The huge merchant fleet losses during the beginning of the Second World War prompted the setting up of the British Merchant Shipbuilding Mission which left Britain in September 1940 to tour North America and Canada. The mission had authority to build and purchase new ships and was to obtain 10,000 deadweight merchant ships at the rate of sixty vessels per annum. These vessels were to be built to the original 'Empire Liberty' design which was in essence the first 'North Sands' ship.
The Mission toured a number of shipbuilding and engineering works and orders were placed and contracts signed for sixty 'Ocean' class vessels to be built in two U.S. yards. Thirty of the vessels were built on the West Coast at Richmond, California and thirty on the East coast at Portland, Maine. All of these 'Ocean' vessels were paid for and owned by the British Government.
By 1941, Canada's small ship builders had begun to turn out their fleet of merchant ships which were quite the equal of those from American and British yards and at the height of the War, Canadian yards were delivering one new ship every three days. They were launched from seven yards on the West Coast, and eleven on the East Coast, St. Lawrence and Great Lakes. Of the yards who participated in the shipbuilding programme, only Davie and Canadian Vickers were completely established. Burrard had only one slipway but quickly added more while Victoria Machinery Depot, Prince Rupert Dry Dock, Yarrows and West Coast Shipbuilders needed much preparation before they were able to participate. The shipyards on the East coast and Lakes region had similar problems. In addition two wartime yards were created and closed when the war work was completed. These yards were United at Montreal and Burrard's South yard in Vancouver.
A number of skilled personnel were sent from Britain as although manpower was plentiful in Canada and US, it was untrained. In both the American and Canadian yards, women were also employed in large numbers, many in heavy jobs alongside the men.
The Different Types of 'Fort' and 'Park' Ships
The first ships produced were the 'North Sands' type, so called as they conformed to original British working drawings supplied by the North Sands shipyard of J. L.Thompson & Sons, Sunderland. Overall, the Canadian-built ships differed little from similar British-built vessels. The ships were designed with a dead-weight of 9,300 tons, but subsequently all ships of this size were referred to as 10,000 tonners as the war-time regulations allowed deeper loading.
The 'North Sands' type had 3 coal-fuelled, Scotch boilers. The bunker hatch was located aft of the funnel and there were coal hatches on the shelter deck. There was one lifeboat, port and starboard on the Captain's bridge and one port and starboard on the boat deck.
The plans for the main engines also originated in Britain to a design by the North Eastern Marine Engineering Company Ltd. Machinery to these plans was already being constructed in the U.S.A. for their 'Ocean' ships. All parts had been manufactured to jigs so that the work could be sub-contracted and the contracts were shared between 17 firms in the U.S.A. and Canada. All the engines and spare parts were completely interchangeable.
With the experience gained from the 'North Sands' type, an improved version known as the 'Victory ' was produced. The 'Victory' type differed in that they had 2 water-tube boilers instead of the 3 Scotch boilers, and used oil fuel instead of coal. A result of this was a reduction in fuel costs and fewer firemen were needed. Both types were shelter-deck vessels but with certain external differences. The bunker and coal hatches were not required on the 'Victory' type and re-arrangement of boat positions resulted in 2 lifeboats port and starboard on the boat deck, fitted with Welin-type davits.
The 'Canadian' type were constructed so that they had the optional facilities for burning either oil or coal. This meant that they were fitted with oil tanks but also had suitable coal bunkers. These vessels reverted to the Scotch boilers, as these were more suitable for the dual role. The lifeboat positions also reverted to that of the 'North Sands' type. There were only three 'Fort' ships of this type and all were completed as Stores Issuing Ships (two as ammunition carriers).
Burrard Dry Dockyard of Vancouver were the most prolific of the Canadian shipbuilders and p