Over 100 years of shipping history

CSL's humble beginnings can be traced back to 1845 and a paddle steamer on the Richelieu River. But it was the 1913 merger of 11 inland shipping companies that formed the beginnings of CSL as we know it today. It can be said that this historic merger changed the Canadian shipping landscape forever.


Today, CSL manages the world’s largest fleet of self-unloading vessels and owns and operates a highly diversified fleet of bulk carriers and off-shore transhippers.

Take a trip through time and discover more than 100 years of CSL's history. 

  • Set Sail

    Set Sail

    Onlookers greet the Quebec, a 1950s passenger ship in the Great White Fleet, that transported tourists to CSL hotels downriver from Montreal.

  • Pre-1913

    La Compagnie du Richelieu

     


    In 1845, Jacques Sincennes creates La Compagnie du Richelieu, consisting of one paddle steamer and a towed barge to help farmers get their goods up the Richelieu River and along the St. Lawrence River to market in Montreal. The Richelieu River links Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River. Sincennes’ company evolves into the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company, the foundation of what would eventually become Canada Steamship Lines.


    Inland shipping ventures such as Sincennes’ grow and multiply over the next 68 years in a very fragmented way, with each serving a particular route and little overlap or coordination of services.


    Image caption


    The Chippewa, launched in 1893.

  • 1913

    CSL INCORPORATES
     

    Extraordinary population growth in Canada and the country’s expansion westward lead to a need for a more coordinated, national approach to moving people and goods. In response, a young, relatively inexperienced Canadian, Grant Morden and his associate, James Playfair spearhead the merger of 11 shipping companies to create Canada Steamship Lines on June 17st, 1913.

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    Official copy of the letters patent which incorporated Canada Transportation Lines (later renamed Canada Steamship Lines) on June 17th, 1913.

  • 1914-18

    CSL's ships in the Great War
     

    A number of CSL’s 81 ships leave Canadian waters to head overseas – for the first time – during World War I. The vessels are used to transport grain, soldiers, munitions, and other cargo. Twelve CSL ships are lost, along with many lives, in wartime service.

     

     

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    The Dundee was sunk by U 55 off the north shore of Cornwall, England on January 31st, 1917.

  • 1918-22

    WILLIAM COVERDALE TAKES OVER A STRUGGLING CSL
     

    Growing debt, unpaid dividends, plunging grain prices and overvalued ships threaten to put CSL out of business.

    Renowned corporate troubleshooter and Canadian ex-patriot William Coverdale is appointed by New York underwriters to temporarily take over CSL.

    A principal of a New York firm of consulting engineers and specializing in saving foundering railway and shipping companies, Coverdale becomes President in 1922 and stays 27 years.

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    The grain trade was a major source of income for CSL. It was carried from the Western tip of Lake Superior to Montreal by ships and trains.

  • 1920's

    CSL INTRODUCES ITS "CITY" SHIPS
     

    In the mid 1920s CSL builds five “City” boats to carry package freight more efficiently. In 1924, as part of the Century Coal Company owned by CSL, the Collier, joins CSL to efficiently move bulk cargos without depending on dock cranes.

    Two new types of ships appear during the late twenties: self-unloaders in several guises – the Coalhaven, Collier and Glenelf – and a motor ship – the Grainmotor. While the Coalhaven is not the first CSL self-unloader, it the first recognizable prototype of all later self-unloaders CSL would eventually develop and own. After the "Collier" the Coalhaven represents a turn in the right direction for the technology.

     

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    The City of Hamilton was launched in 1927 and served CSL until 1961.

  • 1920-30

    THE PASSENGER FLEET'S HEYDAY
     

    CSL’s passenger business reaches a peak, with travelers from around the world flocking to Canada to enjoy its scenery, elegant cruise ships and grand, turn-of-the-century hotels, such as the Manoir Richelieu and the Hotel Tadoussac.

    Given the lack of passenger airplanes in this era, river cruises are an enjoyable way to travel.

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    The Cape Diamond sits alongside CSL's dock in Quebec City.

  • 1927

    CSL PROSPERS UNDER COVERDALE
     

    Coverdale puts CSL back in the black by reorganizing the company and buying and selling assets. He tells employees : 

     “Today, Canada Steamship Lines and its employees make no apologies, old methods have given place to new; we can look the whole world in the face gratified with what we have done to date, hopeful and confident of what we shall do in the future.

