North Vancouver’s Shipyards District is a vibrant hub of activity where a diverse, urban neighbourhood coexists alongside a thriving, industrial waterfront.
As someone who has spent my entire life in and around shipyards, the physical, economic and social connections we have in North Vancouver between the community and the marine industry are both unique and exciting.
The North Shore has long played an integral role in the safe and efficient movement of goods and people through Canada’s largest port, with century-old roots in shipbuilding and ship repair. The revitalization of the on-shore business and residential community in Lower Lonsdale has brought renewed attention and awareness to our shipbuilding heritage.
What many North Vancouver residents may not have seen is that, over the past decade, Seaspan has been growing and revitalizing the shipbuilding industry in our region and across the country. Kickstarted by the National Shipbuilding Strategy and some significant investments in our facilities, the shipbuilding portion of Seaspan’s business has grown to more than 1,200 employees from just ten years ago. Seaspan Shipyards has quietly become one of North America’s most modern shipyards—critical to the local economy and the broader marine sector.
Seaspan has a thriving marine transportation and commercial ferry business along with three shipyards locations in B.C., two of them in North Vancouver. Along with being the hub of our marine operations, the shipyards at the foot of Pemberton Avenue is our primary facility for our work under Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy, where our team working in trades, engineering, innovation and environment are working to deliver 23 new vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard and Navy over the next 15 plus years.
Our drydock facility at the foot of St. Georges Avenue is our repair and maintenance shipyard, where we work on more than 50 projects a year on vessels ranging from tugs to freighters to barges for customers including BC Ferries, TransLink and Canada’s Coast Guard. The drydock is an important part of the West Coast marine industry servicing the vessels we all rely on for transportation, safety and the movement of goods. We have the enviable challenge of being in high demand from our customers both for new-builds and the refit and repair of vessels.
The future for Seaspan’s business in North Vancouver is bright but isn’t without its challenges.
The heart of our operations is skilled trades, and the competition for talent is fierce. We have a strong apprenticeship program and are committed to reducing barriers for underrepresented groups, such as Indigenous students, to start a career in the marine sector. But now more than ever, we need more young people to choose trades as a career.
As North Vancouver has transformed into a more vibrant community over the years, we also face pressure on our land and water spaces. Industrial operations like ours—building and repairing ships—take space and equipment. We have a shrinking amount of industrial land and water space in the Lower Mainland, and in fact, we have been turning away work at our drydock location for years—work that has been going to the U.S. instead. As our community becomes increasingly urban, we are doing our best to plan for sustainable growth that makes the best use of our North Vancouver sites.
Like many at Seaspan, I live in the Shipyards District. It is truly a special place, a busy mix of new uses and industrial operations on the waterfront. Seaspan strives to be an engaged, supportive company, committed to our employees and community. Our donation to Lions Gate Hospital in 2021 to support critical care and virtual care and annual support of the Polygon Gallery’s Kids First Saturdays are just two examples of ways we help to make our community a better place to live.
The economic diversity across North Vancouver—from the industrial waterfront to small businesses to the arts community—is our strength. Seaspan, like North Vancouver, has an exciting future ahead and I look forward to us continuing to contribute to its long-term sustainability and success.
To learn more about Seaspan’s operations and our connections to the North Shore community, visit our website at seaspan.com.
CEO of Seaspan Shipyards