photos
December 13th, 2017

Beaches Living Guide - Spring & Summer 2016

Ship building
in Toronto

View looking east along the Keating Channel. The War Ontario and War Toronto are is being fitted out before launch, October 19, 1918 - TPAA

Just think of it. Explorers and then settlers arrived by sailboat, and then their main means of travel along the shore or up and down the Don or Humber Rivers was by boat. Before long, someone had to set up a boat repair service, which then expanded into boat building (canoes, row boats, fishing boats, schooners). The lumber was easily found up river, so some of these early shipbuilders were on the rivers.

Today shipbuilding isn’t an industry we connect with Toronto. Toronto is about finance, high tech, communication, media. But at one time, Toronto was a major player in the shipbuilding industry, both in shipbuilding and repair. And many believed that Toronto was destined to become a major shipbuilding capital. It was a profitable time industry as well.

Our various shipbuilding companies over the next century included the Dominion Shipbuilding Company (built where Harbourfront is today), Polson Iron Works (known for building steamers and ferry boats), the Toronto Drydock Company, the Toronto Shipbuilding Company, Dufferin Shipbuilding Company, among others. Little or nothing of these shipbuilding yards survives today. For example, the Canadian Shipbuilding Company was located near the foot of Portland Street.

Many of the ships built at Toronto companies were fully rigged ships and barques (sailing vessels), capable of Great Lakes and ocean travel. When steamships arrived on the scene, many were built by companies like the Polson Iron Works. Polson built the Trillium Ferry still in use today to transport people back and forth to Toronto Islands.

Over the years, Toronto shipwrights turned out many passenger and cargo vessels, dredges, car ferries, cruisers, and steam yachts. Two that still exist in Toronto today are the Kwasind and Hiawatha (owned by the Royal Canadian Yacht Club) and the Trillium, which continues to cross Toronto harbour.

Shipbuilding reached a peak in Toronto around the time of the First World War. At that time, Canada was the fourth largest ship owning nation in the world! (Canadian Encyclopedia).

Shipbuilding Boom and Decline

During both World War I and World War II, Canada was asked to make many ships for the war effort. Some of the large bottoms of ships in WWI were made at our shipbuilding companies in two pieces, so they would fit along the St. Lawrence River. Once in Montreal, the full ship was then assembled!

But shipbuilding never again reached its earlier status as one of Toronto’s major industries. With railroads expanding across the country, then cars/trucks and roads, shipbuilding began its decline. It is estimated that 23,000 people were employed in Canadian shipyards in 1891, but by 1922, that number dropped to 38!

Today, Canada continues to build ships, but we specialize in certain kind of vessels, for example, our ice-capable vessels are known around the world for use in oil exploration in the north.

Workers at the yard of the Toronto Shipbuilding Co., Keating Channel, 1918

Yard of the Dominion Shipbuilding Company with the St. Mihiel moored at the dock wall, October 7 , 1918 – TPAAs

Shipbuilding as a "social" past time

Shipbuilding had more than an industrial impact on the city during the shipbuilding boom. When ships were built, it was difficult to hide them! Everyone could watch the progress, and when complete, hundreds of Torontonians would gather at the site to watch the ships slide gracefully down into the water. The local press covered the ceremonies.

At one such ceremony in June 1918 at the launch of the War Ontario, the ship’s caulker (someone who repairs the ship on board) fell by mistake into the Keating Channel. The entire episode was reported widely in local papers!

Featured Beaches
History & Landmarks
In Published Issues:


FALL & WINTER 2017/18


Spring & Summer 2017


Fall & Winter 2016/2017


Spring & Summer 2016


Fall & Winter 2016


Spring & Summer 2015


Fall & Winter 2014/2015


SPRING & SUMMER 2015


FALL & WINTER 2013/14


SPRING & SUMMER 2013


FALL & WINTER 2012


SPRING & SUMMER 2012


FALL & WINTER 2011


SPRING & SUMMER 2011


FALL & WINTER 2010/11


SPRING / SUMMER 2010


FALL / WINTER 2009-10


SPRING / SUMMER 2009


FALL / WINTER 2008-09


SPRING / SUMMER 2008


FALL / WINTER 2007-08


SPRING / SUMMER 2007


FALL / WINTER 2006-07


SPRING / SUMMER 2006


FALL / WINTER 2005-06


SPRING / SUMMER 2005


SUMMER / WINTER 2004-05