     

    Image caption

    William H. Coverdale (1871-1949). © BAnQ

  • 1928

    THE MANOiR RICHELIEU: A TOTAL LOSS BY FIRE
     

    Coverdale responds quickly by building a new hotel in mid-winter. On June 15th, 1929, Manoir Richelieu opened its doors to the public.

    Jobs were saved and a fleet of ships dedicated to delivering guests to the hotel stayed in operation.

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    The new Manoir Richelieu, built after the original building was destroyed by fire in 1928.

     

  • 1929

    The Great Depression
     

    The Great Depression hits and CSL is not exempt.

    In 1932, CSL still has the largest fleet on the Great Lakes, but many of the ships are laid up.

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    The Donald Stewart is the only vessel that CSL launched during the Depression.

  • 1939-45

    CSL SHIPS SUPPORT THE ALLIES
     

    During the Quebec Conference, a highly secret military meeting is held in Quebec City between the British, Canadian and United States governments. CSL’s SS Tadoussac transports all attending senior officers, including Britain’s Lord Louis Mountbatten and U.S. Gen. George Marshall.

    World War II ends with CSL back in the black. The company has lost five Lakes ships to enemy action: the Magog, the Waterloo, the Lennox, the Donal Stewart and the Norfolk. The end of the war also ushers in a quicker pace to life, all but ending the era of leisurely river cruises. With better highways and more affordable cars, people can travel from place to place faster than ever before. After the war, responding to massive industrialization and the growth of the steel industry and related need to transport iron ore, Sir James Dunn, owner of Algoma Steel, buys control of CSL to assure supplies.

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    Donald Stewart is one of five CSL ships lost during World War II.

  • 1947

    CSL PURCHASES FIVE SHIPYARDS IN ONTARIO AND QUEBEC
     

    CSL adds to the shipyard interests it has maintained since the 1920s with the acquisition of four Ontario shipyards located in Port Arthur, Midland, Collingwood and Kingston. The Davie Shipyard in Quebec City already features among CSL’s shipyard assets.

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    CSL bought Port Arthur Shipyards in 1947.

  • 1949

    LOSS OF THE NORONIC
     

    The tragic loss of the celebrated passenger ship Noronic leads CSL to place an emphasis on bulk trades.

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    The Noronic was built in 1913 and was one of the ships CSL acquired when it merged with Northern Navigation Company.

  • 1950's

    THE ST. LAWRENCE SEAWAY OPENS
     

    This era sees great advances in ship design and building, and the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a joint Canadian-U.S. effort and the world’s largest seaway since the building of the Panama Canal. This new network of locks and canals sets the stage for CSL’s re-entry into ocean shipping, allowing ocean-going ships to sail unhindered from Thunder Bay to the Atlantic and beyond. CSL’s SS Simcoe is the first ship to pass through the canals of the Seaway.

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    CSL's Simcoe was the first ship to pass through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

  • 1951-66

    CSL HIRES T.R. MCLAGAN TO RUN THE COMPANY
     

    A new head of CSL, Roger McLagan, revamps the company, introducing professional, centralized management, and hires naval architect Richard Lowery, who becomes famous for his innovations in naval efficiency. Lowery is also a key player in negotiating with the government to create tax incentives for shipbuilding. This allows companies with large taxable income to invest in new ships as a tax write-off. This tax incentive endures until the late 1960s.

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    T.R. McLagan stands alongside his namesake.

  • 1965

    FOCUS ON CARGO SHIPPING
     

    CSL winds up its celebrated passenger service to focus on the more lucrative cargo transport business. The company is among the last owners of passenger steamers in North America’s inland waters.

    Image caption

    The Rimouski, launched in 1965

  • 1975

    POWER CORPORATION TAKES CONTROL OF CSL
     

    Power Corp. becomes full owner of CSL, the first time CSL is privately owned since 1875 when its precursor company was merged.

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    The Louis R. Desmarais is one of two ships that were built while Power Corp. controlled CSL. It was launched in 1977.

     

  • 1981

    PAUL MARTIN AND LAURENCE PATHY PURCHASE CSL
     

    CSL President and future Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin and his friend Laurence Pathy, purchase CSL.

    Martin has a global vision for CSL, which involves expanding the company beyond the Great Lakes into ocean shipping.  

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    Paul Martin leads CSL from 1981 until 1991.

  • 1980-84

    CSL GOES GLOBAL
     

    Martin has a global vision for CSL, which involves expanding the company beyond the Great Lakes into ocean shipping. A leader in self-unloader technology, CSL understands the capability of these vessels to eliminate the need for conventional dock infrastructure, a clear economic advantage, especially in developing countries.

