Abstract: Technology Adoption and Adaptation in Canada's West Coast Shipyards, 1918-1950

Chris Madsen


Shipbuilding emerged as a major industry in the province of British Columbia during the first half of the twentieth century. The demands of world wars, foreign and coastal trade markets with accompanying port development, government stimulus of industry and manufacturing, as well as a growing commodity-driven regional economy influenced decisions behind construction of ships. Private companies and government procurement officials measured progress in shipbuilding against developments in other leading maritime countries, most particularly the United Kingdom and the United States. Shipbuilding in British Columbia reflected an amalgam of British craft tradition, North American production practice, and the inclinations of individual owners and their workforces. Accordingly, adoption of new technology in this "modern" industry relied on perceived suitability and acceptance. Key areas included the choice between wood and steel construction, longer term infrastructure investments under the Dry Dock Subsidies Act, persistence of riveting versus welding in hull assembly, locally supplied marine engines and complex machinery, and the finishing applied to new construction and conversions. Canada's mid-size west coast shipyards were always hard-pressed to keep abreast of the latest technology in order to maintain any competitive edge and to offset other limitations besetting shipbuilding generally as a viable heavy industry.

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