Allan Line Royal Mail  c.1910;To and From Canada;James S. Mann;40”x25”;A-,P

Before aviation hit its stride, but after sailing ships were retired, steamships (designed with great care) were the main link between Europe and North America. In this blog we’ll narrow the subject even further: ships carrying passengers to Canada from Britain, in the decades just before World War II–considered in view of the drama of their history and designs.

The Allan Line had been transporting passengers and products (prominently including mail) from Britain to Montreal since about 1820; but here we have a coal powered behemoth (18,000 tons) leaving Liverpool in the years directly before the company was taken over by Canadian Pacific Steamships in 1917. The design, especially as shown in the profile at the top of the poster, was eager to portray a sleek configuration with cosmopolitan black and red color statements. The design also juxtaposes the ship with lesser vehicles to imply that Allan was the smart line to deal with. The jaunty lettering for the letter C in the word Canada would evoke a going concern. (The data at the bottom indicates that the company was about emigration as much as shipping and round trips.)   




 Royal Line—Ocean  c.1920;Fastest to Canada;Odin Rosenvinge;40” x 24¼

All by itself in splendid isolation, the rather warm-water-looking craft gives us a bemusing and satisfying design, bolstered by its history (the graphics on tap today linking to real-life action in such a way as to engage historians as well as design-mavens).

The Royal Line began–believe it or not!–in Manitoba! There the Winnipeg-based railway company, Canadian Northern Railway, decided, in 1910, to take the plunge into the trans-Atlantic shipping business, under the name, Northern Steamship Company. The Royal Edward was one of 2 ships the company acquired from a steamship company centred upon Egypt. (The Royal Edward name replaced the name Cairo.) It would operate between Avonmouth and Montreal in warm months; and between Avonmouth and Halifax in cold months. Commandeered as a troop ship at the outset of World War I, in 1915 it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and went to the bottom of the ocean.




 Royal Line—Prairie c.1920 Fastest to Canada ;Odin Rosenvinge;39 ½”x 24 ½”

Here it is again, this time as part of a vignette where it functions as a fond dream of a former passenger. The juxtaposition between the High Seas and the Prairies resonates the charm and spunk of early mass mobility. “Fastest to Canada”–and there she is, as if in a flash!




 White Star Line  c.1920;Canada’s Call to Women;W.T. N.;39 ½” x 24 ½”

This vivaciously designed and charmingly modelled vintage poster enticement to follow a dream (and, its being a dream, we can excuse the garbled geography) offers a glimpse of one of the factors which early modern women had in view. Here it is all about the customer’s situation, the transport not even in sight.

The White Star Line was a major shipping company, founded in 1845 to develop travel to Australia. In the late nineteenth century the company concentrated much of its efforts on the emigration trade, providing much inexpensive space in the third class area, while first and second class areas would represent a smaller proportion of the ship’s capacity. Its most famous moment, unfortunately, was the ill-fated RMS Titanic.




White Star Line   c. 1925;Jump To It Canada;T.H. Warren;40” x 25”;A-, L

Another take on the priority of the passenger in early steamship  graphic art. Here the young man takes a plunge into the unknown in the spirit of a joyous, strangely risky adventure.




Canadian Pacific  to Canada and USA  c.1933;Kenneth Shoesmith;40” x 25”

By way of contrast (and continuity), we have the luxury liner, Empress of Britain, plying the sea lanes between Britain and Canada for the sake of the lucky few in a Depression era. This glorious design by Kenneth Shoesmith has been inspired by the designing extravagance of the original entity.

Like the Royal Edward, the Empress of Britain was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, this time in 1940, during World War II. At 42,000 tons, she was the largest liner lost during the Second World War and the largest ship to be sunk by a U-boat.

Vintage steamship graphics carry a rich cargo of sensibility, as fresh and powerful now as ever.



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