Remembering the Canadian City Line

Posted by Chris Graham on 20th May 2023

Jim Shaw remembers the short-lived Canadian City Line that worked the trade routes from Canada to India, Pakistan and Ceylon in the 1970s.

Canadian City Line

One of several Ellerman ships placed in Canadian City Line service during the early 1970s was City of Ripon

This year marks the 120th anniversary of the founding of the well-known Ellerman Lines, which went on as the Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Company to form the short-lived Canadian City Line service, in cooperation with its North American agent, McLean-Kennedy of Montreal, during the early 1970s. Both firms had maintained trade links with India, Pakistan and Ceylon before World War II, and the new line was to renew this link using conventional breakbulk tonnage sailing via South Africa; the Suez Canal having been closed by hostilities in 1967. 

The Canadian ports were to be Montreal and Toronto, with Saint John, New Brunswick used during the winter months when the St Lawrence river was ice-bound. The principal eastbound cargoes were to be Canadian newsprint, wood pulp, machinery, asbestos, lead, zinc, copper and aluminium, while westbound cargoes were projected to be tea, coffee, cashews, coconut, burlap and other jute products. 

To inaugurate the new service, three Ellerman & Bucknall conventional cargo liners were renamed and given new funnel colours. The first of these was the 1963-built City of Glasgow, a 10,018grt Sulzer-powered ship, which was renamed City of Ottawa in 1971. It was followed by the similar-sized 9,704grt City of Eastbourne and 10,242grt City of Sydney, which were renamed City of Toronto and City of Montreal. 

Canadian City Line

… a 7,713grt cargo liner built by Vickers-Armstrong in 1956. (Pics: Trevor Jones)

All three ships received new funnel colours consisting of a white diamond framing a red maple leaf painted on a red background. They also flew a distinct house flag that carried three white diamonds on a red field, the centre one bearing a maple leaf flanked by a wing diamond on each side; a design similar to Ellerman & Bucknall’s own banner.

Additional ships
As the new service was expanded through the mid-1970s, other Ellerman & Bucknall ships were brought in, including City of Delhi, City of Hull, City of Guildford, City of Wellington, City of Newcastle, City of Colombo and City of Ripon. Some of these vessels received the new funnel colours, others did not, and none seem to have been renamed. 

Unfortunately, the new breakbulk service did not last long and, in 1977, City of Montreal was sold to the Panama-registered Hootan Shipping Company to become Yat Fei, the name under which she was broken up for scrap at Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in 1979. City of Ottawa and City of Toronto were sold in 1978 to Singapore’s Pacific International Line, taking the new names Kota Cahaya and Kota Cantik, and both survived until being broken up in China and Taiwan during 1984/85. 

Canadian City Line

The 10,723dwt City of Glasgow, a 1963 product of Vickers-Armstrongs on the Tyne, makes her way along Canada’s Welland Canal after being renamed City of Ottawa in 1971. Later renamed Kota Chahaya, she was broken up in 1985. (Pic: Barry Anderson)

City of Delhi, which had been built in 1956 with the Canadian name City of Winnipeg, was dismantled in Bangladesh as Fexl Glory in 1980. Sistership City of Wellington was sold in 1978 and scrapped a year later as Eastern Enterprise. City of Ripon, yet another sister, was also sold in 1978, going to Ben Line Steamers as Benvannoch, before being dismantled at Kaohsiung in 1979. 

City of Colombo also went to Ben Line, as Benmhor, prior to being sent to Kaohsiung in 1979 for demolition. City of Newcastle, which had operated for Ben Line in the 1960s as Benratha, was sold in 1978 to Venture Bay Shipping as Eastern Envoy before being demolished at Chittagong in 1981. City of Guildford, completed in 1957, was sold in 1979 to trade under the names Eurydice, Mighty Spirit and Nirav, before also being dispatched to Chittagong. 

The relatively new City of Hull, a 1970-built SD-14, was sold off to other owners in 1980 to trade under the names St John, Seagull, Sea Lady and Magdalena before being broken up for scrap at Alang, India, in 1996, the last of the group to survive.

The former City of Toronto in the funnel colours of Singapore’s Pacific International Line as Kota Cantik following her sale in 1978, after which she traded for another six years prior to being dismantled at Kaohsiung in 1984. (Pic: Trevor Jones)

Name disappears
The end of the short-lived Canadian City Line service was followed by the gradual disappearance of Ellerman itself. Although the firm had become one of the first British shipping companies to become involved in containerisation through its membership in the Associated Container Transportation (ACT) Group in 1966, it was forced to consolidate its remaining conventional lines under the Ellerman City Lines banner during the early 1970s. 

In 1983, the company was purchased by the Barclay Brothers, who re-formed it as Ellerman Holdings, with the remains of the shipping business then sold back to its original management team in 1985. Two years later, what was left of Ellerman was acquired by Trafalgar House and merged with its Cunard subsidiary to trade as Cunard-Ellerman. 

In the early 1990s, in a rather complicated arrangement, P&O bought most of the Cunard-Ellerman container interests, although Pacific operations under ACT were traded to Blue Star Line, while Andrew Weir Ltd took over the company’s remaining Mediterranean, India and Africa businesses. 

Seen in her original Ellerman & Bucknall funnel colours, the Doxford-powered City of Ripon was sold to Ben Line as Benvannoch after the end of her Canadian City Line service in 1978, only to be broken up at Kaohsiung a year later. (Pic: Trevor Jones)

The Ellerman name was retained for several of these trades but, in 2003, ownership was passed on to Hamburg Süd, after which the Ellerman name was dropped and Ellerman Lines ceased to exist. However, the marketing name ‘Ellerman City Liners’ was applied to a new container service linking Shanghai and Tilbury introduced by Essex-based UniOcean Lines in 2021, and continues in use.

This feature comes from the latest issue of Ships Monthly, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


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