K. Joseph Spears

On May 21, the naming of Canada’s largest gantry crane at Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards in North Vancouver, B.C. took place. It was a very unique and happy event that will not soon be forgotten by 1,000 who attended. The 300-tonne towering crane’s official name was announced, Hiyi Skwayel, (pronounced hee-yaya sk-why-el) which is the Squamish language translation of “Big Blue”. Searching for an appropriate name, Seaspan reached out to the community through the North Vancouver School District and asked for student input into the naming of the crane. This began with a two-week long “Crane Naming contest” with the North Vancouver students. The contest, which called upon more than 4,400 students from grades 4 to 7 from 25 schools across North Vancouver, led to 228 submissions including the winning entry. Of course, there were prizes involved. How cool it is for an elementary student to name a massive crane, which is sitting prominently on the North Vancouver waterfront waiting to help build ships.

A committee of Seaspan employees narrowed the names down to ten entries. These ten entries were anonymously circulated to the 2,500 Seapan employees to vote on the winning entry. It was a true employee and community effort which Seaspan is to be congratulated on. This unique naming event cements and links the Seapan shipyard modernization to the community and Canada’s economic and ocean future.

The student with the winning name was Grade 4 student Ella Tinto of Boundary Elementary school in North Vancouver. Ella searched through the Squamish language for the appropriate name in her school library. Both the school and her name are noted on the crane which towers 80 metres above the shipyard. Ella had the additional pleasure of breaking a bottle of champagne over the crane while her class watched from a 10-metre scissor lift. To say this was an exciting event for Ella and her family who were also in attendance would be an understatement. Her father, along with Seaspan’s Brian Carter, was present in the scissor lift.

“The number of great names and quality of the creative inspiration we received was nothing short of incredible, and Seaspan is honoured to have had the opportunity to collaborate with a long-standing community partner,” said Brian Carter, President, Seaspan Shipyards. “Our new 300-tonne gantry crane not only marks a major milestone in the Government of Canada’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), but it also represents a permanent fixture in the North Shore skyline and the future of North Vancouver.”

It is a very fitting name for an integral part of Seaspan’s shipyard modernization that sits on the traditional territory of the Squamish nation. The crane was blessed by Squamish elder Bob Barker and the Eagles Song Dancers. It is a very good omen for both the ships to be built, their crews and shipyard staff.

The crane is a critical component of Seaspan’s Shipyard Modernization Project, a two-year, $200 million project which, when completed this Fall, will provide state-of-the-art facilities to efficiently deliver Non-Combat vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard. The construction starts with oceanographic research vessels followed by the Berlin class resupply ships that are urgently needed by the Navy. After those are built, the Coast Guard icebreaker John D. Diefenbaker will be constructed, which will go well in the next dedcade.

During the naming ceremony, Mr. Carter explained how the crane Hiyi Skwayel, came into being. The concept for the overhead gantry originated when during the NSPS proposal stage one of the consultants, Mr. Park, suggested that a gantry was required for the modular construction proposed by Seaspan. Overnight he prepared a paper crane to explain the concept to the Seaspan team. As the naming process was ongoing and underway, six-year-old Spencer Johnson delivered a hand built Lego gantry crane to Seapan’s offices. This was proudly displayed at the naming.

“We proudly believe that our new crane exemplifies Seaspan’s unwavering commitment to its investment in people, processes and equipment,” said Brian. “Once our modernized facilities are operational, Seaspan will begin construction on NSPS work that will create 5,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs over the next 20 years, produce almost $500 million per year in gross domestic product for B.C.’s economy, and mean thousands of young people will get the opportunity for an exciting new career in shipbuilding.”

From paper to Lego to the real crane is a wonderful story of Canada’s marine potential. Canada has a great shipbuilding future based on a solid foundation and the blessing of the Squamish people. Seaspan ‘s reaching out to future generations, and this crane naming event by North Vancouver students and Ella Tinto in particular is a good totem for Canada’s ocean future.