We’re sometimes asked about the origins of the name of Drydock Road, leading down to the Canfisco Oceanside plant.
This was once of the site of Prince Rupert Drydock & Shipbuilding, a massive facility when it was built, and a disproportionate number of storied vessels were launched here.
Some, such as the patrol boat Lillian D and the trawler Pacific Searcher, to name just two, are still active. Others, such as the tug C.R.C. (1929), the fishing vessel Signal (1927) that once carried Queen Elizabeth, or the packers Chief Seegay (1929) and Chief Tapeet (1930), are famous vessels in Prince Rupert’s history. The mission boat Northern Cross was launched here in 1931. The Essington, a Department of Transport snag boat built in 1931 and considered the last sternwheeler on the Skeena River, ended up as a floating restaurant on the Fraser.
The first two steel ships were launched in 1921 while the Drydock was under the control of Wallace Shipyards, and both were lost during the Second World War – both, ironically, flying enemy flags.
The first was the Canadian Scottish (laid down as the Canadian Reaper), launched in August 1921. She went to Greek registry as the Mount Parnassus in 1937, and German registry as the Johann Shulte in 1939. She was wrecked off Buholmråsa Light on January 1, 1940, and her crew was saved by the Dronning Maud in what has been described as one of the most daring rescues ever made off the Norwegian coast.
The second large ship was the Canadian Britisher (laid down as the Canadian Thrasher), launched in November 1921. She was under Chinese registry as the Ping An as of 1936, and was the Japanese Heian Maru after 1938. US aircraft from a carrier task force bombed and sank the Heian Maru at Cabcaben, in the Philippines, in November 1944.
HMCS Clayoquot, a Bangor-class minesweeper launched at Prince Rupert in August 1941, was one of the escorts of Convoy XB-139 when she was torpedoed by U-806 off the approaches to Halifax harbour on Christmas Eve, 1944. There is a heartbreaking story of eight men trapped in the engine room saluting through the portholes as the vessel sank, the survivors in life rafts singing “Silent Night” as they returned the salute.
The Fort Stikine was launched from the Drydock in July 1942. Two days after she arrived at Bombay in April, 1944, with a lethal cargo of munitions and flammables, fire broke out in one of her cargo holds. She blew up in an explosion that rivaled the Halifax Explosion – all but obliterating the Bombay waterfront, killing or injuring thousands, and sinking or damaging 27 ships.
Fort Mumford, launched in December 1942, was sunk on her maiden voyage in 1943. She was torpedoed by the notorious Japanese submarine I 27, and from the testimony of the sole survivor it seems likely that the rest of the crew who escaped the sinking vessel were machine gunned in the water.
The Drydock was begun by the Grand Trunk Pacific in 1912 and opened 1915, but its operation was bungled from the beginning—first by the Grand Trunk, and ultimately by the federal government—managing only 68 hulls in its entire lifespan. It was meant to build steel ships – and indeed launched four minesweepers and 15 “Fort” and “Park” cargo ships during the Second World War – but mostly it built small wooden vessels. The Pacific Searcher (ex-Svalbard No. 1, 1947) was the last hull launched. The huge floating pontoons were towed to Seattle in 1954, marking for many the end of Prince Rupert’s aspirations to become one of Canada’s great ports.