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CANADA, SUMMER 2006
Part One:
Montreal & Quebec - the Nindawayma, Cavalier Maxim & the Lévis ferries
Text and all pictures © matt@hhvferry.com except where stated
Canada is big. To those of us residing on a particular little island just over the sea from mainland Europe, it is unimaginably huge. A five hour flight out of London Stansted would take you out of Europe altogether, in fact further south than the Canary Islands or into Morocco. In Canada, that’s the kind of timeframe that lets you jet between Montreal in the East and Vancouver in the West. On the road, and putting the foot down, I can do Yorkshire to Dover in less than five hours with good traffic and I consider it a long drive. Travelling in Canada, that would enable you to trickle very slightly between two small pinpricks a couple of millimetres apart on the national map. A country this big inevitably requires a vast transport network to knit it all together. Trains never seem to have caught on much, and it is air travel which is the only practical option to move any significant distances. On a more local basis, the car is king, usually seemingly station wagons or larger.

In most countries, where cars and coastlines meet you will inevitably come across ferries and, somewhat inevitably, this was what we were searching for in Canada. Journey lengths are not in all cases as lengthy as Canada is big, but that said one can only point to the rather incredible case of the little
Queen of Chilliwack of BC Ferries. Built as the Bastø I for the 30-minute hop from Moss to Horten in Norway, she now runs in Summer on the Discovery Coast passage where, on occasion, the crossings can take nearly 19 hours. Fun indeed.

We, that is myself, Bruce Peter and Richard Seville, started however in Montreal. Montreal’s active ferry scene is somewhat limited: there are calls once a week in Summer by the
C.T.M.A. Vacancier but this is technically a cruise operation that takes cars; it does have a couple of ro-ro berths where during our visit the Cabot of Oceanex could be espied loading for St Johns in Newfoundland. Meanwhile, the five ex-Ukrainian hydrofoils once operated by Les Dauphins between Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Quebec are laid up side by side on a remote quayside. For the British enthusiast however, the real interest lies in a pair of ships which both ceased operating as ferries some years ago, the Nindawayma and the Cavalier Maxim. [continued below]
Top: The Nindawayma laid up in Montreal, 25 June 2006.
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Above: The five hydrofoils previously operated by Les Dauphins are now laid up together in Montreal.
Of all the ships I hoped and expected to encounter on this trip, the Nindawayma was perhaps the most interesting prospect. One of a trio she they all seem to have run into trouble at one stage or another: one of her sisters half sank after grounding in Denia, Spain, whilst the other was scrapped following a collision off Algeciras in 2000. The Nindawayma’s best days however were probably when, as a one ship operation in the late 1970s and early 1980s she brought the self-entitled “oldest continuously operating passenger shipping company in the world” to its knees. Our ship is the former Manx Viking, nemesis of the Isle of Man Steam Packet and thus, to hard-line detractors of that rather pompously traditional company, something of a legend.

Completed in Spain in 1974 as the
Monte Castillo, the ship ran over to the Balearics for her owners Aznar Line until acquisition by the new Manx Line in 1978, breaking the Steam Packet monopoly and offering a genuine roll-on roll-off service to the Isle of Man for the first time. Manx Line were later taken over by Sealink but it seems doubtful that either of the rival entities found much in the way of profits in the seven years of competition. It was a rare occasion that Sealink could be found playing the role of the chippy underdog up against the established operator yet they filled the role to perfection and the Sealink-Manx Line intervention marked of course the start of the chain of events which would, for better or worse, see the post-merger Steam Packet become the property of Jim Sherwood and Sea Containers.

The
Manx Viking, symbol of the ‘enemy’, never seemed likely to last long as a Steam Packet ship after the merger and so it proved. Although Sealink had planned to use her on their seasonal Weymouth-Cherbourg run in 1985 under the name Earl Henry, this did not materialise as her Isle of Man replacement, the Antrim Princess (initially to be renamed the Manx Princess but latterly the Tynwald instead) was not made available until after the Summer season. In the event, the Manx Viking finally completed her services to the Steam Packet in September 1986 and was sold the next year for Norwegian domestic service under the name Skudenes before moving over to Canada in 1989 where, as the Nindawayma, she ran for a few years between Tobermory and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. This all came to an end in 1992 and since then she has lain forlorn and seemingly unwanted. A sale in 2000 saw a later move of lay-up berth to Montreal but the anticipated conversion to a cable laying ship never happened. And so she awaits her destiny, rusting and, as far as we could make out, abandoned, although whether there was or wasn’t a watchman on board or if he simply wasn’t around when we were there is open to question. Whatever, despite valiant efforts we were unable to make contact with her owners or guardians and could thus only admire her rusty presence from the adjacent quayside.

