Friday marked the start of a two-year, $200-million construction project at Seaspan Shipyards as representatives from all three levels of government descended on the North Vancouver waterfront for a gold-shovel groundbreaking.
The multi-million-dollar overhaul of the historic shipbuilding site will prepare Seaspan to deliver on the $8-billion shipbuilding contract it inked with the federal government one year ago to the day, to design and build non-combat vessels for the Canadian navy, fisheries and coast guard.
On-site work will now begin on four new fabrication buildings, a new pier and a massive shipbuilding crane — one of the largest in the country. Seaspan will also use some of that $200 million to erect a new building and upgrade some existing facilities at its Victoria Shipyards site.
The $200-million overhaul will take an estimated two years, creating about 150 temporary construction jobs at the North Van site and boosting business for local manufacturers and construction suppliers around the Lower Mainland, Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth said Friday.
He compared the appearance of the shipyard today and how he envisions it two years from now with "the caterpillar before it turns into the butterfly," adding that the entire $200-million upgrade is being paid out of Seaspan's pocket and not Canadian taxpayers' as part of the $8-billion federal contract, as some had wrongly believed.
Federal heritage minister James Moore and minister for public works and government services Rona Ambrose helped move dirt on the project Friday, each lauding the shipbuilding strategy as part of their Conservative government's continued focus on bolstering the Canadian economy.
"The government has been steadfast in its commitment to provide Canada's military and their coast guard with the equipment that they need and steadfast in making sure that we build that equipment right here in Canada," Ambrose said.
North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA and B.C. Minister of State for Small Business Naomi Yamamoto also spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony, saying the "real winners" of the day are the 4,000 new employees Seaspan says it will hire to build the new boats, as well as their families.
The first ships to roll off the line as part of the federal shipbuilding program will be three new offshore fisheries science vessels, one oceanographic science vessel, a polar icebreaker and two navy-coast guard joint support ships.
Construction on the first of these ships is expected to begin in the latter half of 2013.