St. Roch National Historic Site of Canada

Vancouver, British Columbia
General view of the St. Roch, 1982. (© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1982.)
General view
(© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1982.)
Address : 1905 Ogden Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1962-05-15
  • 1928 to 1928 (Construction)
  • 1928 to 1950 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Henry Larsen  (Person)
  • Charles Druguid (designer)  (Person)
  • Thomas Halliday (designer)  (Person)
  • Burrard Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company of North Vancouver  (Builder)
Other Name(s):
  • St. Roch  (Designation Name)
Research Report Number: 1968-033


Existing plaque: Maritime Museum, foot of Cypress Street 1905 Ogden Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia

The St. Roch was built in 1928 by the Burrard Dry Dock Company of North Vancouver to serve as an Arctic supply and patrol vessel for the R.C.M.P. In 1942, under the command of Sergeant Henry Larsen, she became the first ship to cross from the Pacific to the Atlantic by the Northwest Passage, having made a 27 month voyage from Vancouver to Halifax along the northern edge of the continent. Two years later she returned to Vancouver via the more northerly deep-water route. Making the east-west journey in only 86 days, the St Roch was the first ship to complete the hazardous journey in both directions.

Description of Historic Place

Dry-docked in a purpose-built A-frame structure as part of the Vancouver Maritime Museum at Kitsilano Point, the St. Roch is an auxiliary Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner restored to her external appearance as she was during her 1944 crossing of the Northwest Passage. She is 31.6 metres long with a beam of 7.6 metres, a depth of hold of 3.4 metres and a displacement of 323 tons. St. Roch is made primarily of thick Douglas fir planks with hard Australian Eucalyptus ‘iron bark’ on the outside and an interior hull reinforced with heavy beams to withstand ice pressure. The official recognition refers to the ship itself.

Heritage Value

St. Roch was designated a national historic site of Canada because: she became the first ship to cross from the Pacific to the Atlantic by the North West Passage; she was also the first ship to complete the hazardous journey in both directions.

The Canadian-built St. Roch is valued as an excellent example of Canada’s maritime history. She navigated the Northwest Passage, arriving in Halifax in 1942, after spending two winters frozen in the ice. She was the second ship to make the Passage, and the first to conquer the journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic. In 1944, the refitted St. Roch returned to Vancouver via the more northerly, deep route of the Prince of Wales Strait in eighty-six ice-free days – the first to navigate the Northwest Passage in a single season. Retired in 1948, St. Roch was sent to Halifax via the Panama Canal in 1950, making her the first ship to circumnavigate North America.

Under the command and leadership of Sergeant Henry Larsen (1899-1964) who was first mate and captain for twenty years, the voyages of the St. Roch demonstrated Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. She extended and maintained Canadian control over its vast northern territories as an all-purpose supply, patrol and transport vessel and governmental representative to service isolated and relatively inaccessible R.C.M.P. detachments by settling disputes and conducting a census of the Inuit. During this time the St. Roch was the only federal presence in the far north. During the Second World War the St. Roch was sent through the North West Passage to protect war industries in the north, specifically a mine in Greenland which was the sole source of cyrolite essential to the production of aluminum.

The heritage value lies in the original design and the multiple refits that were designed to deal harsh conditions and reflect the changing technologies in marine transportation over the course of her working life. The St. Roch has been restored to her appearance during her epic journeys between 1940-1944 that was a mix of original elements and subsequent refits. Additional value in her material fabric include the spare and well-considered details of her design in terms of the efficiency and economy of her living and working quarters.

Sources: Statement of Commemorative Intent and Description of Designated Place, February 11, 2004; Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Agenda Paper 68-33: Restauration of the St. Roch.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the St. Roch include its: schooner form, relatively large scale and compact massing; surviving original construction materials and craftsmanship; intact spatial configuration above and below deck, illustrating the daily living and working arrangements of the ship’s crew, intact mess and galley facilities; intact interior millwork throughout the domestic and common quarters; hardware including decorative and nautically themed brass and iron fixtures, plumbing, washbasins and radiators; navigational equipment including scientific instruments, compass, maps and charts, chart rack, set of international code flags, steering wheel and helm; nautical equipment including the masts and swivels, sails, ropes, decks and rigging, propeller and rudder, booms, crow’s nest, anchor, winches and windlass; safety equipment including lifeboats, lifebuoys and racks, fire extinguishers; communication equipment including wireless transmitters and receivers; mechanical equipment including diesel engines, pistons, compressors, fuel tanks, pumps, generators and auxiliary; recreational materials such as gramophone, records and reading material such as periodicals; lettering cut in main beam under hatch coaming: ‘O.N. 154, 809 R.T. 80.07’.