The Empress of Britain

A close-up of the Canadian-owned leviathan which now holds the record as the fastest liner plying between Europe and America

LESLIE ROBERTS August 1 1931

The Empress of Britain

A close-up of the Canadian-owned leviathan which now holds the record as the fastest liner plying between Europe and America

LESLIE ROBERTS August 1 1931

The Empress of Britain

A close-up of the Canadian-owned leviathan which now holds the record as the fastest liner plying between Europe and America

THIS is not a crowd story, as your newspaper editor knows the term. It is not the story of blaring bands, of searchlights flashing into twilight, or of throngs pressing against the parapet of Dufferin Terrace and cheering themselves hoarse as a majestic, white ship glides in from the open sea. Of all these matters you have read in your newspaper.

The fanfare is muted now. The shouting and the tumult cease. And the time has come when we can ponder the rôle that this new Queen of the Roaring Forties, Empress of Britain, new holder of the Atlantic blue riband, will play in our commerce and the function she will fulfill as an instrument to focus the world’s attention on Canada and

things Canadian. What new doors will she open for us? What does the advent of such a ship signify to each of us as individual Canadians? Is she daughter of Wisdom or Folly? Such questions are bound to present themselves because of the circumstances of her coming, the advent of the world’s fastest and most luxurious liner in the midst of a season of weeping, wailing and persistent gnashing of the chattering teeth of commerce.

As I saw her at her moorings in the cove where Wolfe found foothold on our soil, it seemed that here was twentieth century reincarnation of the brave challenge that was flung into the teeth of fate under these same cliffs in other days. Here was a concrete entity, a thing of steel and wood on

which a man could lay his hands and say: “This is the sort of belief we have in ourselves, in Canada!”

This Empress of Britain is something more than a luxury ship constructed to carry human beings to and from the shores of Europe. She is a challenger to something infinitely more important than these mythical blue ribands ' She is a challenger to destiny itself, for it was faith in Canada, faith in the present and the future, faith in the idea of progress, that brought this queenly ship into

Let us consider this new ruler of the waves, shipwise, thereafter ponder her task and -the things that she is destined to do for the great seaway thqt is our outlet to the cities of the world and, through her travels, for Canada.

“Babylon Afloat”

NEVER before has man seen such a ship. In the argot of the day. she has everything—speed, size, stability, but, above all, luxury, to the wth degree. Seven hundred and sixty feet from stem to stern, ninety-seven and one half feet in width, with a gross registered tonnage of 42,500 and a workaday speed of twenty-four knots to the hour, she is not only the greatest ship ever to enter the St. Lawrence, but is the ranking Great among the ships of the seven seas. Already she holds the Atlantic sprint record, having established a new mark of four days, twelve hours and thirty minutes, pilot to pilot, Cherbourg to Father Point, to recapture the mark for British ships that until theBritain’s second westbound passage was held by the German Bremen.


In luxury she has no rival, not even among the modernistic leviathans which ply the shipping lanes from the Hudson to the English Channel.

Of her first-class accommodation hundreds of newspaper columns of type have been written, but the story loses nothing in the retelling. As I climbed her gangway in Wolfe’s Cove I walked with the peculiar feeling that every landlubber knows when embarking for journeys afloat, but as I stepped to her deck all sense of ship was left behind, to be replaced by the thought that one had entered some super de luxe hotel.

Everywhere as the visitor passes through the public apartments he discovers the murals of men famous in the world of brush and palette; Frank Brangwyn, Sir Charles Allom, Sir John Lavery, the amazing caricatures of Heath Robinson in the Knickerbocker Bar, Maurice Greiffenhagen’s huge portrayal of Champlain presenting his young wife to the citizens of Quebec which hangs in the proscenium over the grand staircase, Dulac’s modernistic Cathay Lounge, where there is rhapsodizing to be done in an atmosphere of ebony and red lacquer. There are also tennis courts, complete with umpire’s high-stooled chair, spectators’ gallery and a private café.

Whisked down half a dozen “floors” in a fast elevator, you will find that crystal cave called the Olympian Pool, and, near by, the Turkish Bath and a gymnasium replete with every mentionable type of apparatus for getting that waistline down. There are playrooms for children, equipped with full-sized Indian wigwams, great rocking horses, dolls’ mansions and every sort of toy that you dreamed of owning as a youngster. Gone are the cabins that the journeyman abroad has known on the eightand nine-day boats of yesterday’s crossings. Here are apartments to vie with Park Avenue’s finest, no two alike. Gone is the old-time bunk, two-decked against the stateroom wall, to be replaced by twin beds covered in lavish silken brocades. Here, in very fact, is Babylon afloat.

