Ancient Mariners of Carrall Street

CVA 586-1578 – Captain J. H. Palmer, the founder of The Ancient Mariner Rope and Canvas, engaged in making what appears to be a scramble-net or cargo-net. 1943? Don Coltman photo.

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. First stanza. Text of 1834.

As far as I know, none of the proprietors of the Ancient Mariner Rope and Canvas shop had long grey beards, but I’m not so sure that they didn’t all have glittering eyes, especially when the time seemed apt to spin a seafaring tale.

Captain J. H. Palmer, the founder of the Ancient Mariner shop at 225 Carrall Street (near ‘Blood Alley’ and Maple Tree Square in Gastown) established the business ca1941. He lived in the back of the shop. He was a “master craftsman” at rope splicing and in his shop he made ship’s bumpers, rigging, ladders, lifebuoys, and nets.

James Harvey Palmer was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia [1] ca1870 to Jacob Nelson and Naomi Allan Palmer. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, according to Palmer, were also sea captains. Palmer first went to sea at age 15 (ca1885) and by age 19, “he became the youngest second mate in sail on the east coast” He got his master’s ticket (his first captaincy) in Seattle in 1906 (Province, 8 June 1949).

2009-005.462 – Ancient Mariner Rope Works, located in Gastown during World War II 1939-45. W. M. Seivewright (right) and Captain James Palmer (left).

When Palmer established Ancient Mariner Rope and Canvas during WWII, he had at least one assistant. Captain D. J. McDonald was among the earliest. Another was William M. Seivewright, who became a local journalist.

Captain Dan McDonald. The Province, 26 November 1962. Gordon Sedawie, photo.

Palmer had an injury to one of his hands in 1955 and no doubt found that cramped his style as a rope-maker (Sun, 31 December 1955). He sold the business ca1956 to William H. S. Wilson and Captain R. G. Lawson [2]. Lawson died in 1958. By 1962, the Ancient Mariner had adapted to the changing market and was then producing nylon helicopter nets which could handle 2-ton loads of supplies dropped at remote forestry camps. Captain Dan McDonald was still helping out at the Ancient Mariner in 1962 (and, of course, sharing his shipping yarns with whoever would listen; there are a few examples of McDonald’s seafaring tales below).

The business seems to have faded to black by the mid-1960s. Bill Wilson died in 1969.

Steve Roper, Publishers Syndicate. Province, 12 April 1958. Here is a Rime of the Ancient Mariner allusion in comic form. By the way, for those of you who think that the ‘bad guy’, Twitch, is handing Steve a mini-TV, that is actually a camera (a little larger than an iPhone)! (As for the hint as to how the camera could be used as a weapon, I suspect that had to do with the flashbulb that was part of it; to temporarily ‘blind’ Twitch.)


  1. Palmer’s early years are a bit mysterious. In the 1909 U.S. Census he claimed that he had dual citizenship and shows both his parents as being born in Maine. In a 1918 US Passport application, Palmer claims that he was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1870. He was at the time, according to this application, a “Constructing Engineer” in Lima, Peru with “Conchos Temstine Co.”
  2. Lawson was formerly with the Malahat Shipping Co., Ltd. Lawson, in his capacity with Malahat, made an offer in 1954 to the Canadian federal government to blast Ripple Rock (Province, 23 September 1954). Their offer was not accepted. Ripple Rock was exploded by another firm in 1958.

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