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The world-class performance of Vancouver’s shipyard teams

The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will see many Canadians perform at world-class levels. During the Second World War, four Vancouver shipyards delivered world class performances replacing merchant ships lost to German submarines.

Every May Canadians are reminded of the significance of the Battle of the Atlantic. The replacement of merchant ship losses was a factor in the eventual Allied victory – the Japanese did not replace the merchant ships sunk by American submarines.

At VJ Day, Canada had not only the fourth largest merchant fleet in the world but Canadian shipbuilding capacity ranked third after that of the US and the UK. Canadian shipyards had launched over 400 merchant ships, and Burrard Dry Dock Company (BDD), with yards in Vancouver and North Vancouver, North Vancouver Ship Repairs, later to become Pacific Drydock Company, and West Coast Ship Builders (WCSB) were key contributors to Canada’s war time achievements.

The four Vancouver shipyards launched 123 of the 188 “Forts” leased to the British to operate. These 10,000-tonne merchant ships were all given the names of forts taken from Canadian history. The merchant ship Fort Alabama, launched by BDD, was not intended to curry favour with our American allies but rather to recognize a fort so named in 1717 by explorers from New France at the junction of two rivers in Louisiana. The Fort Rae, launched by BDD, carried the name of a trading post still active in 1942. Shared Canada-US history is reflected in the name Fort Cumberland, given to both an American-launched T2 tanker and a Vancouver-built fort.

The four Vancouver shipyards launched 66 of the 181 “Parks,” otherwise known as ships given to the Crown Corporation, Park Steamship Company Limited, to operate under a Canadian flag. Their names reflect the parks known by Canadians in 1942. For example, besides being a Toronto locale, the Queens Park launched by WCSB was also a park in New Westminster, BC. It should be noted that forty-three 4,700-ton merchant ships bearing the “park” name were also built in Eastern yards.

Eight of nine merchant vessels, intended for British use as stores issuing ships in the Pacific, were launched by Vancouver yards. And 21 maintenance and repair ships, based on the 10,000-ton merchant ship design, were built for Royal Navy use and launched in Vancouver waters. Two eventually served in the RCN as the Cape Breton and the Cape Scott.

BDD was also involved in converting 19 American built freighters into escort carriers. Two, the Nabob and the Puncher, were manned by the RCN when completed. Vancouver dry docks also did the majority of the repairs on the 125 Soviet ships that were serviced on Canada’s West Coast once the USSR became an ally. Major re-building was often required!

It has been said that BC yards delivered two 10,000-ton freighters every week during World War II. The bulk came from the four Vancouver yards, whose output totaled 218 of 253 West Coast launches.

As old athletes fade, so too do memories and businesses. Burrard Dry Dock absorbed Pacific Dry Dock in 1954, became Versatile Pacific Shipyard in 1985, and laid off its last employee in 1997.

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