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December 2012

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Ontario IBEW Refurbishes Canada's Best Known Ships

For more than 30 years, the CCGS Amundsen has kept the St. Lawrence River open for commercial shipping, clearing ice from the main route between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. In the summer, the icebreaker headed north, escorting cargo ships to isolated Arctic communities and assisting scientific expeditions.

The ship's storied history even won it a spot on the back of Canada's newly designed $50 bill.

And now the Amundsen, put out of commission last year because of cracks in its engines, will soon be back in operation, thanks to the IBEW and other skilled tradesmen who are refurbishing the ship at the Port Weller Dry Docks in St. Catharines, Ontario.

"This work not only supports Canada's future research priorities in the Artic, but also supports job creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity right here in St. Catharines," said MP Rick Dykstra, who represents the city, at a press conference announcing the coast guard contract.

For members of St. Catharines Local 303, the Amundsen project is another big boost for good shipyard jobs. It comes on the heels of last February's announcement of a $21.7 million federal contract to refurbish the Canadian naval destroyer HMSC Athabaskan.

"We're seeing a real revitalization of the docks," says Local 303 Business Representative Mark Cherney.

Renovations on the Athabaskan are expected to be completed before the end of the year. Once the destroyer returns to service, the Amundsen will take its place at the docks.

The St. Catharines shipbuilding industry had been in a downward slump for more than seven years—the most recent blow being the loss of a $35 billion federal shipbuilding contract last year. The work ended up going to shipyards in Nova Scotia and British Columbia. (See "From Coast to Coast, Canadian Shipbuilding Contracts Mean IBEW Jobs," the Electrical Worker, December 2011)

"The job situation was real slow," says shipyard employee Brent Gustyn. "A lot of the big projects were outsourced to China," adds the Local 303 executive board member.

But the Port Weller docks—silent for so long—are now alive with the sound of electricians, painters, and sheet metal workers hard at work.

"When I used to come down to the dock, parking was never a problem," Cherney says. "Now you have to stack the cars to find a space."

Workers will be doing repairs to Amundsen's communication and navigation system, as well as upgrades to its heating and water system.

Cherney says that the recent work is generating more interest in bringing more shipyard jobs back to St. Catharines.

"We're telling elected officials and business leaders that the docks are still a viable option here," he says.


The famous icebreaker CCGS Amundsen will soon be back on the water, thanks to the IBEW.