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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The Aleksandr Pushkin and the Montreal-Leningrad Trans-Atlantic line

Photos via Soviet Union Today, You Tube and public domain.

In 1965 the production of the Soviet ocean liner the MS Aleksandr Pushkin was completed. The ship was the second of five large cruise/ocean liner ships that the Soviets had built in the 1960s and early 1970s. These ships, which were known as the "Five Poets", were all named after famed Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian writers. They were the Pushkin and the Ivan Franko, Taras Shevchenko, Shota Rustaveli and the Mikhail Lermontov. All were built in the German Democratic Republic and were seen as the jewels in the crown of the Soviet merchant marine.

The Pushkin -- which in 1965 could carry around 750 passengers -- began as a liner that ran the trans-Atlantic route of Leningrad to Montreal. It was the flagship of the Baltic Shipping Company. At times this route was expanded to include stops at other cities such as Bremerhaven, Helsinki, London and Quebec City. During certain seasons the ship would run a domestic Soviet tourist cruise route from Leningrad to Havana.

It began its maiden voyage to Montreal on April 13, 1966 and ran the route until 1980 when it stopped due to the western Olympic boycott as well as falling numbers of passengers.

In 1972 the ship was rebuilt (as were all of the Ivan Franko-class ships) to add more cabins and features. A discotheque was eventually added.

In 1965 an article about the coming route appeared in the English language magazine Soviet Union Today:

A delegation of the Ministry of Merchant Marine of the USSR was visiting Canada from 20th — 30th January 1965. The delegation included Captain Nicolai Malakhov, chief of the Passenger Fleet Division, Ministry of Merchant Marine, and Aram Aganov, captain of the passenger liner “Alexander Pushkin”. The representatives of the magazine “Soviet Union Today” met members of the delegation and asked them to tell of the purpose and of the results of that visit. Captain N. Malakhov, said:
“We, sailors, came to Canada on marine business. The question is about the opening of a new direct passenger line between the USSR and Canada. During our visit to Canada, we met representatives of the port authorities and the representatives of the firms concerned. In the course of these meetings, questions were discussed and an agreement was reached on the opening of a new Trans-Atlantic passenger line between Leningrad and Montreal.
I wish to mention, in passing, that this line will be the twelfth international passenger line served by Soviet vessels. Soviet passenger liners make voyages between many ports of the Black and Mediterranean Seas. They visit ports of France, Italy Greece, Syria, Turkey, UAR, and other countries. Another new line to be opened this year will connect Venice, Odessa, Yalta, Sochi, Batumi. In the North of Europe, Soviet vessels make voyages between London, Le Havre, Goteborg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki. The new line, as mentioned, will connect Leningrad and Montreal, with stop-over in Helsinki, Goteborg, and London (Tilbury). This line will be served by a new luxurious passenger liner “Alexander Pushkin”, soon to be completed”.
We now ask for further details about the new liner and the service. A. Aganov, captain of “Alexander Pushkin” answers all questions.
“I am twenty years at sea,” he says. “Twelve years out of the twenty, I have been master of vessels. And I should tell you that the new liner is one of the best in its class. Its dead weight is about 20,000 tons, accommodation — capacity — 750 passengers.
“The voyage from Montreal to Leningrad will last about two weeks and we hope this voyage will be pleasant and enjoyable for the passengers. They will have at their service single and double berth cabins with all conveniences. There are also four-berth cabins of the tourist class. The whole ship is air conditioned. It has a swimming pool situated on the open deck and covered with a transparent cupola and extensible ceiling. The pool has a system for heating the water for swimming in winter. There is another pool for children.

“Even the passengers who do not go to the Soviet Union will learn about Russia on board “Alexander Pushkin”. Best cooks at the restaurants will prepare Russian and Ukrainian dishes, highly spiced Caucasian dishes and foods of other nationalities of the Soviet Union. Passengers will taste the famous Russian black and red caviar, Kamchatka crabmeat, Russian vodka, Ukrainian gorilka, Georgian and Crimean wines, Armenian “koniak” (cognac) — the best wines of the country recognized at international fairs will be available for the passengers.
“Members of the crew —- amateur dancers, singers and musicians — will be glad to entertain the passengers who will learn of the old folk songs and music as well as modern music of my country.
"Lastly, a wide selection of handicrafts of different nationalities of the Soviet Union will be displayed and available for sale on board the ship. So every passenger will be able to get a nice souvenir of this trip.
“0n the liner one can find quiet salons, dancing floors with an orchestra and cinema hall with screening of the latest movies. Balls, carnivals, dance parties and other entertainments will add to the pleasures of the trip.
“You are certainly eager to learn of the rates on the line. Well, they will be fixed in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Atlantic passenger conference and will surely be lower than the rates on the respective air routes.
“In conclusion, I would like to say that the crew has many members with a fair knowledge of English, French and other languages, and they will do their best to make your voyage on board “Alexander Pushkin” an enjoyable introduction to the Soviet Union at sea."

After 1980 the ship serviced various routes in the Baltic and Atlantic until being transferred to the control of the Soviet Far Eastern Shipping Company where it ran a variety of Pacific routes that included stops in Australia.

With the overthrow of socialism in the USSR the ship sat in port for some time and looked like it would be scrapped. All the others were with the exception of the Lermontov which sank during an accident in 1985 (though hundreds of passengers and crew made it off safely, one crew member disappeared and was assumed lost).

The Pushkin got a second lease on life when it was bought by a private company, refit and relaunched as the Marco Polo. It continues to run cruises under that name today.



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