Unlocking North Vancouver History

A Riveted Community: North Vancouver’s Wartime Shipbuilding

SS Fort Babine

World War II merchant ships were built for function, not beauty. They were painted dull grey to blend in with the waters of the Atlantic. The cargo they carried to the theatres of war was vital to Allied progress and ultimate success. Each ship was able to hold 6,270 tons (5,687 t) of bacon, ham, cheese, flour and canned goods; 2,150 tons (1,950 t) of steel bars and slabs; enough Bren-gun carriers, tanks and motorcycles to equip an infantry battalion; 1,900 tons (1,723 t) of aircraft bombs; enough lumber and nails for 90 four-room cottages; two complete bombers; and the aluminum required to build 310 medium bomber aircraft. A crew of about 50 included defence personnel to operate the guns, clearly visible here on the stern. In accordance with the Allies’ DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships) plan, the vessels were armed with antitorpedo nets, antimine paravanes, rifles, machine guns and antiaircraft weapons.

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This finished North Sands-type 10,000-ton ship, the SS Fort Babine, leaves North Van Ship Repairs for service in the Atlantic Ocean.

Fort Babine was a Hudson’s Bay Company post established in 1822 at the north end of Babine Lake, the largest natural lake in the province of British Columbia.

Completed in June of 1942, the SS Fort Babine had a short life. She was bombed and sunk on September 13, 1943, off the coast of Spain.

Merchant-ship gunners were naval recruits with about two months of extra training. A typical wartime cargo ship had a Leading Seaman “gunlayer” as the officer and six gunners.

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