Unlike many a laid-up ferry, the
Nindawayma isn’t hidden away at some distant pier in an obscure backwater. Rather, she is berthed right in the centre of things, downtown, adjacent to the new Science Museum, the revitalised waterfront and the cruise ship berths. Indeed, she is almost a tourist attraction in her own right and groups of people, locals and visitors, could be found staring at this hulk almost as intently as we were. Moving closer, around to the west, you could stroll along the ship’s starboard side where the outline of the Manx Line brand name is being revealed quite clearly as subsequent layers of paint have not bonded to the smooth surface of the sticker-like transfers put in place over 20 years ago and are now peeling back to reveal the identity of her long-defunct former owners [continued below]
Above & below: The ship's former Manx Line branding is coming through later layers of paintwork.
Just around the corner from the Nindawayma can be found the base of Croisières AML, the operators of the Cavalier Maxim which runs tours around Montreal harbour and up along the St Lawrence River. This ship was one of the two first full-blown Red Funnel Isle of Wight car ferries, entering service in 1962 as the Osborne Castle, an improved version of the pioneer Carisbrooke Castle, delivered from the same Thornycroft yard in Southampton three years earlier. Sold out of Solent service in 1978, she crossed the Atlantic to Canada, assuming the name Le Gobelet d’Argent, being converted to drive-through operations and having her enclosed car deck heightened. She served in this guise, running between Trois-Pistoles and Les Escoumins on the Gulf of St Lawrence until the late 1980s and has latterly undergone at least one further significant refurbishment, leaving her in her present condition where her interior is focussed primarily on the evening dinner cruise trade.

The
Cavalier Maxim now has three decks devoted to lounges and restaurant areas, all astern of an extra-long forecastle which, taking up the first third of the ship’s length, reflects the original layout with an area of open car deck forward of the superstructure. The lowest passenger level, A Deck, has been created in the area of the old covered car deck, converted to lorry height by the ship’s original Canadian owners. Complete with full-height windows, this is now an extremely extrovert space, and features a central dance floor. B Deck above, the original main passenger level, has again been entirely refitted, to become ‘Le Club Maxim’ whilst the old open boat deck has been enclosed to become ‘La Grande Verrière’. Open deck on the level above is now available, where the original once-sleek oval-shaped funnel still peeks out: disfigured somewhat by an accumulation of various box-shaped additions, this has not been heightened and is thus consumed by the additional level of accommodation. Forward of this, the original tripod forward mast can be found rising from the roof of what is, inside, a largely original bridge outside which can be found the ship’s bell, inscribed somewhat curiously “LE GOBELET D’ARGENT 1973”. The ship didn’t come to Canada and take that name until 1978.

All of which prompted one to consider, as we sat on her foredeck, if it is possible to pinpoint the moment at which a charming old ship loses her soul. The
Cavalier Maxim seems very much to have lost hers: she has been so thoroughly modified and modernised (within the restrictive realities of a 1960s built hull) for her current role that it is almost impossible to tell once onboard that she was built as a car ferry, although an observant passer-by would probably think the naval architect was having a bad day a the office had he drawn her up from scratch. I can’t think of many ships which have been so thoroughly modified that there is virtually nothing left of their previous incarnations. The ship’s earlier half-sister, the Giglio Espresso II is happily much more original and rather more interesting for it. This of course betrays one of the paradoxes of being a ferry enthusiast concerned particularly with old ships: we despair when they are scrapped, yet pronounce them “ruined” when they are necessarily refitted to make them suitable for ongoing trading to avoid just that fate. [continued below]
Click here for internal pictures of the Manx Viking in UK service
Above: The Nindawayma.
Above: Up-close, the decaying effects of over a decade of lay-up is evident.
Above: With her prominent position, the Nindawayma is almost a tourist attraction in her own right.
After a couple of days in Montreal, it was time to move on to Quebec. Other than the cross-river ferries over to Lévis, the only other significant ferry-related operation of note in the city itself are the harbour and dinner cruises of the former Lévis ship and now fleetmate of the Cavalier Maxim, the Louis Jolliet. The current Lévis ships, the 1971-built sisters Alphonse Desjardins and Lomer Gouin, have been extensively renovated in recent years and offer relatively modern if functional facilities for the 10 minute crossing. We tried both ships and they are to all intents and purposes identical, and both kept in very good condition.