But underneath all this lavish display lies a ship that is very much a ship, a ship of mammoth engines, of shining brass, of nine gigantic boilers, eight of which will thrust the Britain through the seas at a speed of twenty-four knots an hour, with a maximum output of 64,000 horsepower and a top speed as yet unknown, for these are the days of breaking in, despite her new honors as speed queen of the seas. Four screws, each driven by independent sets of turbines, provide the actual propelling force. Engine space has been divided into three compartments, each allocated to its separate power units and each a well-ordered, shining home of sufficient propelling urge to drive a vessel of the Duchess type across the ocean at top speed.

Forty-five engineers divide the watch duties. Their engine rooms are the abiding places of innumerable dials and indicators, each finely tuned to speak in terms of minute accuracy to those who understand the intricate language of machines, boilers and pressures. No longer is “the chief” the dour, hard-bitten, hard-cussing gentleman who stalks among his boilers wearing a chunk of oily waste in his grimy hand as badge of his trade. The new ship’s engineer, à la Britain, is a well-groomed technical executive, driving his ship through the seas from a business man’s desk, in constant

consultation with these dials and indicators whose name is legion on this gigantic liner.

A Triumph of Engineering

T AM in no case to develop a thesis on engines, turbines

or boilers, but even to an engine-unconscious ignoramus the idea of might and power is translated as he moves about the power-making spaces of such a ship, gazing through grated iron pathways to the mammoth screw-shafts beneath him and pondering the technical gadgets of the powermaker's trade. Consider, for example, the Johnson boiler, invention of a Canadian engineer, John Johnson, chief superintendent engineer of the Canadian Pacific Steamships. Placed side by side with one of the great Yarrow steam-manufacturing units—eight in number on the.Britain —it occupies one third the space, but is capable of generating one and a half times the amount of steam per square foot of heating surface, while registering the same efficiency as the great Yarrows, long considered the last word in steamdeveloping units. The Johnson boiler was constructed at Clydebank, and was installed in the Britain beside the eight Yarrow units for complete test in competition. In the estimation of those expert in the propelling of great ships, it is destined to revolutionize the business of driving monsters of the deep across the seven seas.

A ship, this Empress of Britain, my masters. Endless miles of electric wiring lie unseen within her walls, controlled by a switchboard that would make pop the eyes of any land engineer. Kitchens to rival those of any great hotel are hidden in her lower regions, hard by the mammoth refrigeration plant, possibly the greatest in the world, of its type, thanks to the fact that provender to feed almost 2,000 passengers and crew on long port-to-port journeys must be kept in perfect freshness.

Completely renewed air is trunked throughout the ship each seven and one half minutes—warmed or cooled as the season demands by thermo-tanks. Ship-to-shore telephones, radios to bring the programmes of two continents to the Atlantic traveller—nothing that makes for luxury has been forgotten; nothing that makes for comfort has been overlooked.

Safety devices abound. New type gravity davits enable her crew to lower boats to the water, far below, in greater security from crash than ever before in the history of the sea. Motor-propelled lifeboats and regulation ship’s boats in far greater number than the required government complement swing out from her sides. Gyro-compasses and every imaginable gadget devised by the brain of the nautical scientist provide new aids to safety in navigation at sea or inshore.

No description of the Britain can be detailed fully within the scope of a single article. All that is possible is to paint the canvas in broad strokes and hope that the result will carry the impression of her might and majesty. Gone, for example, are the squalor and meanness long associated in the public mind with the word steerage. On the Britain the third-class passenger and the tourist-third traveller live in comfort equal to the best to be found on many a vessel ploughing the seaways of the world. Full length mirrors, hot and cold running water in every room, electric heaters, steam heaters, wide corridors, a glassed-in deck for stormy

weather, even a gymnasium are among the comforts provided for the traveller in tourist. And whoever heard of barbers’ shops and children’s playrooms for the ordinary third-class traveller in the days when “third” meant “steerage” and the voyager dwelled deep in the ship’s lower regions amid the mingled aromas of hot engines and stale food? What a ship! She carries 1,195 passengers and provides thirty-six tons of ship to each ticket-holder. Seven hundred and fourteen officers and men are employed in the business of driving her through the seas. There you have something of the wedding of speed and magnificence called Empress of Britain, Canada’s winner of the Atlantic blue riband, regainer of that coveted mark for British shipping !

Speed Via The St. Lawrence

A ND what of it?” I have heard the Jeremiahs moan.

“All very pretty, but who’s going to ride in her?”

