This video clip tells the story of the barge Straits Maru and her 1956 voyage from Victoria to the breaker’s yard at Osaka, Japan, loaded with scrap iron. She was towed there by the Victoria-based deep-sea tug Sudbury, a former Royal Canadian Navy corvette. The clip is an excerpt from the promotional film Saga of the Sudburys (1960), produced for Island Tug & Barge by Parry Films Ltd. The eventful sea voyage is documented in amateur footage shot by Captain Harley Blagborne (1910-1969), the Sudbury’s skipper.
The Straits Maru had begun her career in 1870 as the iron-hulled ocean liner S.S. Parthia, built in Scotland for Cunard’s trans-Atlantic service. In 1884, the Parthia was sold to John Elder & Co., who installed more efficient engines and transferred the ship to the Guion Line, which used her on its route from Australia to South America. From 1887 to 1891, the Parthia was chartered to the Canadian Pacific Railroad for use in the CPR’s new trans-Pacific service. Following a major refit in 1892, the ship was renamed S.S. Victoria. Over the ensuing 16 years, under a variety of owners, the Victoria carried passengers between Hong Kong to Tacoma, U.S. troops to the Philippines, and prospectors to the Klondike, before finally settling into service with the Alaska Steamship Company from 1908 to 1952. She was operated between San Francisco, Seattle and Nome, Alaska, or in trans-Pacific service, with a stint in military cargo service during the Second World War. In 1955, she was acquired by the Straits Towing and Salvage Company of Vancouver, who converted the hull into a lumber barge, briefly operated as Straits No. 27. In 1956, the ship was sold for scrap — and that’s just where the above film clip begins!
A note about the image quality: This video copy of Saga of the Sudburys does not gladden the eye. The original film materials no longer exist. The three colour release prints that survive at the BC Archives, acquired from Seaspan International in 1985, are circulated projection prints with many scratches, splices, and other damage. Moreover, the colour dyes in the Eastmancolor prints have faded so badly that all the prints have turned magenta. When the film was transferred to video in 1986, it was not possible to bring back the colour, and a decision was made to transfer it only in black and white — and only to 3/4″ U-matic videocassette, a format with inherent limitations in picture quality and long-term stability. So even though it was made from the best available print (F1985:21/003.03), this is a digital copy of an inferior analog copy of a faded, damaged print. The three prints are now in cold storage to prevent further deterioration. One day the archives may have the resources to make a better digital transfer directly from the best print. In the meantime, I think the film’s content is interesting enough to make this version worth watching.