Friday, February 22, 2019

Tugdock - new owner

Develop Nova Scotia, the provincial crown corporation previously know as the Waterfront Development Corporation, has purchased the property commonly referred to as the tug dock. Svitzer Canada Ltd owned the two timber pile wharves and water lots as successor to a string of companies stretching back into the early 1900s.

Most famous of those companies was Foundation Maritime, operators of local tug services and a wide ranging deep sea salvage company. They had acquired the property when they became established in Halifax in the mid-1930s, taking over some small tugboat operators.

Barely recognizable today- this photo, taken in about 1956, shows some of Foundation Maritime's complex of buildings. 

Another photo, taken in September 1957, shows the salvage shed, advertising ship repairs. The slipway at the left, called Hogan's Slip, was not part of Foundation's property.  The large building in the centre of the photo is the now vacant Ralston Building, then brand new. Most of the other buildings in the photo are now gone.

Under Foundation ownership the area was developed not only as a dock for tugs, but as a repair yard for their marine construction plant and for equipment sales. 

In the 1970s Foundation sold its business to the Quebec based Marine Industries Ltd, but it was soon re-sold to a Dutch/British consortium Smit and Cory International. They had established tug services at Point Tupper, NS and Come-by-Chance. NL, and acquired Foundation's harbour tug business in Baie-Comeau and Sept-Iles, QC and in Halifax.

Eastern Canada Towing, known as ECTUG, sometimes had six or eight tugs alongside at one time.

Smit and Cory formed Eastern Canada Towing Ltd (commonly known as ECTUG) and eventually as a result of a number of international mergers Smit left the partnership and Cory was taken over in turn by the Dutch company Wijsmuller group then by Svitzer, the Danish tug operator owned by AP Moller Maersk. Although the name ECTUG remained in use for a time, the company became Svitzer Canada Ltd.

In 2003, Svitzer formed a partnership with Atlantic Towing (a J.D.Irving company) to provide tug services in Halifax and the Strait of Canso. The three Svitzer tugs based in Halifax transferred to Point Tupper. Atlantic Towing then provided all the tugs for Halifax, and berthed them at the IEL pier in Dartmouth, which was leased by J.D.Irving.

Svitzer maintained its offices and dispatch centre in the building at the end of the main pier, and kept the secondary building, the salvage shed. Halifax harbour pilots had long used the ground floor of the office building as its "crow's nest" for pilots and installed a fueling station for pilot boats.

The current  building was reconstructed on the foundation of a previous building, known as the "cook house".  It had a galley and dining area for tug crews on the lower level and a dispatch and crew management office on the upper level. Senior Ectug management had office in the Commercial Equipment building closer to Water Street, now home to Tug's Pub.

On January 22, 1989 the tanker Eva Cob. loaded with jet aviation fuel, and en route to Lewiporte, NL (for Gander) rammed the end of the pier and cook house, causing extensive damage. It was repaired, but  Hurricane Juan in September 2003 finished the job by flooding out the lower floor.

The tug crews had long since been providing their own meals aboard the tugs, and the Halifax pilots were using the ground floor, so a new building was constructed to house all of Svitzer's admin and dispatch functions on the upper floor. 


Aside from the occasional visiting tug, the wharves remained largely unused.  In 2018 the Atlantic Pilotage Authority leased space on the main pier, to berth and service their pilot boats.

The piers are in poor condition, with many timber piles deteriorated, and the salvage shed, although interesting historically, is an eyesore and its pier is, if possible, is in even worse condition. One hopes the DNS will see fit to remove the salvage shed and old pier, and reconstruct the main pier.

The salvage shed, seen here with the ocean going salvage tug Foundation Vigilant alongside, was used to store pumps, rope, anchors and other gear needed for salvage work. It also had a machine shop for repairs to the tugs, wire splicing equipment and a variety of other support functions. It has long been vacant and many of the old artifacts were donated to the Maritime Museum.
On the right, Bluenose II sits at Oland's Wharf.

One of the few remaining privately held commercial properties on the downtown Halifax waterfront, the tug dock did give some connection to the waterfront's history. The comings and goings of the tugs made the area a point of interest. However with the tugs gone it really became somewhat boring. The pilot boat activity has given it a little life, but it could stand to be improved considerably.

An interpretive plaque at the head of the wharf is barely noticeable, but does recognize the activities of Foundation Maritime in its prime. Unfortunately since the glory days of Ectug, Svitzer has retrenched and now operates only in Point Tupper. An attempt to break into the Montreal tug business was short lived, and Svtizer no longer manages the tug in Baie-Comeau nor operates in Sept-Iles, QC.  It has become a minor branch office of Svitzer's other North American interests, run from Florida.


No comments:

Post a Comment