By Ted Ross

MV Coho glides around Laurel Point into the Inner Harbour. How many of the 500 passengers on board know the history of Black Ball Lines, which led to this ferry service between Victoria, BC and Port Angeles, Washington? It is a tale that goes back many years covering a few generations.


Black Ball Ferry Kalakala - Image #1-29755 Photo courtesy of Royal BC Museum Archives

There was a Times-Colonist feature commemorating British Columbia's 150th anniversary in 2008. In an article by Mary Ann Moore we read, "The Black Ball Line goes back to 1816 when Captain Charles Marshall founded the passenger service. It was the first transatlantic passenger service employing a fleet of clipper ships. One of them was commanded by the founder's brother, Captain Alexander Marshall. The service operated for over 60 years between New York and Liverpool, flying the house flag, a black ball centered on a red background.

"One hundred and twelve years later, Captain Alexander Marshall's great grandson, Captain Alexander Marshall Peabody, chose the same flag for his fleet, the Puget Sound Navigation Company. It operated a fleet of steamboats and ferries on Puget Sound under the trade name Black Ball Line which was at one time the largest privately owned ferry system in the United States."

On July 30, 1946, the Daily Colonist related, "At present,

Puget Sound Navigation Company is operating three

Black Ball Ferry Kalakala 1947 - Image #1-29757 Photo courtesy of Royal BC Museum Archives

vessels on services connecting Vancouver Island with the mainland. SS Iroquois operates on a year-round basis, serving Victoria, Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Seattle. During the summer, the ultra-modern and streamlined ferry Kalakala connects this city with Seattle, and the ferry MS Vashon

serves on the Sidney-Anacortes run.

"The new vessel to replace the Iroquois will have accommodation for 100 cars and will contain 130 outside staterooms."

That ship, MV Chinook, made its appearance in Victoria on June 20, 1947. The company's new flagshiparrived for the first time in the Inner Harbour beginning a service linking Seattle with the northern Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island via Port Angeles and Victoria. It tied up at the brand new Black Ball terminal in Victoria, not yet completed.

In an article in the Daily Colonist in 1971 T.W. Paterson remembers, "Hundreds lined the Causeway that afternoon to witness the arrival of the new American flagship as Chinook, pennants flying, berthed with 300 passengers and 50 cars. The Black Ball terminal, now an Inner Harbor landmark, was still under construction but Captain Lyle Fowler brought his shining new command alongside, to happily announce to waiting reporters: She is easy to handle and has a good speed."

December 1947 news photo in the Daily Colonist, showing the Chinook tied up at its Inner Harbour terminal with work cranes around, is captioned, "Despite serious material shortages which have hindered construction, new $100,000 docks of Black Ball Ferry Line will be completed by March, just in time for the big summer rush, officials of company reported yesterday."

Again quoting from T.W. Paterson's article, " the end of the first year of duty, Chinook had established herself, carrying 195,000 passengers, 42,000 vehicles and 91,000 tons of freight. Between Seattle, Port Angeles and Victoria the streamlined ferry had chalked up no less than 100,000 miles."

Black Ball Ferry Kalakala 1947 - Image #1-29756 Photo courtesy of Royal BC Museum Archives

Commencing in 1948, Black Ball Lines started a service between Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The City of Sacremento, renamed Kahloke, was placed on the route. She made four round trips a day and crossed the Strait of Georgia in under two hours. The over-the-stern- and-bow vehicle loading was far quicker than the side-loading CPR ships. Marine Drive, from the Lions Gate Bridge to Horseshoe Bay, was an awfully winding drive but motorists preferred it to the longer CPR trip which, depending on the ship, took from 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours. In 1956 the Upper Levels highway was built high up the mountainside, with quicker speeds and much gentler curves than the seaside route for the trip to Horseshoe Bay terminal.

In the 1950s things were about to change with Puget Sound Navigation. We read in Mary Ann Moore's article, "After years of failed negotiations with the State of Washington for fare increases, Black Ball sold many of its holdings on December 30, 1950 to the state's Toll Bridge Authority. Captain Alexander Marshall Peabody retained five vessels, one destroyer escort, the rights to the Seattle-Victoria route and terminals in Seattle, Port Angeles and Victoria. In 1951, with these assets, Captain Peabody organized Black Ball Ferries, Ltd., a Canadian company. Black Ball Ferries, Ltd. operated until the sale of most of its assets to the British Columbia government in 1961."

This change of structure at Black Ball had its effect in Victoria. Looking to T.W. Paterson again we find, "In 1952 Seattle was dropped from (Chinook's) run. Then, in May of 1955, it was announced she would join the company's Nanaimo-Horseshoe Bay route, Black Ball making its decision after two years of intensive study. At this time, Horseshoe Bay was B.C.'s busiest ferry terminus. Victoria protested loudly, George I. Warren, commissioner of Victoria and Island Publicity Bureau terming Chinook's removal the greatest blow ever suffered by the tourist industry here."

Chinook was taken to the shipyard. Her bow was removed to facilitate 'over-the-ship' vehicle loading with no turns involved. She was renamed Chinook II and joined the Kahloke in service from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay.  City of Sacremento had been for a major rebuild at Yarrows in Esquimalt in 1948 and had emerged as a drive-over ferry, renamed Kahloke. She had been sailing Nanaimo-Horseshoe Bay for seven years when the other ship joined her.

