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Reviews

U>Canadian Book Review Association
Early in 1959 the final sailing of the Union Steamship Company of British Columbia ended 70 years of service to the towns, villages, lumber camps, and canneries of the West Coast. For crews and passengers, the 50-odd ships that flew the company's flag possessed qualities and quirks that could delight or infuriate. And if the ships had their idiosyncrasies, so, too, did many of their officers and crew.

This book combines a brief history of the company with a string of colorful anecdotes of captains who never mastered the art of docking, officers whose judgment was blunted by alcohol, and uncooperative crews. The author also tells of captains whose sea sense, skill, and ingenuity in emergencies gave the company an enviable record of passenger safety. Photographs depict ships aground on rocks, tilted at alarming angles; somehow most of the vessels survived.

Tom Henry writes with an easy style, but readers may be attracted as much by the well-reproduced photographs that constitute about 50 percent of the text. The Good Company is recommended for its nostalgic reminiscences and engaging photographs of the ships and crews that served the British Columbia coast for seven decades.
-Gordon Turner

U>Coast and Country/U>
Between 1889 and 1959, the vessels of the Union Steamship Company of BC bound the coast from north to south as firmly as the steel tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway bound the nation from east to west.

The Union's black and red funnelled steamers and their trademark whistle were a fixture of weekly life at virtually every logging camp and settlement between Vancouver and the Alaska Panhandle.

Based on years of painstaking archival research, as well as hundreds of hours of interviews. The Good Company: An Affectionate History of the Union Steamships is a fascinating "from-the-deck" account of this important institutions ships and crews. Meet "Wee" Angus McNeill, the most superstitious of all Union officers; Captain Bob Wilson, who refused to consult his charts while he was on watch; Arthur Jarvis, the "Black Mate" who wrestled obstinate loggers and pigs from the decks of the infamous Cassiar; and the Cheslakee, the ill-fated vessel whose final death toll from its 1913 capsizing is still debated.

Writer Tom Henry won the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for historical writing for this lively and entertaining history. With over a hundred photographs, many of them never published before, The Good Company captures the spirit of this bygone west coast institution, and brings to life a legend.

Bookshelf
For seventy years, from 1889 until 1959, the Union Steamship Company of BC served the communities of British Columbia's coast. During those years the company became something more than an impersonal business enterprise the commercial needs were cared for, they were the 'raison d'etre', but as Henry writes, the company "was such an integral part of the coast that its black hulls, its imported Scottish pound cake and its signature whistle - one long, two short, one long - became viscerally embedded in those who rode and worked aboard the ships." For the communities along the coast, "boat day was the seminal event in their weekly calendar."

Since the demise of the company in 1959, its history has elicited several books. Gerald Rushton, a manager with the company, wrote Whistle Up the Inlet (Vancouver, 1974) and Echoes of the Whistle (Vancouver, 1980), and, in the Provincial Archives' Sound Heritage series, there is Navigating the Coast (ed. Peter Chapman, Victoria, 1977). With its extensive use of photographs, The Good Company somewhat duplicates the approach of Rushton's Echoes. Yet Henry has brought a fresh view which complements rather than competes. Rushton, Henry notes, gives "primarily a business history", - he "was not intimately versed in life aboard Union ships. "For his part Henry has depended extensively on the materials of Art Twigg who provided "an insider's position in the company... from the vantage of the ships."

Clearly, in large part, thanks to the efforts of people such as Rushton and Twigg, considerable written and photographic records for the company have been preserved. These have been consulted thoroughly for this book; the selected material has been chosen well and is presented to good effect. One appendix lists the personnel who served in the company from 1920 until 1958 (compiled from ships' registers and oral history sources) and a second provides some details for 53 of the Union ships. A reproduction of the company's "Sailing Guide to Ports of Call", issued in 1933, lists a total of 159 places, in addition to Vancouver, at which the ships stopped. The price for calling at so many places, often with inadequate docking facilities, or none at all, was that the company found it impossible to keep to a strict schedule.

The Good Company bears the hall marks of Harbour Publishing. It is a beautifully designed and produced book. The photographs are clear, the captions meaningful. I do wish Mr. Henry, or his editors, could have settled on whether the ships were "shes" or "its". However, one comes from the book feeling that this was a “good" company for the inhabitants of the coast, deserving of an "affectionate" history.
-George Newell

the Northern Mariner
The maritime history of British Columbia is immeasurably entwined with histories of three great shipping companies which for years conveyed passengers and freight to the logging camps, pulp mills, mines and summer resorts scattered along the intricate coastline between Vancouver and the Alaska border. These were the BC Coast Steamship Service of the CPR, with its "Princess" ships, the Canadian National Steamships, (originally Grand Trunk Pacific), with their "Prince" ships, and the Union Steamship Company of British Columbia Ltd. Alas, they have all ceased to exist, outmoded by the advent of roads to remote settlements and the ubiquitous aeroplane. Only the highly-subsidized BC Ferries system survives to cater to passengers bound for the islands.

Union Steamship may have been the smallest of the companies, but it built up a great tradition on the coast during its active career from 1889 to 1958, a tradition which is remembered with such affection that it has already resulted in not one but two histories of the company: Whistle Up the Inlet by Gerald
A. Rushton, and its sequel, Echoes of the Whistle. The late Mr. Rushton was for many years an executive with the company and his books quickly became bestsellers, full of human interest, and valuable as a corporate history of the company. The latest Union book, The Good Company, fits into another category, for it is more an anecdotal history. The author is freelance writer Tom Henry, but most of the material was gathered painstakingly by Art Twigg, who served as freight clerk or purser on many of the Union ships. He personally knew nearly all the many characters who were denizens of the BC coast during the pioneer years. Curiously, the author fails to mention that the Union Company, during most of its long career on the coast, was owned by the firm of J.H. Weisford and Co. of Liverpool, England, or that at one time the rival CPR had a controlling interest through its subsidiary, Consolidated Mining and Smelting Co.

The Good Company is a handsome addition to British Columbia's maritime history, published appropriately by a small but enterprising company located in one of those remote harhours served so well in years gone by by the Union Company. The book is copiously illustrated on fine quality paper, and the front and back dust-jackets have fine reproductions in colour of paintings of the steamers Chelohsin and Catala, both former coast favourites. An appendix lists all the company's masters and mates from 1920 to 1958, while another gives an excellent fleet list of the company vessels, complete with dimensions, active careers, and disposals.
-Norman Hacking