    CSL starts building ocean-going Handy class ships and goes international. Its first international customers are National Gypsum and Portline of Lisbon.

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    The CSL Cabo unloads gypsum into a barge alongside.

  • 1986-90

    CSL FOCUSES ON ITS SHIPPING INTERESTS
     

    CSL disposes of its interests in its trucking business and merges its shipyard interests.

    CSL also sells its inter-city bus operation in the province of Quebec.

    Image caption

    The Voyageur-Colonial bus lines were owned by CSL.

     

  • 1988

    PAUL MARTIN, SOLE OWNER OF CSL
     

    In 1988, Paul Martin becomes the sole owner of CSL. The company’s legacy bus, shipyard and real estate interests are transferred to a new entity equally-owned by the Martin and Pathy families.

    Image caption

    Paul Martin.

  • 1989

    CSL ADDS ITS FIRST PANAMAX SHIP TO ITS FLEET
     

    The CSL Innovator is CSL’s first Panamax self-unloading ocean-going vessel – a ship originally named Pacific Peace that is converted in Brazil. The CSL Innovator is followed by a newbuild Panamax, the CSL Atlas.

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    The CSL Innovator is the first of many Panamax ships owned by CSL.

  • 1991-94

    CSL IS REORGANIZED
     

    The shipping industry feels the effects of the recession of the early 1990s. Owner Paul Martin, now an Opposition Member of Parliament, asks Tony Chesterman to become the Chairman of the CSL Board and develop a plan to stabilize the company during these difficult economic times. Tony Chesterman cuts costs, arranges mergers and pools and sells assets – including the bulker business – and completely revamps the corporate culture, from a top-down management style to a team approach. All this is done in less than two years. CSL eventually returns to the bulker business in 2002.

     

     

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    Tony Chesterman (seated) and Sam Hayes, who became president and CEO of CSL in 1995.

     

  • 1992

    FOUNDATION OF CSL AMERICAS
     

    CSL decides to focus its non-Canadian flag business through a separate office based in Beverly, Massachusetts. Rod Jones becomes the first President of CSL International, today known as CSL Americas. Initially servicing the East Coast of the United States and Canada, the division would eventually expand to operate throughout the Americas.

     

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    Transhipper CSL Metis, CSL Americas fleet. Built in 1981, rebuilt with new forebody in 2007.

  • 1993

    PARTNERSHIP WITH EGON OLDENDORFF
     

    CSL launches a shipping pool with German operator Egon Oldendorff to maximize customer service. CSL sells the CSL Innovator to Oldenforff who operates the vessel as part of the CSL-managed pool.

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    The transhipper Harmen Oldendorff is part of the CSL Americas managed pool.

     

  • 1994

    Foundation of CSL Asia
     

    CSL opens an office in Singapore to promote self-unloader and transhipment trades in Southeast Asia. This office is known as CSL Asia.

    Image caption

    CSL Asia's FOTP Derawan operating in Indonesia.

  • 1995

    CHANGING OF THE GUARD
     

    Tony Chesterman retires as CEO. He is succeeded by Sam Hayes, another key player in the recovery. Mr. Hayes is President of CSL until his retirement in 2008 when he is replaced by Rod Jones.

  • 1996

    EXPANDING THE CSL INTERNATIONAL POOL
     

    CSL and Egon Oldendorff order four newbuild self-unloading Panamax vessels from Jiangnan Shipyard in China. These new vessels significantly solidify the ability of the CSL International Pool to serve its customer base.

  • 1996-97

    NEW PARTNERSHIPS
     

    CSL forms a joint venture with two Indonesian partners to service Java Power, a coal-fired power station in Indonesia. Three geared bulk ships are built in Japan to serve this operation. This business venture is sold in 2008.

  • 1999

    A YEAR OF FIRSTS
     

    CSL purchases two vessels from Australian National Lines’ (ANL) bulk division – the CSL Pacific and the Stadacona. CSL Australia is created to service bulk cabotage trades within Australia.

    Today, CSL Australia operates 12 vessels and is the largest bulk operator in Australian trades.

     

    CSL purchases 50% of Marbulk, which was servicing a fleet of self-unloaders in the Americas, and grows the CSL International Pool. Marbulk joins the CSL International Pool and becomes a partner with CSL and Oldendorff.

