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Three Canadian Sisters

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

By John Martin

Except they were not Canadian. These Empress ships of the Canadian Pacific Line were British flagged and mainly manned by British Crew. Nor did they sail in the Pacific. They served the trans-Atlantic route from Liverpool to Montreal via ‘The Tail of the Bank’ off Greenock, where joining passengers were tendered out to the ships, and at Quebec.

The 1960s built ‘EMPRESS OF CANADA’, which replaced her previous namesake that caught fire and capsized in Gladstone dock in January 1953, joined her sisters, 1956 built ‘EMPRESS OF BRITAIN’ and 1957 built ‘EMPRESS OF ENGLAND’. The only noticeable difference to her running mates was the design of her funnel.

Between 1961 and 1963 the three joined Cunard’s ‘SYLVANIA’ and ‘CARINTHIA’ on the Montreal service from Liverpool terminating at St. John, New Brunswick, during the winter months when the St. Lawrence froze over and when an Empress would undertake some Caribbean cruises from New York and another a trans-Atlantic and Mediterranean cruise.

The history of Canadian Pacific Steamship Co. originated when the Canadian Pacific Railway negotiated with the UK government to establish trans-Pacific steamship routes between Vancouver and the Far East in 1880. In 1891 CPSC started operating in and out of Liverpool, providing a service for the expansion of people emigrating from Europe to North America. Passengers could also travel from England to Eastern Canada, travel across by railway to Vancouver, and on to Asian destinations. The trans-Pacific service finished in 1941 and did not restart post-WW2.

The ‘EMPRESS OF BRITAIN’ was the first of the sisters to leave the service in 1963, once it was realized that only four ships were required to maintain it, especially as trans-Atlantic airline services were expanding in the age of jet propulsion. Initially,of she cruised out the UK and then was chartered for five years to a South African start-up cruise line which only lasted for one year when the company ceased trading when the project was not the success it had hoped.

The ‘EMPRESS OF BRITAIN’ behind the ‘EMPRESS OF CANADA’ at the Tail of the Bank in the Clyde being piped ‘Will Ye No Come Back Again’

Greek Lines ‘QUEEN ANNA MARIA’ ex ‘EMPRESS OF BRITAIN’ leaving New York when she ran three night ‘cruises to nowhere’ in 1967 which were slotted between Atlantic crossings. After struggling to remain viable with increasing costs and after the oil price hike in 1973 the Greek Line issued a statement in January 1975 that it was impossible to maintain its cruise programme. She was laid up in New York when the creditors planned to seize her. Her crew got wind of it and she escaped back to Piraeus and was laid up.

The ‘EMPRESS OF ENGLAND’ continued on the Liverpool Montreal service with the ‘EMPRESS OF CANADA’, combined with cruising during the winter season to the Caribbean and Mediterranean.

But a year after obtaining the new CP corporate logo on her funnel she was put on the market at the beginning of 1970 and ‘snapped up’ by Shaw Saville for $5 million and renamed ‘OCEAN MONARCH’ to join ‘SOUTHERN CROSS’ and ‘NORTHERN STAR’ on their popular round the world service with cruises out of Sydney.

Empress of England sold to Shaw Saville's and Renamed Ocean Monach

Unfortunately, crew unrest dogged the ‘OCEAN MONARCH’ and In January 1973 half the crew walked off the ship in Sydney and a replacement crew was flown out. In 1974 there were persistent boiler problems requiring a lot of costly and time-consuming work to put right. Once back in Southampton in June 1975 she was taken out of service and sent to the breakers in Taiwan.

In 1971 the Director of the Port of Liverpool said the end of passenger trade in the port was inevitable as Princes Landing Stage would require $3 million to bring it up to an acceptable standard to accept large passenger ships. Categorical assurances that ‘EMPRESS OF CANADA’ was not going to be sold along with the ‘EMPRESS OF ENGLAND’ but unfortunately she was plagued by unrest by her British crews. One day out Liverpool in August 1971 she suffered a boiler blowback which caused a fire in the engine room with passengers having to be brought to emergency stations. The crew brought the fire under control in ten minutes. Without any advance warning, Canadian Pacific Steamship Co. announced in early November that she was to undertake one last voyage before coming out of service. She left Montreal 17th. November 1971 for the last time which was the end of the passenger service to that city. The Cunarders had been withdrawn from the trans-Atlantic service in 1967.

‘EMPRESS OF CANADA’ was quickly sold to Ted Arison, an Israeli businessman who had co-founded Norwegian Cruise Lines but left to start Carnival Cruises. Renamed ‘MARDI GRAS’ she became the pioneer ship of the Carnival Cruise Lines fleet. The NUS, tug crews and lock-gate men ‘blacked’ the ship which delayed her sailing from Tilbury by 12 days. Sam McCluskie the NUS organiser said, “we are picketing this ship to combat the growing menace of crews of convenience. Their low pay undermines the hard-won wages and conditions which the NUS had fought for”. It seems he failed to recognise that those conditions that he had fought for were partly responsible for the early demise of ships flying the ‘Red Duster’.

The fledgling Carnival Cruise was never far away from bankruptcy and ‘MARDI GRAS’’, fully laden, grounded on her first sailing out of Miami. She was the largest ship sailing out of the port at that time. Passengers had to be evacuated while the ship was investigated for damage. The cruise continued and she became very popular and was rated as ‘The Number One 7-Day Cruise Ship Sailing the Caribbean’ by the US Travel Trade. She became known – and was marketed as ‘The Fun Ship’.

