"The experience, wit and common sense of three generations of a West Coast shipbuilding family."
"rare, behind-the-scenes look at a coastal shipyard…"

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SHIPS OF STEEL: A BRITISH COLUMBIA SHIPBUILDER'S STORY

By T.A. McLaren and Vickie Jensen
Format: 228 Pages; Hundreds of Black & White and Colour Photographs.
Ships Of Steel: A British Columbia Shipbuilder’s Story
ISBN: 1-55017-242-5
List Price: $39.95 USD/CDN + tax

SHIPS OF STEEL is a behind-the-scenes look at a coastal shipyard, an invaluable piece of BC maritime and industrial history, and a tribute to the skill, determination and ingenuity of BC’s shipbuilding crews. The heart of this book is the observations and recollections of Arthur McLaren (1919-99), a natural storyteller who owned and ran Allied Shipbuilders for 50 years and who knew the business of building ships.

This invaluable oral history is presented in the context of an engaging, readable account of the shipbuilding industry by marine writer Vickie Jensen. Readers will appreciate the anecdotal and technical information from McLaren’s archives, provincial steel shipbuilding statistics and the wealth of marine photographs, many of which are published here for the first time.

SHIPS OF STEEL chronicles steel shipbuilding industry on the Northwest Coast. It begins with the early development of steel construction facilities, shipyard equipment and qualified personnel and builds to the World War II boom when BC yards delivered two 10,000-ton freighters every week. The story continues with the postwar production of tugs, barges, fish boats and sophisticated supply vessels and concludes with the challenges of present day reality. The saga of three generations of McLaren shipbuilders is the story of many family-owned companies who made valuable, if unsung, contributions to the economic and social fabric of a nation.

Allied Shipbuilders of Vancouver was never a major company, but it was always a remarkably interesting one. Founded in 1949 with only 10 employees, in the span of 50 years it built 257 hulls—consisting mainly of tugs, barges, fishing boats, ferries, and oil-rig supply vessels—before moving into the ship-repair business.

In its early years, Allied specialized in constructing barges for service on the Mackenzie River and adjacent waterways. The work entailed building the barges in Vancouver, cutting them apart, and sending the sections by rail to Northern Alberta for reassembly and launching into the northern waters. Building such a variety of vessels over half a century meant that Allied could seldom take an assembly-line approach. Employees and owners had to be versatile and flexible. Three generations of the McLaren family headed Allied Shipbuilders, and this book owes much to the precise and thorough recollections of the middle-generation Arthur McLaren, a naval architect as well as a shipbuilder.

Ships of Steel is a first-rate account, comprehensive and readable. It deals impressively with both the technical and human elements of shipbuilding. The many illustrations have been reproduced to a uniformly high standard, and a detailed appendix lists all the vessels the company built. In broad strokes, the history of Allied Shipbuilders is that of many family-owned companies whose contributions to the economic and social fabric of the nation have, sadly, too often remained unsung.

- Science and Technology Magazine

Before the aluminum fast ferry project tried to revive a major B.C. economic engine, hundreds of steel ships once slid down the ways at three cities. Former Westcoast Mariner editor Vickie Jensen documents this once-vibrant industry’s grown and decline through a narrative based on anecdotes, facts and photos from the archives of the late Arthur McLaren, whose Allied Shipbuilders dominated mainland ways for half a century.

The three-generation McLaren dynasty spans shipbuilding’s “glory years.” It starts with William D. McLaren, a Strathclyde University honours graduate who worked on the first diesel engine built in Britain. After WWI, his Montrose Scotland yard converted minesweeper hulls for expatriate Scots who ran the Union Steamship’s Howe Sound and Sunshine Coast service; in 1927, McLaren followed his ships to Vancouver.

WWII’s struggle to control vital ocean transport booster-rocketed western yards to new productivity records. “This is going to be a long war,” W.D. McLaren commented. “It will be won in factories and shipyards. We are going to have to work hard night and day to win.” The Canadian navy ordered frigates, minesweepers and corvettes; the Royal navy ordered maintenance ships. Between 1942 and 1945, seven shipyards—including Victoria’s Yarrows Ltd. and Victoria Machinery Depot—built 255 steel cargo ships. McLaren established the four-berth West Coast yard on False Creek’s southeast short and launched more than 50 wartime 10,000 ton Park and Fort class freighters.

From early childhood, McLaren’s son Arthur dreamed of building ships. In 1941, fortified with a new UBC mechanical engineering degree, he went to work for West Coast Shipbuilders, “an around-the-clock” job. After this company closed in 1948, he promptly formed Allied Builders on the old West Coast foreshore. From small steel tugs and fish boats, Allied diversified into barges and smaller ferries destined for remote northern and interior lakes and rivers. Most were shipped in sections and reassembled on site.

Arthur’s sons soon joined their father, and Allied Shipbuilders Ltd. diversified into larger saltwater ferries and log barges. Coastal shipbuilding fortunes were re-defined again in the ‘50s when W.A.C. Bennett consolidated the numerous private ferry companies (like Gavin Mouat’s Gulf Island service) into a single provincial fleet. Foreshadowing the fast ferries of the late ‘90s, the first Spirit Class ferries were built by consortiums. Allied Shipbuilders built the stern section. By 1998, the year before Arthur McLaren’s death, steel shipbuilding had all but vanished. A brief flurry of aluminum fast ferry construction bookended the final remnants of a vital industry that once employed more than 20,000 workers.

Abundantly illustrated, Ships of Steel concludes with two appendices that detail the vessels built by Allied and list all of B.C.’s commercial metal shipbuilding firms. As a definitive reference this book earns its berth in every mariner’s bookshelf. Landlubbers can savour it as a “good read.”

- Monday Magazine

Allied Shipbuilders of British Columbia has a long and illustrious history. That history is beautifully told in this well illustrated and written book.

One of the authors was a member of the founding and ongoing management of the company and was involved with it for some 70 years. The research, therefore, is very close to home.

Allied Shipbuilders has built anything from small fishing boats through sophisticated icebreaking offshore vessels to large cargo ships… The book includes an excellent illustrated listing for all the vessels built by the company over the years.

Reviewed in:

  • Asia Pacific Shipping
  • Workboat World
  • Fishing Boat World