Coal Harbour, Shipbuilding Centre, Vancouver B.C. (taken from the very fine book "Antiques Afloat: From the Golden Age of Boating in British Columbia" by Peter Vassilopoulos

It has been said that some yacht owners aim at speed, but as a general rule fast passages are not required and it is natural that when one goes to sea for pleasure a speedy return is seldom required. 

This saying reflects and attitude of yachtsmen in the 1800's. Now, some 200 odd years since power, in the form of steam and paddle wheel, was conceived for propelling boats, the attitude is reappearing to replace a fast-waning devotion to high speed, energy-burning performance. During the era of fast boats a tenuous link with early boating has been maintained by a line of yachtsmen whose prime objective was to gain fulfillment out of cruising graciously in tranquil surroundings aboard vessels which were sea-kindly and gentle in their bearing as well as accommodating in their hominess.

The emergence of power-boating occurred not too long after the voyages of the Captains Cook and Vancouver in the late 1700's. A mere ten years after Cook's landing in Nootka Sound, the east coast of the United States saw the first steam paddle wheelers running on the Delaware River.. From such beginnings evolved the earliest pleasure power boats in a form that is still functional today.

The interest in power boating quickly sweep across the continents of North America and Europe. Wealthy tycoons began to wrap themselves in the luxury of big, opulent pleasure launches with the crews to match. Today, numerous vessels carry on the tradition of luxury cruising with full complements of crew to cater to the owner.

On the West Coast of North America with the emergence of power boating for pleasure, the city of Vancouver soon established itself as a major shipbuilding centre. Many yards went into operation in the century for the purpose of producing vessels for the war years, then others for the fishing fleets and commercial purposes: Tug boats, cargo vessels, coastal steamers, ferries and so on. From this industry sprang pleasure pleasure boat building in Vancouver and other parts of British Columbia, and the waterfront in Coal Harbour became an important shipyard centre of the area. Most of the boats discussed in this book either were built at Coal Harbour yards or at some stage of their lives have been through those yards for refitting, reconstruction or repairs.

The history of Coal Harbour and it's shipbuilding heyday is almost like that of any one of the vessels it produced. The waterfront has seen the establishment of various companies, their growth and demise or transfer to other fields of endeavour; individuals have moved from one shipyard to another and back---owners and workers alike---and an industry boom and die and be revived to move into a new era or dimension or become fatal statistics during the war years. Shipyard ownership changed from one to another, partnership or company to another, sometimes being resumed by an earlier operator.

Names of yards such as Menchions, Hoffar Brothers, Bensens, Fenner and Hood and Vancouver Shipyards will be remembered for decades to come; some are still in operation, others long since gone or absorbed by competitors. Vancouver Shipyards were probably among the earliest to cater to the needs and whims of the honourable members of local yacht clubs and other people able and wanting to join the pleasure boating set.

There were some fine vessels coming out of Vancouver Shipyards at the beginning of this century, boats like Rhinegold epitomising the state of the industry in 1911. Under the ownership of Captain Watts at the time, the yard was considered one of the major concerns of the day.

Shipbuilders were out to build good vessels, often irrespective of profit or loss. And out of Coal Harbour came one good boat after the other, and the fact that many of them are around today and still in good condition testifies to both the past and the present owners' careful upkeep as well as the original workmanship.

After Vancouver shipyards changed hands from retired Captain Watts to a group headed by a war hero, squadron leader Duncan Bell-Irvine, it continued to produce vessels at a declining rate of profit. And it was this period that the vessel Danae was built. Also the 110 foot Cora Marie, reported to be the finest wooden hull ever built in Coal Harbour. 

In 1933 Fenner and Hood took over from Bell-Irving a bankrupt Vancouver Shipyard 1929 Ltd. plant, and began operations at a new location a block up the street, as a partnership with 50 employees under their name until 1936, In that year they in turn went bankrupt, coinciding with a fire that in which the yard was razed to the ground during the Patrick arena blaze. Afterwards the name Vancouver Shipyards Ltd. became available once more.

It is interesting to note how little insurance was carried by the owners of the gutted buildings, which also housed several other marine operators. Later, in 1936, Gilbert Jukes, the former production manager for the Boeing Aircraft Ltd., set up and built a completely new Vancouver Shipyards on the original site.

