A Journey to the West Coast

On Friday April 17 1914, accounting clerk Harold Monks sailed from Liverpool to Halifax on the Canadian Pacific “Royal Mail Steamship” Empress of Ireland. He was about to begin an “All Red Route” to the West Coast — Canadian Pacific steamship, transcontinental railway, coastal steamship and E&N railway — all the way to his new home on the West Coast of Canada.


Harold Monks in 1914, at the time he sailed to Canada. Harold Monks collection.

We can get an idea of what Harold’s trip was like by looking at what other early 1900s travellers experienced. Edmund Hacking, later Harold’s “uncle-in-law”, wrote about his 1910 trip in a Blackburn, Lancashire newspaper. Helen Malon, Harold’s future West Coast neighbour, wrote a journal about her 1912 trip on the Tunisian. The Chung Collection at University of British Columbia has pamphlets and menus from Canadian Pacific steamships in the early 20th century.

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Empress of Ireland

Second cabin on the Empress of Ireland

Harold travelled second cabin (second class). According to promotional literature, second class on the Empress of Ireland had “comforts comparable to first class on many other ships.” The men had a smoking parlour, the ladies a music room. Yet, Helen Malon — who also travelled Second Cabin found her space “very uncomfortable being so crowded as there [was] nowhere to sit even the music room [was] taken up six hours a day with meals.” This comment shows how full the steamships were of prospective Canadian emigrants.

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Empress of Ireland Second Cabin Passenger List. Harold Monks collection.

“After having a fine night’s rest, I awoke about 7.30, then got up and dressed.” — Harold Monks, April 18 1914. Like other passengers, Harold was given a diary to complete, but only filled out the first day’s page, but it does give a nice insight into the first day of his adventure:


Soon it was time to eat — Meals on the Empress of Ireland Second Cabin were served in a dining room “equal to first class with a restrained decor.” The Second Cabin Dining Saloon of the “Empress” class ships was “a fine apartment, finished in mahogany and capable of seating 300 persons.” On Harold’s first morning at sea, he had breakfast at 8.30. Helen Malon wrote that her ship had meals in lots: “ours are at 8:30 breakfast, 1 lunch and 7:30 dinner. The other batch have theirs before us. I chose ours later as we did not care to breakfast at 4:30.”

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Harold Monks’ Empress of Ireland diary entry shows that he ate oatmeal porridge and roasted whiting for breakfast. Harold Monks collection.

For breakfast, Harold had “oatmeal porridge, then roasted whiting, afterwards coffee.” Porridge and fried fish seem standard fair for transatlantic journeys. Fried haddock was served at one breakfast on the Empress of Britain in 1909 and fried striped bass was served on the Missinabie in 1916. Other other breakfast food in menus included: egg and potato dishes, fresh rolls, toast, jam and marmalade, and oranges. Passengers who wanted grilled steaks had to wait an extra fifteen minutes. According to Edmund Hacking, who sailed the Teutonic, the food on his ship was “good.” Helen Malon was less complimentary about her ship’s food. “The food is not bad, though not very grand. The butter is rather nasty.”

After breakfast, Harold “felt rather queer for the ship was rolling a little.” He “got on the top deck and was alright. On deck several started playing quoits and skipping rope.” Helen Malon was less energetic but she “…took one or two constitutionals and rather enjoyed it…though very rough and cold it was invigorating.” However, ‘Mr. G’, another traveller on the Empress of Ireland in 1910, wrote that he “felt very shabby and could not walk enough to keep warm.”

The Empress of Ireland passenger booklet tells us that “deck chairs were provided free of charge for the use of passengers.” While sitting in deck chairs, passengers like Harold could read a daily magazine. It contained stories and poems about beautiful Canada. It also contained “marconigrams” — news from the associated press transmitted by wireless technology from the Marconi station in Cornwall — cutting edge technology allowed ship passengers to know the daily news though they were in the middle of the Atlantic. As a sign of the times, this marconigram mentions damage by the “suffragettes.” Another marconigram in Harold’s collection mentions growing tensions along the German – French border (remember, it was April 1914 and war was just a few months away).

