The towboat Lorne, one of the most famous vessels built at Laing’s Ways. Painting by Gordon Friesen.
Major Bay was a natural shoreline feature on the south side of Victoria’s Middle Harbour. Beginning in 1856 gold rush prospectors who’d staked their claims at Victoria’s Federal Customs House desperately needed transportation to the gold fields along the Fraser River. In 1859, responding to the demand, Robert Laing, a Scottish shipwright, founded Laing’s Ways, one of Victoria’s earliest shipyards. It was on the shore of the bay. Laing’s Ways built at least three Fraser River stern-wheel steamers for the prospector transportation trade. The largest was the 110-foot Fort Yale constructed in 1860.
Fur-sealing in the Bering Sea followed the gold rush as Victoria’s next economic boom. In 1882, Robert Laing launched a 68-foot sealing schooner for his son Andrew and by 1895 nearly 100 sealing vessels called Victoria their home port. When Andrew Laing retired from the sea, he made his home on Erie Street and managed his late father’s shipyard. In 1889, Laing’s Ways launched the 157-foot steam tug Lorne for the Dunsmuir coal interests. This historically significant vessel remained in service until 1936.
In addition to construction, Laing’s Ways repaired many of Victoria Harbour’s local vessels over the 38 years the business was in operation including the Hudson Bay Company’s long-serving side-wheel paddle steamer Beaver.
Andrew Laing died in 1897 and the shipyard closed shortly after. For over the half a century following the demise of the shipyard Major Bay became heavily overgrown and a refuge for many of the harbour’s first floathomes. The bay was eventually filled in and 1947 the federal government constructed the Fisherman’s Wharf facility to accommodate the larger fishing vessels then beginning to dominate Victoria’s fishing industry.