Quebec itself has a fairly spruced-up tourist zone in the old town area which, whilst clearly impressive in its own right, didn’t quite seem to ring true – there is something vaguely disconcerting about somewhere that has been so thoroughly de-grimed purely for the tourist gaze like this. Nothing however can take away from the splendour of the Château Frontenac, the hotel which overlooks the St Lawrence, the Quebec cruise terminal and the Lévis ferries and was built in 1893 by Canadian Pacific to meet passengers disembarking from their liners. Once outside the tourist areas Quebec revealed it did actually have a pulse after all and although the never-ending quest for that junkshop with the builders model of the
Prince of Fundy again drew a blank, some of the backstreets did throw up some fantastic (and cheap) antiquarian bookshops which were readily plundered.

After our time in Quebec, the next part of the journey was a flight over to Saint John, New Brunswick. Quebec airport is sited slightly outside the city, but couldn’t be further from the central area in spirit – this is much more like a grid-lined American town with a seeming never-ending sequence of motels, fast food establishments and gas stations. We flew with Air Canada Jazz, which provides regional/feeder and commuter services for Air Canada – these flights were by no means cheap (certainly when compared to the low-cost prices Europeans have become accustomed to) but represented the only realistic way to get to the parts of the country we wanted to get to. Not long before we flew with Jazz, some of their mechanics had given an interview to the Toronto Star questioning the airline’s maintenance standards, including the quote “I'm nervous flying on my own airline” and with dark tales of bits of wing falling off mid-flight. It was with these happy thoughts that we boarded the airline’s Bombardier Dash 8s, firstly on the commuter hop back to Montreal before joining a connecting flight to Saint John; fortunately the only problem encountered on this occasion was when myself and Bruce, with seats allocated in row 13, were directed to the rear of the plane only to find that the last row was number 12. Our stewardess, disconcertingly confused for a moment, soon established that row 13 was in fact the pair of backwards-facing seats at the very front of the cabin. From this position we surveyed all our fellow passengers like a pair of not particularly stern looking schoolteachers. We also got the cleanest air up there and, true to form, Bruce was soon loudly wondering if the interiors had perhaps been modelled by James Gardner, design co-ordinator for the 'QE2' and, incidentally, responsible for some of the exhibits in the British pavilion at that Montreal Expo in 1967.
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Above: The Cavalier Maxim at her Montreal berth.
Above & below: The lower double-height saloon (above) and the upper ‘La Grande Verrière’ (below) on the Cavalier Maxim.
Above & below: Looking back at the superstructure with the largely original bridge area (below).
Above: The original funnel remains, shyly peeking out from the extended superstructure.
Above: Departing on another day cruise.
The rest of our time in Montreal was spent sight-seeing and enjoying one of Canada’s largest, most cosmopolitan cities. The classic splendour of old Montreal contrasts with perhaps my favourite part, the site of the Expo ’67 on the Ile Saint-Helene and the western tip of Ile Notre-Dame. Walking around the remains of the various pavilions and public artworks was a rather poignant reminder of a seemingly lost age: indeed, we discussed at the time how there was a feel to the place, part abandoned, which was almost like a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie. Sure enough, we subsequently found that the site has indeed been used on occasion as a filming location for an abandoned modern city. [continued below]
Above: At the site of the 1967 Expo, Alexander Calder's sculpture 'Man' now sits in a decidedly rustic setting.
Above: The Alphonse Desjardins with the Château Frontenac in the background.
Above: Car deck of the Alphonse Desjardins.
Above & below: The Lomer Gouin (above) and the ship's main lounge (below). The Alphonse Desjardins is essentially identical although both ships feature displays specific to their names.