Ontario Shipyards Closes Thunder Bay Plant Amid Worker Shortages and Trudeau Government Decisions

Heddle Shipyard in Thunder Bay Drydock
Heddle Shipyard in Thunder Bay Drydock

THUNDER BAY – Business – Ontario Shipyards, previously known as Heddle Shipyards, was an integral part of Canada’s ambitious National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS), partnering with Seaspan in Vancouver in 2020 to produce components for the Polar Icebreaker program.

Despite gearing up by acquiring and upgrading the Thunder Bay site (formerly Fabmar Metals) to build ship modules, the strategy’s realignment and the entry of Quebec’s Davie Shipyards altered the landscape. This shift, coupled with delays in Seaspan’s deliverables, influenced the Trudeau Government’s decision to redistribute icebreaker construction efforts, leaving Ontario Shipyards’ role uncertain.

What Happened?

The Trudeau Government re-opened the bidding, and Quebec’s Davie Shipyards was brought in to join the program. The Trudeau government then awarded one polar icebreaker to Seaspan and one polar icebreaker to Davie in Quebec. That move left the facility in Thunder Bay with no work, and led to the idling and the loss of jobs here in Thunder Bay.

Some History!

Impact on Thunder Bay

The decision to mothball the Thunder Bay shipyard, though reversible, directly affects the local workforce, with 15 employees already laid off.

This closure could ripple through Northwestern Ontario’s economy, which benefits from the high-value jobs and technical skills associated with shipbuilding.

The shutdown not only impacts these workers and their families but also poses a setback to the regional push to diversify and strengthen its industrial base.

Future Prospects

While currently inactive, the Thunder Bay facility remains “turnkey ready,” suggesting a potential for quick operational revival should market conditions or strategic interests change.

The future might still hold opportunities, especially with ongoing governmental and private sector interest in expanding Canada’s shipbuilding capabilities. The local and provincial stakeholders might consider advocating for re-engagement in the NSS or other industrial projects that could leverage the existing infrastructure and skilled workforce.

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