This past week marked an incredible milestone in Canadian shipbuilding history. On 20 September 1943, twelve Canadian built ships were launched simultaneously from shipyards across the nation!
During WWII, Canadian industry, mobilized to building for Victory. One of the largest and most important projects was a National Shipbuilding Program. Early in the war the enemy was sinking allied ships faster than they could be built.
For Canada and our Allies, this loss of Maritime Trade was setting a course for defeat. The United Kingdom was isolated and had to be supplied from Canada and the Commonwealth, if the merchant ships could not reach this island under siege, the war would be lost.
The job of building the merchant ships and the naval escort ships to protect them fell onto Canada. Although we were a large country in size, we had a relatively small population and relied heavily on other industrialized nations for support and protection.
In 1939, Canada had three primary shipbuilders, with less than 4,000 employees. Early in 1940 the first orders for ships were placed, 26 ten-thousand tonne cargo ships and a dozen corvettes. Construction began slowly, one of the cargo ships took a staggering 307 days to build.
With improved skills in the workforce, fabrication and an entire nation dedicated to Victory, 10,000 ton cargo ships were being completed in 106 days.
The National Shipbuilding program grew to encompass almost every community in the nation, ships are not just built on the slipways along the shore. Other industries rose to the task, building marine engines, electric motors, cranes, electronics, radios, life boats, piping and more. Even the major distilleries produced alcohol for depth charges and torpedoes.
At the height of building ships in Canada an incredible 126,000 men and women were employed across Canada. Together they collectively built:
- 348 -Fort and Park 10,000 ton Cargo ships
- 43 -Gray and Dominion 4,700 ton Cargo Ships
- 6 -3,600 ton Tanker Ships
- 4 -Destroyers
- 70 -Frigates
- 122 -Corvettes
- 210 -Minesweepers
- 27 -Motor Torpedo Boats
- 88 -Fairmille Motor Launches
- 330 -Tug Boats
An additional 8,000 small boats, rescue launches, landing craft, barges, and lighters were also built during this time.
The need for ships was so great; almost any company that could weld steel, near water was given contracts to build ships. This included Central Bridge in Trenton, located two miles inland, built 150 TANAC tugboats, producing one fully completed tugboat every two and a half days! In total over 90 firms were dedicated to the ship building industry.
This massive ship building program culminated on 20 September 1943 with the simultaneous launch of twelve major ships across the nation. In a special “Ships For Victory” broadcast by CBC radio, Canadians listened to a special tone at precisely 3pm. At that moment shipyard workers released the ships as bottles of champagne struck the hulls and twelve massive ships slid in to the waters from the Atlantic Ocean, St. Lawrence River, Great Lakes and Pacific Ocean.
The ships launched on this historic day were a full cross section of the shipbuilding program.
- HMCS MICMAC, Tribal class destroyer -Halifax Shipyards, Halifax, NS
- HMCS TORONTO, River class frigate -Davie Shipbuilding Co, Lauzon, QC
- HMCS ORKNEY, River class frigate -Yarrows Ltd., Victoria, BC
- HMCS WHITBY, Flower class corvette -Midland Shipyards Ltd., Midland, ON
- HMCS REGULUS, Algerine class minesweeper -Toronto Shipbuilding, Toronto, On
- HMCS Q112, Fairmile motor launch -J.J. Taylor and Sons Ltd., Toronto, ON
- HMCS GLENORA, Glen class tug -Russel Bros., Owen Sound, ON
- SS Dundurn, Tanker -Canada Bridge Company, Windsor, ON.
- SS Fort Esperance, Cargo ship -United Shipyards, Montreal, QC
- SS Fort Lennox, Cargo ship -Marine Industries, Sorel, QC
- CT 32, TANAC Tugboat -Central Bridge, Trenton, ON
- CT 46, TANAC Tugboat -Russel Bros., Owen Sound, ON
Canada’s shipbuilding has steadily declined in the post-war years and many of these shipbuilders have since closed.
There is still a need for ships, Canada’s economy is driven by the safe and timely arrival of trade, 90% of the merchandise that is sold in Canada has at some point travelled in a ship as a raw material or a finished product.
The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Canadian Coast Guard are dedicated to protecting Canada’s trade routes, shipping and providing safe navigation for the merchant ships that move our economy.
On 3 June 2010 the Canadian Government announced a new National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). The intent of the new shipbuilding program is to replace the aging combat and non-combatant ships of the RCN and the Canadian Coast Guard.
In 2016 the NSPS was renamed the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS).
Two shipyards were selected for this project, Irving Shipyards in Halifax and Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyard. In total the NSS outlined the need to construct:
- 5 to 6 Arctic & Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS)
- Up to 15 Surface Combatant Ships (SCS) to replace the RCN’s twelve frigates and four retired destroyers
- 2 to 3 Joint Support Ships (JSS) to replace the RCN’s two Protecteur class auxiliary oiler replenishment ships (AOR)
- 3 Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels
- 1 Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel
- 1 Polar Icebreaker
With both aging Protecteur class AOR’s, having to be paid-off before the new JSS ships could be designed, The Canadian Government sole-sourced a contract to convert an existing container ship into an interim AOR for the RCN to Chantier-Davie Shipyards. MV RESOLVE will be leased to the RCN through Federal Fleet.
The SCS ships required to replace the four already retired destroyers and twelve frigates has been delayed several times and at the writing of this article a design for the new ships has not been finalized.
Irving has two AOPS ships in construction with the first set for delivery sometime in 2018. Seaspan has three of the Coast Guard ships in production, whereas the much needed JSS ships are not slated to be delivered until 2021, but this date is doubtful as construction has yet to begin.
Davie was not selected as part of the NSS, MV RESOLVE is the only ship that is near completion and will deliver the first new ship to the RCN in sixteen years in November this year.
How does today’s National Shipbuilding Strategy compare to the Ships For Victory Program of WWII?
The Ships For Victory program produced over 1,000 ships and 8,000 boats in seven years!
The National Shipbuilding Strategy has yet to complete a single ship in the same time frame.
Could Canada produce quality ships again?
Not only do I think so, I know so! The Canadian workforce has always been known for its abilities and capabilities. We have excelled around the world in manufacturing, innovation and design. Producing many of the leading technologies in use today. Canada has the resources, knowledge and people to build any ship our sailors need to serve our nation.
Normally I try to refrain from taking sides in my blog; instead I attempt to provide a balance of both sides of a difficult question. On this subject, I must, with good conscience take the side of our sailors, the men and women that are serving in our ships and submarines at sea, defending our nation. They have volunteered to sail into harm’s way, to “Stand On Guard For Thee!”
In Harm’s Way, does not include doing their duty with outdated, worn out equipment, ships, submarines and aircraft. When we went to war in 1939, our nation was not prepared, our military and in particular the Navy was almost non-existent. We stood up for our sailors, built the ships, provided the training and together they got the job done, once the tools were provided.
This still rings true today. We must say enough!
Stop the government interference, stop the political meddling, stop the bureaucracy, stop wasting money and above all, stop the delays.
History has proven, we will again call on Canadian sailors to sail into harm’s way. It is our responsibility to ensure they have the best tools, ships, submarines and resources to get the job done!
“Build the Ships For Canada!”
Before we must build,
“Ships for Victory!”
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