Western Canada’s greatest shipbuilder

Plaque 22

Plaque 22

Norman A. Yarrow was born in London, England on July 10, 1891, the second son of Sir Alfred Yarrow Bart. F.R.S., LL.D.

In 1908, at the age of 17, Norman started his engineering apprentice ship with D. Napier & Sons of London. During 1912 and 1913 he was a engineering pupil with W. H. Allen, Son & Co. Ltd. of Bedford, and for a short while he was with his father’s shipbuilding firm, Yarrow & Co. near Glasgow, on the Firth of Clyde.

Norman Yarrows standing upright in the saloon of the Prince Rupert when the ship was partially submerged at the wharf.

Norman Yarrows standing upright in the saloon of the Prince Rupert when the ship was partially submerged at the wharf. Courtesy: Nauticapedia

At that time, Alfred Yarrow decided that it would be advisable to expand abroad, and in light of the construction of the Panama Canal, decided on locating on the west coast of Canada.  Consequently, Sir Alfred acquired the Esquimalt plant of The B.C. Marine Railway Co. from the Bullen family, on New Year’s Day, 1914.

Norman subsequently rose to the position of General Manager and presided over the destiny of Yarrows Ltd. for 32 years. Through two world wars and major depression the company prospered and thanks to a dedicated crew of shipwrights and engineers the company gained an international reputation for efficient workmanship and integrity.

During his “years at the helm” Norman oversaw many historic events of interest to students of B.C. History.  1919 saw the launch of the “Eena”, the first car ferry in the province: it plied the Fraser River at Mission.  In 1923 the “M.V. Motor Princess” was launched for C.P. Navigation.  It’s sole purpose was to carry vehicles, and though it became the standard for the world ferry industry, Sir Alfred, ever the traditionalist, thought it so ungainly looking that her refused to allow his name to be associated with it, so it never carried a maker’s plaque!   In 1927 the Esquimalt Graving Dock Ltd. made the Cassion Gates.  At the time it was the 2nd largest dry dock in the world, and it allowed the “Queen Elisabeth” to be hauled and converted to a troop carrier in 1942. I t should be noted that the payroll at Yarrows during WW II stood at 3500, working three shifts per day, seven days a week, and that 450 women were employed, doing everything from riveting to welding.

After the war, the Yarrow family sold the yard to Burrard Dry Dock. The yard was closed in 1994 and the graving dock and property are now part of the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.

Alfred Yarrow died in 1956. The Engineering Department of the University of Victoria awards a scholarship in his honour.