Cordova Street, Vancouver, on July 1, 1904, a few weeks before the Maple Leaf was launched. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Archives.

by Maureen Gordon

1904 was a year of dramatic growth for the young city of Vancouver, BC — then just 18 years old.

The first cement sidewalks replaced wooden boards. The first auto dealership opened in town. New office blocks and neighbourhoods sprouted, and people moved in as soon as they were built.

And, the coast’s most expensive yacht slid down the ways and splashed into Coal Harbour: the SV Maple Leaf was born.

This is the year of her 110th anniversary. And it’s off to a great start with a superb gift from historian Michel Riberdy of the Buckingham Historical Society, just outside Ottawa, Ontario – who found these photographs of the Maple Leaf being built.

The SV Maple Leaf's incredibly strong hull being constructed, Vancouver Shipyard, 1904. Photo by Capt William Watts and donated to the Vancouver Archives. Thanks to historian Michel Riberdy.

A close-up. Note how the ship's frames (like "ribs") are very close together. Because she was one of the first ships with an external, lead keel (instead of internal ballast), her designers weren't certain how strong the hull needed to be to hold all that lead. So they over-built her, stronger than necessary. It's one of the reasons she is still an active ship. Photo by Capt William Watts donated to the Vancouver Archives. Thanks to Michele Riberdy.

These new-to-us photographs are a treasure; in the 1920s a fire destroyed records in the shipyard and, as far as we know, the ship’s original plans and drawings were lost.

Our visit to Buckingham, seat of the MacLaren family, where Alexander MacLaren, first owner of the Maple Leaf, came from. (From left to right): Historian Michel Riberdy, John Bogie (grandson of Alex MacLaren), Maureen, Kevin, James MacLaren (great-nephew of Alex). Kevin is holding Alex MacLaren's captain's hat ...but that's a story for another time!

So, when Kevin and I were on a visit to Michel and the MacLaren family in Buckingham this winter, our jaws dropped to see these photographs. They are sort of like the Maple Leaf‘s long lost “baby pictures”.

The Maple Leaf near Vancouver, BC, circa 1904. It looks as if the MacLaren family is aboard in this photo. Photo courtesy of Tim Kenny.

A Short Illustrated History

Like to see more of the ship’s history? View this short, illustrated history of the Maple Leaf.

Next Installments on the History of the Maple Leaf
Throughout the year, we’ll share articles, photos, recollections, and facts from the ship’s history in our newsletters, blog and Facebook page. Stay tuned for more, including a picture of the real Alexander MacLaren….

We hope you enjoyed this first glimpse into the history of the remarkable schooner Maple Leaf.

Happy birthday to a great ship. Here’s to another 110 years!

Vancouver Shipyard, approx 1902. Courtesy Vancouver Archives.

Learn about cruising BC & Alaska aboard the Maple Leaf.