Let me enlighten you, for I have done my own quota of heavy wondering on this same score, late one evening after wandering through her first-class public rooms. Then I began to ask questions of the experts.

Has it ever occurred to you that the traveller who comes from the mid-western and far western sections of the United States has in the St. Lawrence seaway the readiest route by which to travel to and from Europe? Do you realize that passengers in theBritain can be landed at Quebec on Monday night, reach Montreal on Tuesday morning and be in Chicago on Wednesday morning, less than a week after departure from Southampton or Cherbourg? Did you know that the Britain, operating in competition with such a ship as the Bremen, makes it possible for mid-western and western passengers to reach their destinations in shorter time than by the German Lloyd greyhound? These are facts, facts unknown to the blues who are always ready and willing to take the negative in any debate.

The coming of the Britain creates a new class of traffic for the St. Lawrence route, the swiftly moving luxury trade. We have not been drawing that type of trade to our ships in the past. Rather we have attracted the voyager who was in no great hurry to reach his destination and the holidaymaker who desired to make his dollars spin out as far as they would go. Meanwhile the seeker after luxury and the man in a hurry caught the night train to New York and stowed his belongings in the Mauretania, the Bremen, the Majestic or the Europa. Henceforth you will discover that Canada is securing her share of that trade even from New York itself. In point of fact she is securing it today, as her passenger lists prove.

There is another point to consider, the question of the effect that the advent of such a vessel will have on St. Lawrence travel as a whole. Consider the publicity which has attended the arrival of the Britain, a tidal wave of type that has inundated North America, to say nothing of the combers that have broken over Europe. From the day when the Prince of Wales sprayed champagne across her bows until she warped into her berth at the close of her maiden voyage, the Britain's emergence from the shipyard cocoon was broadcast to the world at large as no ship news has been broadcast before. Transatlantic radio, redistributed to every comer of the United States and Canada; column after

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column in metropolitan dailies and countrytown weeklies kept the great public apprised of construction activity, launching, trials, and finally of her first voyage to these shores, Why? As a huge publicity stunt? Tell that to the British Broadcasting Company,

proprietors of the air in a land where to mention an advertiser to a microphone is classed among the cardinal sins. The Empress of Britain is news and she has been news since the day when her keel was laid, because she is something different in ships. Bring such a ship to the St. Lawrence and you transfer to the route much of the interest that has been pricked into life by the ship itself. Let me draw a parallel of sorts by pointing to the events which have turned Canada into a tourists’ playground in recent years. If you will hark back to the days immediately following the war you will recall that we had few great resorts. Except

in our large cities there was scarcely a hotel in the country justifying the name and style of de luxe. Yet today the largest and finest hotel in the Empire is located in the city of Toronto, owned by these same proprietors who had the courage to dream the Empress

of Britain and make their dream come true. Montreal boasts the second largest hotel under the British flag. Good roads run everywhere. Small cities have their Palace Hotels constructed to scale. Our mountains and our forests teem with visitors from other climes come to taste our northern outdoors, but insisting on comfort and luxury when the day’s play is over. The Empress of Britain has been built to do a similar job for Canada on the seas and to bring people to our shores to swell the mammoth turnover of the Dominion’s third greatest industry, our tourist trade. And that job, from a Canadian’s viewpoint, is

not only to bring passengers in her own staterooms but, through the medium of the reputation she will give us as a people who know how to do things to the king’s taste, to attract travellers who will journey up and down our river and gulf in the cabins of a hundred other ships. And the Britain already is doing that job.

It may be that you will find, here and there, a sorrowful person wagging his head the wrong way and bemoaning the fact that such a ship should come at such a time. But you will find no members of this sad platoon in the ancient and honorable city of Quebec. Quebec has taken the Britain to

her heart. She is Quebec's own ship and every Quebecker would have you know it.

That is how Canada at large ought to feel about this Empress; that she is the finest ship afloat, that she is peculiarly Canada’s ship and that her advent gives recognition

at last to the true greatness of this magnificent waterway of ours, in Lord Bessborough’s words “the greatest and most spectacular gateway in the world.”

As for myself I can find no better key to the value of such a ship to us as Canadians than the one provided by the young gentleman who one day will be our king. The Prince of Wales it was who, at the time of launching, travelled north to christen her as she left the ways. The Prince of Wales it was who followed every step of her construction with keen interest. The Prince of Wales it was who, on the eve of the Britain's maiden voyage to Canada, cancelled all appoint-

ments to fly to Southampton, tread her decks and, as she moved toward the Channel, hovered above her and dipped the nose of his plane in salute; a salute to courage, a salute to the challenger, a salute to man’s faith in the destiny of his own country