April 18 1914  marconigram reported on suffragette problems in England. Harold Monks collection.


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Passengers on the Empress of Ireland could read a magazine. This one has a photo of a farm garden in Alberta and a poem by Kipling on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Harold Monks collection

Icebergs were still a threat — Helen Malon sat up on deck quite a bit – covered in rugs. One day she wrote: “We saw a huge iceberg quite close….We spent most of the afternoon staring at the iceberg through our glasses.” She travelled in June 1912 — two months after the Titanic sinking! Another 1912 passenger, Winnie Dixson of Tofino, recalled that when they started to pass icebergs all the sounds of the ship had to be shut off – no music etc – so not to disturb the ice.

Harold’s ship successfully navigated icebergs and arrived in Halifax on April 24 1914 at 7.30 am. Harold was inspected by customs and medical officers (Second Cabin inspection was from 7.40 – 11.15 am). This passenger lists for Empress of Ireland shows Harold Monks, 21, clerk, destined for Victoria BC.


Note —  the Empress Ireland may have successfully navigated icebergs, but it was soon to meet tragedy. The ship made a return journey to Liverpool and another successful crossing arriving in Quebec City on May 22 1914. A few days later, as she travelled up the St Lawrence River and she collided with another vessel. Over 1000 passengers drowned in the May 29 1914 sinking.

A train to the West Coast

Harold disembarked in Halifax and made his way to a Canadian Pacific Railway train to begin his journey west. He took a local train from Halifax to Montreal, then joined the “Imperial Limited” or “Vancouver Express”, the C.P.R.’s transcontinental railway trains. The Chung Collection at UBC has digitized an annotated time table of the Canadian Pacific Railway transcontinental trains from 1911. This is an excellent overview of the journey that Harold Monks, Ted Hacking and Helen Malon would have experienced.

The train journey may have been interesting for him, or just boring. Edmund Hacking wrote that “the worst part of the journey is the railway out across the Continent, as six days on the train would become most monotonous to most people.” However, the Rockies was an amazing sight for any British traveller who had only seen pictures before. On her first view of the Rockies, Helen Malon noted, “they look so beautiful, the highest peaks covered with snow…and as we got higher and higher the view became more grand and lovely.”

The gap where the Canadian Pacific Railway enters the Rockies from the Prairies, from the Empress of Ireland magazine of 1914. Harold Monks collection.

Over to Vancouver Island

After a long journey from England, Harold arrived at the C.P.R. station in Vancouver (today’s Waterfront Station). Harold may have stayed overnight and sight-seed in Vancouver. Helen Malon spent a few days in Vancouver in July 1912. Her diary notes: “Afternoon had a ride round Vancouver in an Observation Car. It is a big place.”

Harold’s trip to Vancouver Island would have been remarkable for a first time visitor from the “Old Country”. The boats sailed from Vancouver harbour out past Stanley Park (no Lions Gate Bridge at this time). For those sailing to Nanaimo, there were more dramatic views of the North Shore. In July 1912, Helen Malon remarked on her steamship journey out of Vancouver: “Lovely scenery, mountains beautiful.”

In May 1914, when Harold sailed, the Princess Adelaide, Princess Charlotte and Princess Alice made daily trips to Victoria. According to a 1911 annotated C.P.R. timetable, boats sailed at 8 am and 1 pm. “A splendid Canadian Pacific Railway Steamship connects with Victoria daily, a ferriage of about four hours through a beautiful archipelago.” (actually from the departure and arrival times, it looks like it was 5 hours!).

If Harold sailed to Nanaimo, he would have sailed on the “fast gulf flyer” Princess Patricia newly inaugurated in May 1914. The trip across took 2 hours — not much longer than today’s B.C. ferries!

