Along the north side of the seawall in Stanley Park a rather unusual sight is to be found. Those dashing by in their cars or on their bicycles may not even notice the very colourful and impressive Empress Of Japan dragon figurehead on display.
The story of this figurehead is one worth telling for those who don’t know of it.
RMS Empress Of Japan was a ship built in 1891 in England for the Canadian shipping company, Canadian Pacific Steamships. The ship was used as a container ship between the west coast of Canada and the Far East. She would carry cargo such as tea and silk but also regularly carried passengers and was also utilized in the mail service.
During World War I she was refitted as an Armed Auxiliary Cruiser and saw active duty in Hong Kong. In 1916 she was returned to company service and in 1922 she arrived in Vancouver for the last time after making her 315th crossing, thus ending her career.
The ship was eventually scrapped in 1928 in North Vancouver but while afloat she had a shining reputation as holding a speed record for twenty-two years.
The figurehead was rescued by the Vancouver Daily Province newspaper and after its first restoration was put on display in 1927 in Stanley Park.
The masthead at Stanley Park today is actually a fiberglass replica dating from 1960 since the original had begun to deteriorate quite badly and had to be taken away. The original is now fully restored and can be seen at the Vancouver Maritime Museum along with the ship’s bell.