By Tom Peters

In September 2011, the Shelburne Ship Repair facility was re-launched after a $16.8 million private and public investment that put new life and energy into a yard that was slowly drifting into decay. Ships and the sea have been at the core of Shelburne fabric for centuries. The ship repair facility had been around for over 50 years.

“HCMS Shelburne was opened on July 17, 1940 as one of the largest naval refit bases in the British Empire. If one counts coastal defence, RCAF, boom defence and Shelburne ship facility workers, approximately 7,000 people were stationed at the Shelburne facility,” said Ross Langley, Vice Chairman, Irving Shipbuilding.

Shipbuilding has always been a significant industry for Shelburne and the first vessel launched from this area of Nova Scotia was the 181-ton Roseway, built for MacLean and Bogle in 1786. It was one of the various Shelburne shipyards that built fishing schooners as well as a notable research yacht, the schooner Blue Dolphin in 1926.

The yard and it facilities, described as World War II vintage, had deteriorated to the point where they no longer met international standards set by Lloyd’s of London.

However, a deal between the provincial government agency, Nova Scotia Business Inc. and Irving Shipbuilding, which had operated the Shelburne Ship Repair for 13 years under lease, kick-started a new era for the yard and the local marine community. In January 2010, ownership of the yard was transferred to Irving Shipbuilding in an agreement under the province’s Industrial Expansion Fund whereby Nova Scotia would provide an $8.8-million loan for the yard’s upgrades. Irving Shipbuilding invested an additional $8 million.

“The investment to modernize and upgrade Shelburne Ship Repair was a testament to the opportunity we saw in the skills and experience of the men and women who work at the facility,” Langley said. “With a solid market for repair work and the skilled workers to do those jobs, we needed a facility that could accommodate larger vessels.” The facility upgrade included the construction of a brand-new marine railway capable of lifting vessels up to 4,400 tonnes, allowing the cradle to be sub-divided for work on two vessels simultaneously. It also included dredging and major reconstruction and repairs to the wharf, general paving and repairs, fencing, and shop and office repairs. Most of the upgrades were completed by Shelburne Ship Repair employees in conjunction with a number of local suppliers including Cherubini Metal Works Limited, Dominion Diving and Dexter Construction.

“Since $16.8 million was invested in refurbishing Shelburne Ship Repair, we’ve been fortunate to have a steady flow of work into the facility requiring at peak a workforce of 75,” Langley said. “After the official re-opening in September 2011, the facility has been busy repairing and servicing vessels ranging from shrimp draggers and large fishing vessels to cargo ships, tankers and military vessels. We continue to aggressively pursue a number of ship repair opportunities and hope to be in a position to announce new contracts in the near future.”

With 752 metres of available deep-water wharf side, Shelburne Ship Repair can accommodate vessels up to 229 metres alongside for dock side work. It offers a full range of repair services, and specialist support can be drafted in from other arms of the company if required. The facility includes steel fabrication facilities, blast and paint facilities, and facilities to service anodes, tailshafts, rudders and valves, and small vessel haul out with Travel-Lift.

The revitalized yard has made a strong impression on many of its customers, two in particular, Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping Inc. and Mersey Seafoods. “Our ships resupply cargo to communities and mines in the Canadian Arctic,” said Georges Tousignant, Vice-President of Operations for Nunavut shipping. “We have to have absolute faith in our ships as there isn’t any support available where we go. The Shelburne Ship Repair team provided excellent service for the vessels and were able to support all the additional metal and mechanical tasks that came up as part of our five-year special survey. We definitely plan to use Shelburne Ship Repair again for our fleet,” he said.

Greg Simpson of Mersey Seafoods said with the new marine railway at Shelburne Ship Repair “we have been able to dock all our larger vessels. Our crews and port team have an excellent working relationship with Shelburne Ship Repair and we plan to continue that relationship.”

Shelburne Ship Repair is a major driver of the local economy and provides high value employment. The majority of the team at Shelburne Ship Repair has been there since the early 80’s and a few have been there since the late 70’s. It is a well-established team, a community and a family of its own.

As a strong employer, Shelburne Ship Repair adds significantly to the local economy. Shelburne Mayor Karen Mattatall knows the importance of this business. “Shelburne Ship Repair has a long history in our community and although it is located in the municipality of the district of Shelburne, it remains a very important part of the economy that supports the Town of Shelburne,” she said. “It is located on the third deepest natural harbour in the world and has been employing a large number of workers, very good news for our area and we hope to see that number continue to grow making Shelburne a place to live, work and play,” she said.