The collection consists of the records gathered by Earl Marsh, who intended to preserve the history of the British Columbia Coast Steamship Service (BCCSS) and the maritime history of British Columbia generally. He primarily collected records from BCCSS employees and their family members, as well as libraries and archives.
The collection also consists of the employment records of Earl Marsh, personal correspondence pertaining to his collecting activities, and records Marsh probably used in his position as accountant for the BCCSS.
Marsh accumulated the bulk of his collection between 1964 and 1973, during the last years in which the BCCSS provided passenger services. The records themselves were created between 1868 and 1999, with the majority created between 1922 and 1975. Records in the collection pertain primarily to the province of British Columbia, Washington State, and the state of Alaska.
The main subject of Earl Marsh’s collection is the BCCSS. Marsh was interested in the practical operations of the organization and its regional context, so his collection includes records about the BCCSS’s privately-owned competitors, other branches of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company engaged in shipping, and the establishment of government ferry services in British Columbia.
Operational records of the BCCSS provide insight into the lives of crew members who worked on ships, the financial state of the company, the design and construction of ships and shipping infrastructure, coastal weather and tide patterns, and significant shipwrecks.
As an employee of the BCCSS, Marsh had a special interest in crew members. The records reveal the job duties, union contracts, and company guidelines that shaped the lives of the workers. In addition, Marsh’s collection contains a small selection of records about the Chinese Canadian crew members of BCCSS ships. Many of these workers were employed at the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act and experienced systematic discrimination by their employer.
Marsh was also particularly fascinated by the passenger services offered by the BCCSS on their line of 32 “Princess” steamships. Prior to the First World War, Princess ships represented the height of elegance and efficiency in coastal transportation. Marsh gathered numerous photographs, menus, deck plans, and newspaper clippings that convey some of the glamour of passenger travel aboard these ships.
The records originated with different creators. The majority of the records were created by the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, which was eventually taken over by the BCCSS, the BCCSS, and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Some records were created by other branches of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, such as the British Columbia Lake and River Service.
Documentary forms include scrapbooks about the BCCSS, subject files, scrapbooks about other shipping companies, original BCCSS volumes such as log and time books, ephemera and photographic negatives, files of personal records, and rolls of technical drawings. Records were originally arranged in groupings according to their subject (often indicated in a folder title) and documentary form. Within some subject groupings, Marsh arranged files alphabetically.
The subjects of BCCSS-related scrapbooks include the numerous ships in the Princess line, staff members, and other aspects of the organization's history. Among many other material types, the scrapbooks contain news clippings, original company correspondence and financial records, photographs, and technical drawings. Marsh arranged these scrapbooks in rough alphabetical order.
Marsh maintained subject files on numerous ships in the Princess line, BCCSS staff members and history, and the history of other shipping companies, including the Puget Sound Navigation Company and Black Ball Ferries Limited. He kept his files on BCCSS ships in rough alphabetical order.
Marsh’s scrapbooks about non-BCCSS companies cover other branches of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and organizations based in Washington State and the state of Alaska. These scrapbooks were not maintained in any discernible order.
Marsh maintained log books and time books from the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company and BCCSS; however, few complete sets of log books and time books exist for various ships. He also collected road maps and ephemera such as post cards, along with photographs, negatives, and slides, in random order in shoeboxes.
Marsh included his own personal correspondence and employment records in the collection. These materials were originally received in labelled files.
Marsh kept technical drawings in large rolls. Often, a roll featured upwards of 20 drawings of a single ship.
The archivist arranged the collection in six series that reflect Marsh’s original order:
MS-3254 - Scrapbooks, Canadian Pacific Railway Company records, and subject files
MS-3255 - Ship log books
MS-3256 - Time books
MS-3257 - Personal correspondence, employment records, and journal
MS-3258 - Photographs, road maps, and ephemera
MS-3259 - Technical drawings, map, and construction specifications for BCCSS ship Princess Louise II