Photo credit: The Daily Colonist May 1 1914


Photo credit: The Daily Colonist May 1 1914

Nanaimo was called “The Coal City” or “The Hub City”. It was the shipping port for the Dunsmuir mines. This is a description of Nanaimo from Henderson’s Island Gazetteer, 1914:

Description of Nanaimo in 1914 from Henderson’s Island Gazetteer

However, not all who visited were impressed — Archie Bell, the author of Sunset Canada (1918) called it “a somewhat uninteresting place, having the combined qualities of a mining town and a port.”

Port Alberni

If Harold took the shorter 2 hour boat trip to Nanaimo that left at 10 am, he would be able to easily connect with the early afternoon train leaving for Port Alberni. Just a few years before Harold travelled, there was only a road through the forest and mountains. An article in BC Saturday Sunset from 1910 says that the journey from Nanaimo to Port Alberni was $5 by horse and took 6 – 8 hours and $7 by auto and took 4 hours. The Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway extension to Port Alberni was being built at that time. Ted Abraham, who settled on Vargas Island in July 1911, recalled that he had taken a “stagecoach” from Parksville to Port Alberni. (The tracks went as far as Parksville at that time).


The first trains to Port Alberni went through in December 1911. This train schedule shows that trains left Wellington (north of Nanaimo) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 1.45pm and arrived in Port Alberni at 4.25pm.

This is a schedule from May 1914, when Harold Monks arrived on Vancouver Island. The Daily Colonist.

The train journey was long, but very picturesque! Here is a very good description of the train trip to Port Alberni from Helen Malon’s diary: “Monday July 15 1912 – Lounged round until 12 pm when we had lunch, then went to the train. We passed through lovely scenery, the time seemed short, one lake [Cameron Lake] especially was most beautiful set all around by high hills, rising almost sheer from the water. 1,000 feet or so. We gradually went up until we were high above the lake and could look down on it. Magnificent pine trees, so tall and straight. We arrived at Alberni Port about 5pm and we sat on the pier until dinner time.”

Port Alberni station from The Daily Colonist December 21 1911

The train station in Port Alberni was right near the wharf. However, passengers like Helen Malon and Harold Monks would have had to wait several hours until the Princess Maquinna arrived, late at night. Fortunately, there were several hotels (with restaurants and bars) nearby!

The wharf at Port Alberni, The Daily Colonist December 21 1911

Up the West Coast by steamship

The last part of a journey to the West Coast was by steamship (and in fact the only way to get to the coast until the late 1950s). Harold sailed on the Princess Maquinna, a new “modern” steamship built in Esquimalt, that made her maiden voyage in 1913. A notice in The Daily Colonist in July 1913 shows that she was to sail to Clayoquot on the 1st and the 15th of every month. In May 1914, when Harold arrived on Vancouver Island, the Maquinna left Victoria about 11pm and arrived in Port Alberni on Thursday evening.

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Princess Maquinna, photograph by Harold Monks

This schedule from August 1917 shows the many stops that the Maquinna made on its trip up the coast.

Detail from British Columbia Coast Steamship Sailings, August 1917. UBC Open Collections, Wallace Chung collection.

A couple of years earlier, Helen Malon 1912 ‘s journey from Port Alberni was on the Tees, notorious for being unstable. Helen Malon’s diary provides a good description of the trip up the coast in July 1912: “The boat left at 11.30 but we were in our bunks before that and managed to sleep. Pierre not well and was sick just before we started and again in the night. Lovely views of the coast all the way, grand mountains. Arrived Clayoquot about 3 pm.”

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Steamship Tees at dock in Clayoquot Sound 1914-1917, photograph by Harold Monks.

So, after a long trip from Liverpool to Halifax to Vancouver to Vancouver Island, Harold finally arrived in Clayoquot Sound on a Friday afternoon. He stood on the dock with his travelling trunk — still in the family today — and waited for the relatives on Vargas Island to pick him up in their canoe.