Prince Rupert Drydock

The Prince Rupert Drydock was a monster, larger than the Esquimalt Graving Dock at the time it was built. It was conceived by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company (GTP) as part of a grand scheme which included the new city of Prince Rupert, the port and the transcontinental railway. Work began in 1912 and the first ship went onto the massive floating pontoons in September, 1915, but political wrangling and GTP bungling kept the dock from seeing much more than token work. It became known around town as 'the greatest slacker in Canada'.

Following the First World War the GTP was taken over by the Canadian National Railway, which assumed ownership of the drydock, and the company's steamships had their annual refits there. Not until 1919 was construction of the first steel-hulled ship begun at the drydock, part of the federal government's new Canadian Government Merchant Marine. Governor General, the Duke of Devonshire, laid the first steel plate of the 8100 ton Canadian Scottish on September, 1919. In 1921 it and the Canadian Britisher were launched with great civic celebration.

But the Prince Rupert Drydock was not destined to be a centre for constructing large steel ships. The large drydock saw most of its work come from the mosquito fleet: wooden fishing boats, work boats, forestry cruisers and mission boats.

Between 1921 and 1931, at least 20 wooden boats were built at the drydock, including the last paddlewheeler to be built, the Essington, a snag scow used to remove submerged logs from the rivers and help maintain government docks.

One of the most famous of North Coast wooden boats was built there in 1928, Charlie Currie's tug C.R.C.. Charlie designed the boat himself. The C.R.C. was launched in February, 1929.

In 1930 at the beginning of the Depression, the drydock was still busy with contracts that had been let the year before. Many felt the drydock was an unfair competitor against the small boatyards, given its large workforce and government backing.

"The drydock at that time was building a lot of boats. They built the Chief Seegay, the Chief Tapeet, the Takla, the Covenant and the Melville. The Signal was built at the drydock. All beautiful boats. In my opinion the Prince Rupert Drydock built the nicest and most beautiful boats on the Pacific Coast. One of the reasons was that the drydock was a big organization, owned then by Canadian National Railways, and it wasn't a very profitable operation. It was made to build and repair big ships and when that got to be a problem, not enough big ships coming' in here, they did start to build smaller vessels to make work for the men. They competed very heavy with the smaller shipyards. It wasn't particularly fair to the smaller yards. The drydock being owned and backed by the government, they could build a boat for practically half the price. It was done more or less to give work to their men. That was one of the reasons the drydock was eventually closed out. The other shipyards and machine shops petitioned the government that Prince Rupert could get along very well without the drydock." (Horace Tattersall interview, North Pacific Archives, ca. 1981)

World War II was a different story. Every resource was required for the war effort, even the far-flung outport of Prince Rupert. The monster drydock was finally allowed to carry out its original function, building four 'Bangor' class minesweepers, 13 cargo ships of the 'Fort' and 'Park' classes, and two China Coasters. Thousands of workers were required, and hundreds of new homes were built for the dockyard workers.

Following the war, however, the drydock was declared a repair depot only. Then in 1954, the federal government pulled the plug on the $200,000 a year subsidy that had been keeping the drydock afloat. By September, the plant was shut down and put under wraps. No offers came from private concerns to restart the operation. The only real offer was by the McCurdy's from the Puget Sound and Dredge Company in Seattle, and what they wanted were the floating pontoons. 'It was D-Day in Prince Rupert today, wrote the Prince Rupert Daily News, 'as demolition of the drydock began. That was December 11, 1954, the day when Puget Sound Tug Company's tug Hercules towed away the largest of the three floating pontoons, at 300 feet long and 130 feet wide.

The drydock's power house continued to supply electricity to Prince Rupert for a number of years, until it was demolished in 1981. A sawmill used the site for a number of years and today it is the location of Canadian Fishing Company's Oceanside plant.

 

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