Wednesday, January 26, 2022

CCGS at 60 - my slant on it - and update


  I am prepared to take some flack on the following, which is my own take on the events of sixty years ago. I certainly have nothing against the Coast Guard. I am only trying to put the events in perspective.


On January 26, 1962 the Canadian Coast Guard came into existance. At first it was a change of name and paint scheme for the Department of Transport's then fleet of 241 vessels. The serviceable black hull, white superstructure and tan funnel with black cap was replaced with a bright red hull, complete with stylish white slash, and a white superstructure and funnel with bright red maple leaf (well in advance of Canada's maple leaf flag, which was adopted officially in 1965). The selection of red as a hull colour signified that the ships were to be present in winter where red was highly visible againt the white of ice. Merchant ships working in northern waters were often painted red too, so it was a functional as well as a policy choice.

Canada's then largest icebreaker, delivered in 1959, was the John A. Macdonald. Naming it after Canada's first prime minister, and a Tory, left little doubt that part of its mission would be political.

 Differing from its US counterpart, the Canadian Coast Guard was not a quasi military organization although its members did have uniforms and badges. Like the Canadian Marine Service, its immediate predecessor, it remained civilian. It also remained responsible for aids to navigation such as buoys and lighthouses, (from numerous bases in ports from coast to coast), arctic supply, lifesaving and icebreaking.

The Coast Guard had a large marine base in Halifax harbour, in Dartmouth, where they based the ships and serviced the navigation aids for the area.

The Canadian government of the day, lead by the Progressive Conservative John G. Diefenbaker, had been elected by a landslide majority in 1957. In no small part the victory was thanks to widespread support in Quebec. Diefenbaker's Quebec lieutenant, and deputy leader of the PC party was Léon Balçer, a lawyer from Trois-Rivières. Balçer was appointed as Minister of Transport in 1960.

The icebreaker Labrador was originally assigned to the Royal Canadian Navy, but transferred to the Department of Transport in 1957 for politcal reasons. It became a CCG ship in 1962.

 With the opening of the St.Lawrence Seaway in 1959 ports on the St.Lawrence River and Great Lakes were on the ascendency to the detriment of coastal ports like Halifax and Saint John. The latter two had become primarily "winter ports" and saw their busiest times from December to April when the St.Lawrence was closed due to ice. However there was pressure to provide for longer shipping seasons on the St.Lawrence in ports such as Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Sorel and Montreal.

The icebreaker N.B.McLean built at Halifax Shipyard in 1930, was used in Hudson's Bay in summer, but was based in Quebec City and worked the St.Lawrence in winter. It never looked comfortable in red.

 The Department of Transport icebreakers were kept busy in the winter but in spring some were dispatched to break ice to prevent flooding on the upper reaches of the St.Lawrence. However ports in that area wanted more icebreaking to assist navigation earlier in the year. At the same time there was political pressure from Halifax and Saint John to preserve the status quo. It was feared that with winter navigation on the St.Lawrence, Halifax and Saint John would be "dead". (Container shipping was still in the future. In 1963 CNR spokes people said the railroad was preparing for containers but they would not be coming 'over night'.)


 The first CCGS Sir William Alexander was delivered by Halifax Shipyard Ltd in 1959 and was a capable buoy tender with good icebereaking capability. (In the photo it is still working after being renamed William to free up the name for its successor, which had post-delivery issues and could not enter service right away.)

Each year after 1960 ships began to arrive in Montreal earlier and earlier in the year, and the Atlantic ports continued to cry foul as icebreakers began to assist the ships ostensibly for safety. Of course the way to assist the ships for safety was by maintaining navigation lanes in ice. Flood control was still claimed to be the primary mission of the ships but that also assisted navigation.

By the time the PCs left office in 1963 winter navigation on the St.Lawrence although still in its infancy, had become a fact and the succeeding Liberal governments expanded the Coast Guard's capability by building more icebreakers, including the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent. Primarlily for the arctic, but also working in the Gulf of St.Lawrence and Saguenay River, the ship is also named for a Quebec politico.

A 1975 view of "the Louie"with its original bow, and still a steamer along with several of its fleet mates.
Named for the Liberal Prime Minister immediately before Diefenbaker, the Louie's name also sent a policitical message, as does the oft promised but not yet delivered CCGS John G. Diefenbaker. If it is delivered during the tenure of a Liberal government, odds are that it will be renamed. I don't know the current betting line but I believe Pierre Eliot Trudeau is a nose ahead of Lester B. Pearson. The former will not be a big hit in Alberta, but that province doesn't need much icebreaker assistance.

Present day Coast Guard, with 119 vessels, is multi-tasked, for navaids,  pollution control, icebreaking, search and rescue and research work.
In 1995 the Canadian Coast Guard was transferred from the the Minister of Transport to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, making it also responsible for all the research and enforcement vessels in the department. In 2006 the CCG became a "special operating agency" under the Minister, with its own commissioner. It also co-operates with other departments for the operation of border security vessels.
New ships are planned for the CCG, but many of its older vessels will be expected to serve longer until replacements arrive. Some will not make it, and interim vessels may be needed.
CCGS Jean Goodwill, based in Halifax, is one of three former Swedish icebreaking supply vessels acquired by the CCG as interim ships until purpose built icebreakers can be constructed.

The Coast Guard's history since 1962 has been a distinguished one, working as it often has with tired equipment and under brutal conditions both in the south and the north. Its people are to be admired and its ships are to be well remembered.


It may be a coincidence, but the next ship to join the CCG fleet was registered in Ottawa on January 26, 2022. The Mangystau-2, a shallow draft tug/supplier, built in Romania in 2010 has been acquired by Atlantic Towing Ltd and will be sold to the Minster for $45 million. The vessel arrived in Sorel-Tracy, QC earlier this month and plans are underway to refit it for CCG service.

 When the refit is complete, the ship will be assigned to the Great Lakes where it will cover for CCGS Griffon and CCGS Samuel Risley during their life extension refits.


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