Port of Halifax has helped Nova Scotia economy stay afloat for over 250 years

Posted on October 01, 2021 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments

The City of Halifax has a long and proud maritime history. Hosting North America’s first ferry service and naval dry dock in the 1750s, Port of Halifax has been a gateway of economic activity for the province for over 250 years. A pillar of this financial contribution has been Halifax Shipyard.

The Halifax Graving Dock (a narrow basin that can be drained for shipbuilding and repairs) was built on September 21, 1889. Wooden ships, steel-hulled vessels and military destroyers were constructed and thousands of ships repaired at Halifax Shipyard over the years. After surviving one of the world’s largest man-made explosions and 132 years of production, the dry dock remains in operation today.  


A 1895 photo of the Halifax Graving Dock. (Photo credit: Canadian Society for Civil Engineering)



Halifax Explosion

Occurring in close proximity to the Halifax Graving Dock in 1917, the Halifax Explosion was the largest man-made explosion pre-dating the atomic bomb. The collision between two ships in Halifax Harbour caused extensive damage. However, impact on the dry dock was minimal. Two months after the disaster, Halifax Shipyard was back in business. 



The Halifax Graving Dock after the Halifax Explosion in 1917 (Photo credit: Canadian Society for Civil Engineering)


Shipbuilding at Halifax Shipyard

Halifax Graving Dock Company was the original owner of the dry dock, now recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Site. Initial production started with wooden ships. In 1918, ownership changed to Halifax Shipyard Limited and construction of the first steel-hulled ships began. Years later, all Canadian destroyers were built at Halifax Shipyard during World War II. 

From 1918 to 1978 shipbuilding provided the largest contribution to N.S.’s economy.



Dorothy Lutz at work welding at Halifax Shipyard in 1943. (Photo credit: Irving Shipbuilding Inc.)



Adding Diversity to the Workforce

In response to a labour shortage during the Second World War, the first group of tradeswomen began working at Halifax Shipyard in 1943. Six women completed an emergency three-month welding program. Dorothy Lutz, 16 at the time, became the youngest person to complete the training.

Today, Halifax Shipyard remains committed to increasing diversity in their workforce through collaboration with organizations like Women Unlimited.  



A modern day photo of Halifax Shipyard (Photo credit: Irving Shipbuilding Inc.)



Halifax Shipyard Today

Irving Shipbuilding Inc. acquired Halifax Shipyard Limited in 1994, which still operates with the dry dock’s original design. 

After a 20 year lull in shipbuilding, Halifax Shipyard received a contract to build nine vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard in 2009. Then, in 2011, the provincial government launched a ‘Ships Start Here’ campaign to support Irving Shipbuilding’s bid for the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS); a federal contract for the construction of 31 ships for the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard. Irving Shipbuilding was selected for the $25-billion contract later that year. Upgrades to facilities at Halifax Shipyard began in 2013 with collaboration from Mott MacDonald and Hatch, and execution of the NSPS contract began in 2014. 

A recent story from Irving Shipbuilding reported on its progress with the NSPS contract. Electrical work is underway for the third Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS), which is scheduled for delivery to the Royal Canadian Navy in 2022. 

After 132 years, construction at Halifax Shipyard continues.


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