From the Collections: Lady Alexandra

Think the booze cruise is a modern invention? Think again. They’ve been happening in Vancouver for over 100 years. And in the early 20th century, they did it in style. The VMM exhibition By the Shore features a watercolour by artist Ray Warren called Lady Alexandra at Snug Cove (Bowen Island). The painting depicts a popular stop on Vancouver’s original (unofficial) booze cruises.

Lady Alexandra, or Lady Alex as the ship was affectionately called, was a Union Steamship Company vessel that arrived in Vancouver on June 21, 1924. Lady Alex soon became the most popular daytime and excursion vessel owned by the company.

Painting: Lady Alexandra at Snug Cove (Bowen Island).

Lady Alexandra at Snug Cove (Bowen Island) by Ray Warren. VMM item number 000.089.085

The Union Steamship Company owned different areas of land in and around Vancouver and established a variety of trips that allowed guests to disembark and enjoy onshore entertainment. Snug Cove was a stop on several of these trips, including evening dance cruises on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

Though alcohol was not sold on the ship, the moonlight dance trips on Lady Alex became widely and notoriously known as booze cruises. The events had a strong bring-your-own-booze or BYOB practice. Passengers boarded Lady Alexandra at the Union Dock at the foot of Carrall Street at 8:00 p.m. The ship arrived at Snug Cove by 9:00 p.m., and the crew would release all five gangplanks so guests could go to the dancehall. At midnight the captain sounded a warning whistle signaling guests to return to the vessel to sail back to Vancouver. Often the dance hall band would play an encore on the bridge of the ship.

Lady Alexandra was a perfect vessel for a party. The largest excursion ship north of San Francisco at the time, it was designed with a large, wide open promenade deck that stretched across 3/4ths the length of the ship. There was a hardwood dance floor with an orchestra stand, and a beautiful dining saloon. It was able to carry 1400 people, but often carried closer to 2000 during moonlight cruises.

As with modern booze cruises, the passengers could get a little carried away. In one report Captain Billy McCombe ordered two large floodlights and had them mounted on the bridge. He also got a bullhorn. As the vessel approached the Lions Gate Bridge, he would turn on the floodlights and use the bullhorn to announce, “okay folks. Time to end all the love making.”

Lady Alexandra was more than just a party boat, it was a catalyst that brought people together and is an important part of the Vancouver story.

This post is an excerpt from The Heyday of Leisure Trips by Mary Elizabeth Harrison, a feature article in the next issue of the Captain’s Table. The Heyday of Leisure Trips goes into more about the vessel and includes exclusive details about Ray Warren, the artist behind the painting. The Captain’s Table is our quarterly members’ magazine. To get access to this article, become a VMM member.