Burrard Drydock Company: More than just ships were built

A recent donation of photographs related to the Burrard Drydock Company led me into our collection to see what other associated library and archival records we had. Shipwright Alfred Wallace started the Wallace Shipyards Ltd. in 1906. As his company grew, he changed the name to Wallace Shipbuilding and Repair Ltd. and expanded to sites in False Creek and North Vancouver. In 1921, the name was changed to Burrard Drydock Co. Ltd. and in 1925 they built the first floating drydock in Vancouver. The company was the busiest Canadian shipyard during the war, building a total of 109 Park and Fort Liberty-class freighters, corvettes, minesweepers, and Admiralty maintenance ships from 1939-1945. During this time they also converted and outfitted 19 escort carriers for the Royal Navy. At its peak, the shipyard was one of Vancouver’s major employers with 14,000 staff. After the war, the company continued to build and repair ships and consolidated its holdings with a number of other ship – yards. The Wallace family sold the shipyard to Cornat Industries in 1972 and it was renamed Burrard Yarrows Corporation. By 1985, the shipyard was known as Versatile Pacific Shipyards Inc. and a few short years later, in 1992, the floating drydocks, along with the support buildings at the eastern end of the shipyard, were acquired by a new company, Vancouver Drydock Co. Ltd., which is still in operation today as a part of Seaspan Marine Corporation.

But, enough of a history lecture… back to the photographs! The don tion included crisp, stunning black and white images of the 1916-1917 construction of wooden hulls #92, 93, and 94 — later known as the schooners Mabel Brown , Geraldine Wolvin , and the Jessie Norcross built for the Canada West Coast Navigation Company. Other photographs from later yeas depicted staff hard at work in the ad – ministrative, drafting, and fabricating departments. These photographs were used as one of the sources for the anniversary publication produced by the company called Progress 1894-1946: An Illustrative Presentation by Burrard Drydock Company Limited of their War and Peacetime Shipbuilding Facilities in Canada’s Largest Pacific Port, Vancouver, British Columbia.

I also located copies of Wallace Shipbuilder, a monthly magazine published by Burrard Drydock Company for its staff. The magazine was July/August 2012 BC Shipping News 19 VANCOUVER MARITIME MUSEUM produced from July 1943 to September 1945 and was used to educate the company’s workforce about the particulars of shipbuilding (not every employee had a nautical background), the status of ships under construction, workplace safety, and included photographs of shipyard events and social activities enjoyed by staff.

Almost 70 years later, the magazine provides an insight into some of the people who worked at Burrard Drydock Company. The June 1944 issue contains an article titled “International Harmony” and includes photos and introductions to seven employees from Russia, Netherlands, the Ukraine, Finland, England, Hungary and Ireland, each bringing their unique talents to the shipbuilding efforts at Burrard Drydock. Other articles in the issue include work- place inventions by staff that increased productivity and streamlined workflow for the welding and machine shops; a re – cord of the celebrations for the completion of the shipyard’s 85th ship (Canada’s 300 th Victory ship for the war); social notices including marriage and birth announcements; language and swimming class schedules; invitations to join various clubs and activities; gardening tips; lost and found items; and an update on the various sports teams made up of shipyard staff titled “What Goes on in the Sports World of Burrard” with infor – mation on the boxing, tug-o-war, swim – ming, softball, and bowling teams. When viewed together, these photo – graphs and publications give us insight into the Burrard Drydock Company through the years. The shipyard was its own large extended family, made up of a community of people brought together for the common goal of building and re – pairing ships, but strengthened by their social ties with each other. Records like this remind us of Vancouver’s rich and proud history of shipbuilding.

Lisa Glandt has been the Librarian/ Archivist for the Vancouver Maritime Museum since 2007. She started volunteering at the museum in 1999 sharing maritime stories with school children and now she preserves the stories. She can be contacted at archives@vancou – vermaritimemuseum.com.