The Ships of Montreal – 1943 A short-lived shipbuilding industry

In Repatrition I have set the family side of the story in Montreal. Helen Chandler’s sister Lillian and her father Robert both work for United Shipyards, a wartime shipbuilding facility on the St. Lawrence River.

Canada, despite its ocean access East and West, was not a ship-building nation between the wars. But after the fall of France, Canada was called on to build and repair thousands of ships for the Atlantic convoy route.

Here’s a quick summary of what was achieved:

“Canada in 1940 had just started to build patrol vessels for the protection of its own coasts, but Britain soon placed orders for 26 ten-thousand-tonne cargo ships and soon after orders for naval escorts and minesweepers. This was just the beginning, as Britain made clear it needed Canada to build as many naval and merchant ships as it possibly could. The practically non-existent Canadian interwar shipbuilding industry – three shipyards employing fewer than 4,000 men – expanded to 90 plants on the East and West Coasts, the Great Lakes and even inland.

More than 126,000 men and women were employed.
Canadian shipyards built 4,047 naval vessels
Built 300 anti-submarine warships
4 Tribal class destroyers
410 cargo ships

At its wartime peak in September 1943, the industry was able to deliver the ten-thousand-tonne SS Fort Romaine in a stunning 58 days from the start of construction.

There were 348, ten thousand-ton, merchant ships built in Canada during the war. Large and relatively slow, but reliable and easily adapted to a variety of cargoes, these ships and those who sailed on them ensured the delivery of much of Canada’s war production.

During 1941, the first of the large 10,000 ton merchant ships were taking an average of 307 days to build (and up to 426 days in one case). One year later, average production time had dropped to 163 days. Some 57,000 individuals were employed in merchant shipbuilding and a further 27,000 worked in naval shipbuilding, which included building vessels like destroyers, frigates, corvettes, and minesweepers.

That’s taken from The Canadian War Industry, a page on the Canada at War website. I think it may originate from a book called “Canada – The New Nation.”

Untitled-7As far as I can tell, only one full length book has been written on the Canadian shipbuilding effort. For whatever reason, it is, as of this writing, really expensive on Amazon.

The shipbuilding industry in Canada declined as rapidly as it had grown. Pritchard attributes this (according to reviewers) to the decline of government support after the war. Labor and materials costs made it impossible for the Canadians to compete on the open market.

Two or three shipyards were built or expanded in Montreal during the war. United Shipyards was the biggest. It built about fifty major ships during the war, most of them 10,000 ton cargo ships of the ‘Fort’ series, each named after a famous Canadian or British fort. The Fort Romaine, mentioned above was completed in 58 days on September 8, 1943. The other ships mentioned included the Fort Esperance, shown at the top of this post, and below at launch.

Fort Esperance Launch: National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / e000761720

Finally, this is a brief article from the Canadian War Museum

And here is a list of all the ships built at United Shipyards


The Ships of Montreal – 1943 A short-lived shipbuilding industry — 2 Comments

  1. Hi
    I am looking for a picture of the Wellington Park, Portland Park, Fort Mingan and Fort Romaine. Is it possible to find photos of these ships by any means.
    Best Regards

  2. My father worked at the United Shipyards in Montreal from 1942 until 1945. He was involved in the plumbing aspect of the Liberty Ships.

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