MV John Hamilton Gray

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Name: M/V John Hamilton Gray
Namesake: John Hamilton Gray
Builder: Marine Industries Limited, Sorel, Quebec
Launched: May 1965
Acquired: October 1968
Commissioned: 1968
Decommissioned: Marine Atlantic, 1997
Contessa International, 2004
Refit: 1980, upper vehicle deck rear loading added, side loading hatch closed in, top-side wood outer decks removed
1997, passenger deck overhauled into a casino
Homeport: Borden, PEI (1968-1997)
Palm Beach, Florida (1998-2001)
Port Aransas, Texas (2001-2004)
Fate: Scrapped, 2004
General characteristics
Displacement: 10,678 long tons (10,849 t)
Length: 122.1 m (400 ft 7 in)
Beam: 21.09 m (69 ft 2 in)
Draught: 6.19 m (20 ft 4 in)
Ice class: 3 East Coast 100 A1
Propulsion: 8 × Fairbanks Morse 12-38D8-1/8 12-cylinder opposing piston engines 11,768 kW (15,781 hp)
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Capacity: 516 passengers
165 car equivalents and 18 tractor trailers or 16 railway cars

MV John Hamilton Gray was an icebreaking railway, vehicle, and passenger ferry which operated across the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Strait, connecting Port Borden to Cape Tormentine between 1968-1997.[1]

Interestingly, the John Hamilton Gray was named in honour of two different people who shared the same name:

Both men lived in the same era and ended up in public service in the neighbouring colonies of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, which this vessel would connect as a ferry.

Ferry service

The MV John Hamilton Gray was launched in May 1965 as hull 349 at the Marine Industries Limited shipyard in Sorel, Quebec, and sub-assemblies were built by the Davie Shipyard in Lauzon and towed by barge to Sorel to be completed on the ferry. She was fitted out on November 1, 1967, and delivered in October 1968. The sea trials took place in September 1968. Her designers were the famous Montreal design firm of German & Milne. Her owner was the Canadian National Railway (CN), operator of the Borden-Tormentine service from 1918-1977.

Beginning in May 1972, the John Hamilton Gray was used during the peak travel season on CN's Cabot Strait services from North Sydney to Channel-Port aux Basques and Argentia. The seasonal service to Newfoundland typically lasted until November, whereby the John Hamilton Gray would return to the Northumberland Strait service for the winter icebreaking season where she served alongside the MV Abegweit. Her summer participation in the Newfoundland service ended in September 1988 in advance of the MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood's entry into service in 1989.

In 1977, CN created a subsidiary CN Marine to operate its ferry services. In 1986, CN Marine changed its name to Marine Atlantic, the last operator of the ferry service between Borden and Cape Tormentine.

The vessel's name was typically shortened to The Gray by passengers but was also affectionately called Big John by crewmembers in reference to icebreaking power and physical size. Throughout the 1970s until the new MV Abegweit entered service in 1982, the John Hamilton Gray was the largest and most powerful ferry on the Northumberland Strait.

The John Hamilton Gray was designed to be compatible with the A Dock at both Borden and Cape Tormentine which was in use by the original MV Abegweit (and whose design is traced to the SS Prince Edward Island). The John Hamilton Gray loaded only from the stern on the lower rail/truck deck, however until a modification in the early 1980s (in advance of the arrival of the new MV Abegweit), the upper car deck was loaded from a side hatch at the stern. The modification in the early 1980s saw the side hatch sealed and a stern loading hatch added.

On December 31, 1989 the John Hamilton Gray hauled the last railcars and locomotives off Prince Edward Island as CN Rail abandoned its former Prince Edward Island Railway trackage in the province.

The John Hamilton Gray was chartered for two summers by "Croisières Carleton-les-Îles", a private ferry company in Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula during 1995 and 1996, running a passenger-vehicle service between Carleton-sur-Mer and Cap-aux-Meules, Quebec in the Magdalen Islands.

The John Hamilton Gray departed the Northumberland Strait for the final time on April 28, 1997, when she headed to Point Edward, Nova Scotia for disposal. The pending opening of the Confederation Bridge on May 31, 1997, would result in the permanent closure of the ferry service and Marine Atlantic only required three vessels (MV Holiday Island, MV Vacationland, and MV Abegweit) during the last month of operation.

Casino cruise service

The John Hamilton Gray was sold in July 1997 at Point Edward by the Government of Canada's Crown Assets Division to Contessa International, a casino cruise company in the United States. The vessel was overhauled at a shipyard in Les Méchins, Quebec, and departed for West Palm Beach, Florida, in November, no longer a ferry but a casino cruise ship.

Carrying the new name Contessa I, the vessel operated cruises from West Palm Beach from 1998 to 2001. Still owned by Contessa International, she was managed by Kyma Ship Management of Panama and renamed Texas Treasure II. The vessel operated casino cruises from Port Aransas, Texas, for the 2002 season before being mothballed at Freeport, Bahamas, and placed for sale, following the failure of U.S. Coast Guard safety and U.S. government hygiene inspections.


The vessel was renamed Treasure and sailed to the Alang Shipbreaking Yard in Alang, India. The Lloyd's Registry shows the vessel as demolished on March 15, 2004; however, records indicate that the vessel departed Freeport on April 30, 2004, passing the Suez Canal on June 11 and being scrapped later that month.


  1. Canadian Shipping and Marine Engineering News. v.38 1966-1967. Maclean Publishers. 1966. "A second icebreaking ferry being built at Marine Industries is the MV John Hamilton Gray, destined for service in the Northumberland Straits".