Shipbuilding is one of Canada’s oldest manufacturing industries. Today, the manufacturing of ships, submarines, components, and ship-borne electronic systems generates $3.1 billion in sales revenue each year and employs 11,000 Canadian workers. About 40% of those workers work in manufacturing specifically, while the rest work in research, engineering, and areas of the industry.

Unlike many other major Canadian manufacturing industries, the shipbuilding industry operates mainly domestically. Domestic sales account for 59% of all revenue, and 85% of firms operate only within Canada.

It is also an industry that relies heavily on government partnership. Of the domestic revenue of ship and industrial marine manufacturing, 52% is related in some way to the Canadian federal government. The industry benefits from subsidy programs and export development grants.

While the glory days of Canadian shipbuilding are behind us, the industry’s manufacturing capacity is higher now than ever before.

History of Ship and Industrial Marine Manufacturing

Since French and British colonists first arrived in the land that would become Canada, shipbuilding has been a high priority. The endless demand for resources necessitated the manufacturing of seagoing shipping vessels. The first two sailing ships were small crafts launched at Port Royal, Acadia, in 1606; the first seagoing ship was built in New France in 1663. The first real Canadian shipyard was established in 1732.

The industry got its start building merchant and shipping vessels, meant to deliver much-sought goods back to Europe. However, the French Navy was impressed by the quality of Canada’s manufacturers and ordered a fleet of warships in 1750. From this point on, the military and shipbuilding industry would be closely intertwined. The War of 1812 sent the industry into overdrive, expanding further with the growth of the logging industry in the mid-1800s.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the ship manufacturing industry shifted towards steel. 60 steel cargo ships were built between 1917 and 1918. However, the urgency of the First World War necessitated the manufacture of wooden ships as well. Canada’s shipbuilding capability made it an essential player in the naval skirmishes of the Great War.

However, the industry declined following the end of the war and the Great Depression. From 1930 to 1939, Canadian manufacturers produced only 14 large steamships. But the industry revived on a larger scale than ever with the birth of the Second World War.

Today, the industry specializes in building inland and coastal trade vessels designed to navigate treacherous arctic waters. It also serves Canada’s role in NATO and is active in supplying the offshore oil exploration industry.