The Alphabet Fleet: The Pride of the Newfoundland Coastal Service.


238 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-897317-19-8
DDC 387.5'2409718





Reviewed by Gordon Turner

Gordon Turner is the author of Empress of Britain: Canadian Pacific’s
Greatest Ship and the editor of SeaFare, a quarterly newsletter on sea


For much of the first half of the 20th century Newfoundland and Labrador relied on the ships of the Newfoundland Railway Company to carry passengers and freight to communities that were isolated not only from St. John’s but from each other. The dozen ships were built mostly in Scotland and were named for Scottish locations in alphabetical order, Argyle to Meigle (there was no “J”). They were handsome externally and furnished to a high standard internally, and they were crewed by experienced sailors. The sturdy little ships sailed in all kinds of weather in a region noted for fog, heavy seas, and, in those days, waters that were sometimes poorly charted. Accidents were never commonplace, but they did occur.


The book is an account of the lives of the ships, their officers and crews, and the passengers who needed these vessels for the essentials of life in an era when economic adversity was the lot of the great majority of residents of Newfoundland and Labrador. Whether it was groceries and clothing from St. John’s ordered by outport retailer, a family member leaving an isolated village for a job in the island’s capital, or a minister or doctor taking up a position in a coastal community, the ships of the alphabet fleet had a major role to play. The author has researched her topic and she writes in a readable style. However, more thorough proofreading would have eliminated inconsistencies and errors.


Hanrahan, Maura., “The Alphabet Fleet: The Pride of the Newfoundland Coastal Service.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 17, 2024,