After Chinook's departure, service to Port Angeles was provided by Canadian Pacific Steamships. Various ships made the trip across the Strait of Juan de Fuca between their longer voyages. There was no Black Ball service after 1955.

In 1959 Black Ball Transport, Inc., an American company separate from Black Ball Ferries, Ltd. and a subsidiary of Black Ball Freight Service whose operation employed 200 trucks and trailers, laid a keel for a new ferry to service the Port Angeles-Victoria route. In addition the new ship would carry freight between Port Angeles paper mill and Seattle during the night. The vessel would be named  Coho, after the silver salmon found in the waters of the region.

Mary Ann Moore tells us, "Phillip Spaulding of Phillip F. Spaulding & Associates of Seattle designed the vessel. The M.V. Coho is 341.6 feet long, and has a breadth of 72 feet, a draft of 12.6 feet, twin 8-foot stainless steel propellors and twin rudders. She was originally powered by two Cooper-Bessemer diesel engines rated at 2,080 BHP each. The Cooper-Bessemers were replaced in 2004 with two General Motors Electro-Motive Division Main Propulsion Engines rated at 2,550 BHP each."

Coho's keel was laid on January 12, 1959. Her first commercial sailing to Victoria took place on December 29, 1959. Improvements have been made to the ship over her decades of service. An enlarged coffee shop, a sewage treatment plant, a solarium and a gift shop have all been put in place. As well additional seating was added.

Regarding the ship's name, Ron Armstrong in an article in the Islander, April 5, 1998 told us, "Phillip Spaulding, still considered one of the best naval architects in the Pacific Northwest, was hired to design the new vessel so as to provide maximum height on the vehicle deck and the most efficient loading and discharge possible. The stern and side doors were the largest then seen on a ferry of this size. Finally, the name was distinctly Canadian -- on rare holidays the Achesons (owners) used to fish Cowichan Bay. Coho was our favorite, recalls Acheson, so that name was just a natural choice."

The Daily Colonist of December 29, 1959 carries an article reading, "Today the Coho starts its regular daily visits to Victoria along with car-and-passenger stops at Port Angeles and freight stops at Port Townsend and Seattle."


Today MV Coho is completing its 57th year of service. Many ships have gone to the scrapyard by this time in their life.

But those ships weren't built for a company which was comprised of truckers. These folks would only settle for the toughest of ships built with the best of steel. Add to that Black Ball's reputation, dating back to the days of the New York-Liverpool packet ships, of quality seamanship and proper maintenance of the craft which they sail. They were known for that in 1816. They are known for that on Coho in 2016.

In all her years of service she has never missed a sailing

Photo by Barry Behnke

due to weather. There have been a few wild and lumpy rides, but she's never missed a trip.

The only time she's missing is when she is out of service for her annual refit. This is the time when repairs are made, changes to the ship take place, mechanical upgrades are accomplished and she is totally repainted. The general care and feeding of this steel beauty are seen to at refit. The rest of the year the crew looks after the vessel's maintenance with competence.

Originally berthed on the north side of the Inner Harbour, in 1978, with service terminated from the CPSS terminal on Belleville Street, she moved across the harbour. Today she ties up just east of the Victoria Clipper ferry to Seattle, and just west of the Steamship Terminal.

From May to September Coho makes three or four round trips a day commencing at 8:15 am from Port Angeles and finishing with the trip from Victoria at 7:30 pm. From June 17th to September 7th she leaves Port Angeles at 9:30 pm, spends the night in Victoria, and sails from there at 6:10 am.

In the off-season she overnights in Port Angeles and makes two round trips a day to Victoria. As well as passengers and vehicles, Coho carries many goods and products to Victoria by truck. This business is year-round. There is always work for the ship at every time of year.

Through the bequest of Mrs Acheson, the last surviving member of that family, the ship is now held in trust by the University of Oregon. Most operations of the service are managed in Victoria. Although fares remain reasonable, the service operates at a profit, and looks after itself financially. Its short route to the United States is much appreciated in Victoria.


Gjenvick-Gjonvik Archives, "The Story and History of the Black Ball Line," 2015; Times-Colonist, BC 150 Years, "The Black Ball Line," by Mary Ann Moore, August 2, 2008; The Daily Colonist, "Island Ferries Can Carry 3,536 Cars Daily This Year," May 6, 1948; The Daily Colonist, "New Black Ball Dock to Be Ready by March,"December 28, 1947; The Daily Colonist, "Chinook was Last Word in Comfort and Elegance," February 14, 1971; Daily Colonist, "Regular Visits," December 29. 1959; The Daily Colonist, "Victoria's American Service," July 16, 1978; Islander, "The grey lady of Juan de Fuca," by Ron Anderson, April 5, 1998;  Times-Colonist, "Coho sails into 50th year," December 26, 2009; Victoria Times, "Black Ball Move Urged by Pollen," October 16, 1974; Black Ball Ferry Line- MVCoho, "Ferry Sailing Schedule - 2016," January 4, 2016.