Mouseover the red dots to learn more about Point Hope many milestones Illustration by Jeff Maltby
A Proud Shipyard History
Point Hope’s Maritime shipyard, the Canada’s Pacific Coast’s oldest operating shipyard, was established on Victoria’s Upper Harbour in 1873. Located and named for the point of land that created the deep, sheltered bay on harbour’s west shore, it was perfect for ship-building. A century and a half later, the shipyard remains an important harbour enterprise.
In 1873 the shipyard was founded as Colling and Cook’s Ways and by 1888 was known as Clark and Turpel’s Shipyard. Though the yard went through several name changes over the next 40 years, the owners remained William Turpel, and later his sons, Samuel and Emmerson. Point Hope’s two cradle marine railway was added in 1894 to allow the yard to work on two vessels at a time.
The shipyard was leased to the Foundation Company in 1917. Foundation built 24 steam-powered wooden cargo freighters up to 300 feet in length. Eleven years later, the marine railway was sold to Captain W.E. Gardner who in 1938 sold it to Island Tug and Barge Limited and Victoria Tug Company. The yard was renamed Point Hope Shipyards Limited.
Seaspan subsequently took ownership though moved to Vancouver In 1985. Thirty of the company’s former employees opted to stay behind and buy Point Hope. Each invested $5,000 into venture.
Shortly afterwards, BC shipbuilding fell on three decades of hard times as shifting political priorities to aging infrastructure, a shortage of skilled workers, competition from government’s own yards, and a period of public perception that the marine industry was “dirty” and ought to be eradicated. Shipbuilding and repair was believed to be a “sunset industry”. Shipyard owners stopped investing. BC Ferries and others took their business offshore with the declaration that BC no longer had the infrastructure to build its own ferries.
The employees-turned-entrepreneurs kept Point Hope operating into the mid-1990s, though by 1996 the business owed $1.4 million to creditors who eventually agreed to take 25 cents on the dollar as the business went into bankruptcy protection.
Two years later a group of four local men led by John Sanderson, a former engineer and commercial fisherman, bought Point Hope out of bankruptcy. Sanderson feared if someone didn’t save the struggling yard it would likely end up being bought for residential development and the future of the working harbour would be severely threatened.
A few good years including a contract to build passenger accommodation on the new BC Ferries fleet of three aluminum catamarans, the PacifiCats followed. Work on the “fast cats” produced some of the best aluminum marine workers in Western Canada, Sanderson recalls.
In 2000 Sanderson had to step away from his involvement in the shipyard for personal reasons. Point Hope was soon struggling again and by 2003 was bankrupt a second time.
Ian Maxwell of Ralmax Group of Companies bought Point Hope out of bankruptcy that year and the shipyard began a new chapter. By 2008 only Point Hope and five of the 16 shipyards once dotting Victoria and Vancouver’s harbours were operating.
Ralmax invested substantially in the expansion of Point Hope’s marine railway and deep-water berths, allowing the yard to work on up to nine vessels at a time. On any given day up to 300 people are at work on the site including permanent staff and local sub-contractors doing electrical, interior and other specialty work.
Ralmax owned the shipyard’s infrastructure and leased the land from the City of Victoria until 2014. That year the company purchased the land upon which it stood after the city swapped it for provincially owned land downtown where the old Crystal Gardens site was located. Ralmax then bought the Point Hope land from the province, securing Point Hope’s future as a successful shipyard. As of 2017 the shipyard is preparing for further expansion to permit work on even larger vessels and to increase its workforce.
Moving Into the Future
Today, Point Hope Maritime caters to commercial vessels and yachts ranging from 60 feet to medium-sized, ocean-capable ships up to 160 feet. The shipyard’s facilities include a 1,200-ton marine railway that allows the simultaneous repair of up to five dry-docked vessels, as well as deep-water berthing for vessels undergoing repairs that don’t require coming out of the water.
Point Hope’s facilities include plate burning and metals supply, a marine railway system, machining & metal fabrication shops, dry-berth transfer, and a number of specialized workshops
Point Hope Maritime’s Upper Harbour facilities are a comfortable 10-minute walk from the world-renowned Empress Hotel and the city’s many hospitality attractions.