By 1975 Ted Arison was looking for a running mate to build on this popularity. Fortuitously, her sister, the ‘QUEEN ANNA MARIA’ ex ‘EMPRESS OF BRITAIN’ was available, having been recently laid up in Piraeus. With the Greek Line in receivership, the Chase Manhattan Bank who held the mortgage, were keen to get her off the books and made her available at a cheap price. Sitmar Cruises were interested but Ted Arison managed to buy her for $3 million. She was renamed ‘CARNIVALE’.

She came into service after refit in February, sailing in company with her younger sister ‘MARDI GRAS’ ex ‘EMPRESS OF CANADA’

They remained Carnival Cruise Line ships until 1993 by which time Ted Arison had built up a fleet of ten ships. In 1990 the sisters both sailed out of Port Canaveral on cruises to the Bahamas sailing on an identical schedule and never out of sight of each other. ‘MARDI GRAS’ had given Carnival 22 years’ service and ‘CARNIVALE’ 18.



In 1993 she was chartered to Galveston based Gold Star Cruises which offered 10 short cruises a week to nowhere as a ‘casino ship’. Renamed ‘THE STAR OF TEXAS’. It was not a successful venture and in just over a year was back in Miami renamed ‘LUCKY STAR’ offering a similar style of cruises. The whole operation was closed down at the end of 1994 and she was laid up briefly in the Bahamas.

She sailed to Piraeus in May 1995 after being bought by Royal Olympic and given another name change – ‘APOLLON’.

In 1997 after a reputed $20 million refit she took on a 5 year bareboat charter with Direct Cruises, a subsidiary of Direct Holidays, for a market mainly aimed at the north of England and Scotland with sailings from Liverpool, Greenock (her original stomping grounds) and Newcastle.

In July 1999 Direct Holidays was sold to Airtours and ‘APOLLON’s charter was to come to an end. The 2000 cruise schedule was canceled.

After a further period of lay-up, Royal Olympic started running short cruises to the Greek Islands from May 2001 and then chartered her as an accommodation ship in July for delegates for the G8 conference being held in Genoa. In February 2002 Royal Olympic claimed she was in need of another refurbishment and, again, laid-up. Royal Olympic took advantage of higher prices for scrap metal in September 2003 and she sailed for Alang, India where she arrived at the beginning of December that year. A disappointing ending to a career that started full of promise. But she did give service for over 40 years. A good life for most of the ships of her era. Especially for a steamship.


Carnival set up a subsidiary based on San Juan in 1993 and marketed her as Fiesta Marina Cruises and giving her the name of this new venture. It was not a success. She came back to Miami. In September 1994 Fiesta Marina Cruises was wound up and ‘FIESTA MARINA’ was laid up.

But not for long. She was quickly purchased by the Greek Epirotiki Lines and renamed ‘OLYMPIC’ based in Piraeus operating three and four-day cruises in the Aegean. Such was the success of this venture that there was talk of her sister ‘MARDI GRAS’ joining her. However, at the end of the 1997 cruising season, Epirotiki Lines announced they had sold her to another Greek venture, Kyma Ship Management who renamed her ‘TOPAZ’ and spent $20 million on a refit at the Eleusis shipyards. With the installation of more cabins on the forward upper deck, which gave her an increased passenger capacity, a buffet-style restaurant on the aft verandah deck – above the show lounge, and other interior revisions ‘TOPAZ’ obtained a five-year bare boat charter with Thomson’s holiday company and joined two other cruise ships that Thomson’s marketed.

‘TOPAZ’ was based on Palma during the summer season and spent her winter months in the Caribbean. She became ‘the darling of the Thomson ships’ with Salzburg’s Maritime Hotel Management providing the hotel and entertainment aspect of the ship which offered an ‘all inclusive’ package, open seating, and her cinema transformed into a dinner theatre to which all guests had an invitation on one of the nights of the cruise. All innovative at that time.

Four years into the charter Thomson became TUI and ‘TOPAZ’

got another funnel design.

When TUI’s charter ended in May 2003 Kyma Ship Management obtained a five-year charter with the Japanese Peace Boat organization undertaking educational round-the-world cruises.

In the spring of 2008 came the news that the Peaceboat organization would not be renewing the charter and ‘TOPAZ’ was sold for scrap, arriving at Alang, India 4th. July 2008. Almost 52 years to the day from when she sailed her maiden voyage. One wonders if anyone thought she would reach such a venerable age when Queen Elizabeth launched her on 22nd. June 1955.


Although the ‘EMPRESS OF ENGLAND’ only had a 16-year life span, both the ‘EMPRESS OF BRITAIN’ and ‘EMPRESS of CANADA’ will be part of cruise line history, having been the basis of the most successful cruise line company of the cruising industry. Ted Arison’s son Micky joined his father during his tenure, firstly as Carnival Cruises CEO from 1979 and then developing the Carnival Cruise Corporation from 1990 as they became major shareholders of Windstar Cruises and Holland America Line and then Carnival plc from 2003. Carnival now have within their portfolio Holland America Line, Cunard, Costa, P&O Cruises, Princess, Aida, P&O Australia, and Seabourn as well as Carnival’s own brand of 25 ships operating 2 to 31-dae voyages operating out of every US coast.

It was foresight of Canadian Pacific Steamship Company when designing these three sisters that they would undertake cruising duties and were the first ships built in Britain to be fully air-conditioned and the distinction between first and tourist classes was negligible with tourist class public rooms and some of the cabins considered to be of first class standard. That is why they were attractive to ship owners who wanted to move into the cruise line business.


Thanks to John Martin for this contribution.

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