century, the predominating influence of the national railway companies, particularly the Canadian Pacific. Fast passenger steamers are usually associated with British Columbia coast shipping, and yet, the more prosaic tug boats, tankers, and fish packers, if less spectacular, are just as important to the economy of the province. Coasting steamers as cargo carriers are, in fact, in process of being eclipsed by scows and barges, which, in the sheltered waters of the coast, are more cheaply operated than self-propelled freighting vessels. The routes of heaviest traffic on the coast are those serving the areas of densest population on the lower mainland and central and southern Vancouver Island. Industrial communities, dependent on water transportation, are, nevertheless, scattered along the entire coastline. As employment is often seasonal, and labour, transient, flexible shipping services are essential. Year-round operations on some routes are possible only because government subsidies are provided. The highly seasonal tourist trade utilizes passenger facilities to capacity for not more than three months of the year. Finding return cargoes for their vessels is as much a problem for the steamship companies as for the owners of scows and barges. In general, coastal liners are the carriers of general cargo shipped from distributing points; scows and barges, of bulk commodities shipped to processing centres. Traffic trends point to an expanding volume of cargo shipped in coasting trade, with unrigged vessels carrying an increasing percentage of the total tonnage. While passenger ship traffic has declined slightly from its war-time peak, partly as a result of competition from air lines, fast new steamers, equipped with automobile decks, offer an inducement to travel by sea and promise to retain the bulk of passenger traffic for the ships. The geography of the coast eliminates any threat of new and serious competition from railway and highway transportation. High construction and operating costs have been the chief concern of the coast shipping industry since the second world war. Costs have more than doubled since 1939, but rates and fares have not increased proportionately. In consequence, steamship operations, with few exceptions, have been unprofitable, and on routes receiving government assistance, subsidies have sky-rocketed. In the circumstances, the stability of the rate structure is to be attributed to the strong position of the railway companies in coast shipping, and to the government's subsidy policy.

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