A Riveted Community: North Vancouver's Wartime Shipbuilding
North Vancouver Museum and Archives

During World War II, North Vancouver shipyards make a vital contribution to an Allied victory. They produce almost half the 354 Canadian-built cargo ships constructed to replace those sunk by German submarines. Employee numbers swell, and round-the-clock productivity helps to turn the tide of the war.

Since ships are critical to carry North American supplies to the theatres of conflict, the federal government co-ordinates Canada's mass production of 10,000-ton freighters. West Coast shipyards quickly emerge as the most efficient of the country, as the mild climate allows for easier year-round construction.

Clarence Wallace, president of Burrard Dry Dock, makes it a mission to exceed his expected contribution. He operates four building berths and adds four more in a new yard on the Vancouver side of Burrard Inlet. Neighbouring North Vancouver Ship Repairs also rebuilds its facilities. Like all Allied shipbuilders, these shipyards work from a single design with standardized parts. Workers shape and cut thousands of steel plates. One by one these are riveted together with red-hot steel pins, a technology that distinguishes Canadian-made Victory ships from welded American Liberty ships. Small crews use tools to heat, pass, catch and secure the rivets.

Up to 14,000 workers punch Burrard Dry Dock's time clocks daily during 1942 and 1943. Significantly, women make up seven percent of the work force, assembling equipment and working on rivet gangs. Having experienced the best jobs of their lives, they leave reluctantly at war's end.

A company newsletter, Wallace Shipbuilder, provides technical information and encourages dedication to the war effort. Workers join sports teams, and the shipyards hold war-bond rallies. North Vancouver's population doubles as employees move into newly built wartime housing. The whole community is engaged, and life is regulated by shipyard time. Everyone is exhorted to be aware of security, including children who participate in Air Raid Precaution training in anticipation of enemy attack.

Production of merchant vessels, named after Canadian forts and parks, tapers off after 1943, and in 1951 Burrard Dry Dock buys out North Vancouver Ship Repairs to eliminate the competition and consolidate its position as Canada's leading West Coast shipyard.