In 1929 when the yard was taken over by Bell-Irving the Boeing Aircraft of Canada company had just newly established. This latter operation came about as a result of the efforts of Henry Hoffar, whose brother James had split away from the family business in 1925 and taken with him the machinery side of the operation to set up a separate shop on the corner of Denman and Georgia streets.

Henry Hoffar, meanwhile, had taken in a partner and set up as Hoffar-Beeching Shipyards Ltd., which amalgamated at the end of 1928 with Boeing Aircraft of Canada. To accomplish this, Henry Hoffar had gone to Seattle and sold Mr. Boeing on the idea of establishing an aircraft operation in Canada. Hoffar became manager and president of the Boeing operation in Vancouver. The Hoffar-Beeching Shipyard---Boeing Aircraft of Canada organization was established in the middle of the 1900 block of West Georgia. To the west of their yard near the beginning of the Stanley Park causeway was the old Hoffar Brothers yard which later became the site of Fenner and Hood's first yard. Boeing eventually lost interest in shipbuilding and the operation was taken over by Jim Moody and Fred Tuohey. They later sold to Canada Fishing Company's Sterling Shipyards Division, which became one of the biggest repair and building yards in Vancouver harbour. They also built a large number of fishing vessels.

Retired ship surveyor and one time shipyard owner, Tom Hood, was employed at Hoffar-Beeching in 1926 and recalls the state of the industry in those days. He refers to the building of Taconite and recalls that she was one of the first boats built at the Boeing yard, and went up at the cost of $400,000. The total labour cost, however, was $85,000. Surveyed in 1960 the surveyor stated blithely that the vessel had cost too much in the first place and that a third of that amount could have been saved with more efficient labour! Today the labour costs on such a vessel would take it well over the million dollar mark. Tom Hood recalls the contractors installing steel plate bulkheads and beam shelf, all of which were riveted. Not long after the men had commenced work, the general manager was down on the lot and saw the workers standing around apparently idle. They were in fact having a break and when he enquired as to what they were doing and was told they were having a break, he insisted they get back to work. To this they responded by exchanging a few choice words of expression in respect of the general manager and walked off the job.

In 1926 Hoffar-Beeching Shipyards Ltd. Produced two 48-foot vessels, the Willoughbee and the Mamita, two 36-foot cruisers and two 22-foot speed boats (one of which was for Col, Clarence Wallace) two 85-foot fish packers and two 65-foot seiners as well as the Kelowna Westbank Ferry which was fabricated in the yard and assembled on the water in Kelowna.

During 1926 and 1927, the yard produced the original Deerleap---now Bardick (now Fifer), half a dozen 32 to 63-foot commercial boats and many smaller craft. The yard was known for it's production of pleasure boats as well as fishing boats, forestry and fisheries patrol boats and police and RCMP patrol vessels, as well as the odd tug. In 1928 the yard produced the second Deerleap, and 85-foot fan tailed boat which has been confused at times with Bardick (now Fifer), sixteen stock model cruisers and ten clinker-built cabin cruisers as well as several small tugs.

In the years 1928 to 1931 among the many boats produced by Boeing Aircraft of Canada operation were three 48-foot stock model triple-cabin cruisers with cedar hulls, yellow cedar decking and all teak cabins. They were fitted with Hall Scott engines. 

Begun in 1929, Taconite was completed in 1930. She was built on a lot about a half a block from Stanley Park and a half a mile west of the Bayshore Inn.

A 48-footer built at that time had difficulty fetching $2,500 and Boeing's Shipyard division held it's own boat show in which many new small boats were presented. During the Depression, in 1931, the yard build a 130-foot car ferry for the city of North Vancouver on the site of the present Bayshore Inn. With no more contracts in sight, the staff were laid off and the yard production was reduced to a trickle.

The Boeing Shipbuilding Yard was eventually sold to Jim Moody and Fred Tuohey in 1937. Tuohey was a well known individual in the boat industry back in the 1920's. He had a small shop at the foot of Bidwell street and specialized in the installation and maintenance of engines and allied equipment in many local boats. It is said that his specialty really was to cater thus to the rum-running fleet.

The telling of the story of Coal Harbour would require it's own volume, but snippets presented in this text are best drawn from those who own or have owned some of the vessels which have emerged  from the area during the former part of this century.