By Alston Jacobs, Capilano University
One interesting aspect of North Shore history, and to an extent the Lower Mainland, is its rich shipbuilding legacy. One of the first shipbuilders in the region was the Wallace Shipyard. This shipyard was located in Vancouver until 1906 when owner Alfred Wallace moved it to North Vancouver to take advantage of local lumber industry, an important decision as World War I started.
World War I
The onset of war in 1914 saw the need to build more ships for the war effort. Wallace Shipyard shifted from building lumber tugs to cargo ships for the war. The first ones constructed were already out-of-date by the time they were completed, as better, more high performing ships were needed. This empowered Wallace Shipyard to build stronger, faster, better ocean-going vessels.
These efforts resulted in the creation of Canada’s first ocean going, steel-hulled cargo ships. Once The Great War ended in 1918, Wallace Shipyard was expanded and eventually became Burrard Dry Dock in the 1920s. Burrard Dry Dock produced cargo ships throughout the 1920s and 1930s, but their services were requested once again as World War II plunged the world back into war in 1939.
World War II
World War II created a need to make the production process more efficient. The new process broke down the production process into a series of individual steps that could be completed in order, using a series of standardized parts.
These methods also required mass hiring as a larger workforce was needed. Before the 1940s, a woman working directly in the shipbuilding area of the Burrard Dry Docks was unheard of. That all changed during World War II. Demand for wartime ships skyrocketed for the Burrard Dry dock, “A ship a week!” to be exact. With men called off to war, a labour shortage threatened ship construction.
The solution? Women. At first the idea was opposed as it was against the patriarchal norms of the time, but necessity pushed the matter and before long the first fourteen women walked onto the yard as passer girls.
Burrard Dry Dock produced 109 Victory ships, a class of cargo ship that was larger than the previous version in an effort to avoid German U-boats.
During the war and continuing on until the 1970s, the Burrard Dry Dock kept active with naval contracts and ship maintenance and repair requests until the Wallace family sold it in 1972. At that point, the name changed to Burrard-Yarrows Corporation and in 1985 it changed again to Versatile Pacific Shipyards.
Did You Know?
- 109 Victory class ships were built here, the most in Canada.
- The St. Roch, the first ship to navigate the Northwest Passage in both directions, was built in 1928 at the Burrard Dry Dock. The St. Roch is currently housed at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.
- The second president of Wallace Shipyard, Clarence Wallace, became the first locally-born British Columbia resident to become Lieutenant-Governor.
- All four Wallace sons served in World War II.
The Shipyards Today
Today, the Burrard Dry Dock mainly focuses on maintaining and repairing naval, and commercial vessels and is now operated by Seaspan, which has kept North Vancouver’s shipbuilding tradition alive.
Part of the former Burrard Dry Dock area has been transformed into a vibrant new public space known as The Shipyards, which blends history and modernity to create a truly dynamic urban space which both locals and tourists have come to enjoy.
Theatrical Walking Tours of The Shipyards
Join us this summer for free walking tours with our costumed, theatrical players. Enjoy The Shipyards and learn about its place in World War II history as a major shipbuilding yard. Stories, songs and learning all rolled into one!
- Thursdays and Sundays, July 7 to September 4, 2022.
- Tours run twice per day, at 11:00am and 1:00pm.
- Location: Meet at the foot of Lonsdale and Victory Ship Way.
Group bookings are available. To book a free group walking tour, please call 604-990-3700 (ext. 8008)
During the spring of 2022, students were invited to explore the Museum of North Vancouver to create editorial content inspired by MONOVA’s Archival and Museum collections. Watch for other stories from the students to roll out over the coming months.
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