    CSL invests heavily in a renewal program of its aging Lakes fleet. Three new forebodies are constructed and joined to aft ends of existing ships – a CSL innovation. Today, Canada Steamship Lines proudly operates the CSL Niagara, the CSL Assiniboine, the CSL Laurentien and the Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin – all Laker forebodies.

    CSL orders the SST Berau for its Indonesian operations, the company’s first purpose-built transhipper. The SST Berau is followed by the introduction of the FOTP Derawan in 2008. Today, CSL remains at the forefront of belt transhipment technology.

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    • The CSL Niagara was originally called the J. W. McGiffin. In 1999, a new forebody (front-end) was attached to the middle and aft-end of the J. W. McGiffin and the CSL Niagara was born.

  • 2003

    MORE GROWTH ON THE HORIZON
     

    Norwegian shipping operator Klaveness enters its self-unloaders into the CSL International Pool. Paul Martin transfers his interests in CSL to his three sons – Paul Jr., David and James.

  • 2004

    CSL BUILDS NEW OCEAN-GOING FOREBODIES
     

    Having successfully developed the forebodies for its Laker fleet, CSL builds three new ocean-going forebodies in China and audaciously joins them to aft-ends of tanker vessels. The CSL Acadian becomes the first Panamax forebody of the CSL Americas fleet followed by the CSL Argosy and CSL Metis.

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    CSL Argosy on sea trials.

  • 2008

    CSL AUSTRALIA'S FLEET GROWS
     

    CSL Australia concludes a long-term agreement with Arrium (formerly One Steel) for the transhipment of iron ore in Whyalla, Australia. To service this important customer, CSL orders two gravity transhipment shuttle vessels, the Barngarla and the Middleback, and the Spencer Gulf transhipment platform.

     

     

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    The Spencer Gulf transhipment platform, operating in Australia.

  • 2010

    THE BIRTH OF TRILLIUM CLASS VESSELS
     

    CSL makes a major investment in its fleet renewal program with the order of seven newbuild self-unloaders – four Lakers and three Panamax vessels. The decision is a reflection of CSL’s corporate commitments to environmental sustainability and continually improving its service to customers.

     

    CSL engages Naval Architect Gary Cooke and Deltamarin to design leading-edge vessels that will set new standards in operational and environmental performance, energy efficiency and reliability. Chengxi Shipyard of Jiangyin, China, is selected to build the new class of vessels that will be known as the Trillium Class.

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    Steel Cutting Ceremony in Chengxi Shipyard of Jiangyin, China.

  • 2011

    THE FOUNDATION OF CSL EUROPE
     

    CSL acquires the belted self-unloader business of Norwegian shipper Jebsens’ to service existing European customers and to expand its world-wide network. CSL creates a new subsidiary, CSL Europe, to manage the business and establishes offices in the UK and Norway.

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    The CSL Elbe operating in Northern Europe.

  • 2012

    CSL INTRODUCES THE TRILLIUM CLASS
     

    CSL welcomes the arrival of its first new Trillium Class vessels – the Baie St. Paul, a self-unloading Laker operating in the Great Lakes-St-Lawrence Seaway, and the Rt. Hon. Paul E. Martin, a self-unloading Panamax vessel. The Baie St. Paul, the first new self-unloading laker to be introduced into the Lakes since 1985, receives the International Bulk Journal’s 2012 Bulk Ship of the Year Award and is selected by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects as a Significant Ship of 2012.

    Moreover Canada Steamship Lines and its Trillium Class ships are honoured by the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council with the prestigious 2012 St. Lawrence Award. CSL converts the CSL Sams, a self-unloader, into a gravity transhipment shuttle vessel to serve Arrium’s iron ore operation in Whyalla, Australia. The vessel is renamed the CSL Whyalla . CSL orders two new gearless bulk vessels to serve the Great Lakes market. The two vessels are under construction at the Yangfan Shipyard in Zhejiang Province, China, and will enter service in the spring of 2014.

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    Rt. Hon. Paul E. Martin arriving in Port Sechelt, British Columbia.

     

  • 2013

    CSL BREAKS INTO THE AFRICAN MARKET
     

    The CSL Atlas begins operations in Buchanan, Liberia, transporting and transhipping iron ore for ArcelorMittal.

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    The self-unloader CSL Atlas operating in Liberia.

The role of CSL Ships during the first world war

It was a century ago that “The War To End All Wars” erupted in Europe. It was not long before Canada was called to assist on the battlefields and on the sea. Ships were needed faster than they could be built so the call went out to acquire existing tonnage to carry vital supplies, equipment and soldiers.

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