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Thunder Bay shipyard idle, but not gone says company

Market conditions and the availability of skilled labour has temporarily stopped work at the site formally known as Heddle Shipyards
Heddle shipyard aerial summer

THUNDER BAY — Ontario Shipyards, formerly known as Heddle Shipyards, has idled its Thunder Bay plant.

Ted Kirkpatrick, director of business development and government relations, told the Chronicle-Journal that they have decided to temporarily idle operations at its shipyard largely due to market conditions and the availability of skilled labour.

"Despite these challenging conditions, we remain committed to revitalizing Ontario's shipbuilding and ship repair industry, including in Thunder Bay," Kirkpatrick said, adding their organization has no plans to divest from the Thunder Bay shipyard and will remain committed to the city community.

"We continue to actively pursue a number of high-potential shipbuilding opportunities for the Thunder Bay shipyard, and we still see the Thunder Bay shipyard as playing a key role in supporting shipbuilding activities in Ontario and across Canada."

He said they are confident that the situation they are facing is temporary and plan to bring shipbuilding back to the city in the "not-so-distant future."

During the summer of 2021, Ontario (Heddle) Shipyards purchased Fabmar Metals and moved their equipment onto the shipyard campus as part of their development plan. At the same time, the federal government moved forward with construction plans for two Canadian Coast Guard polar icebreakers under the National Shipping Strategy.

Plans to fabricate ship components at the Thunder Bay shipyard, particularly for the Sea-Span Polar icebreaker build taking place in B.C., are now undetermined.

This year, on Jan. 1, Heddle Shipyards rebranded itself as Ontario Shipyards. The company, which also operates facilities in Hamilton and St. Catharines, said in a release that the rebranding reflects its growth and future expansion plans.

Meanwhile, Fabmar Metals, which has operated in Thunder Bay for more than 30 years, remains fully operational but idled at the Thunder Bay shipyard after its staff of 15 employees were laid off with severance pay in January shortly after Heddle's name change.

Dale Ryynanen, retired president of Fabmar Metals Inc., called the plant a turnkey, full-functioning fabrication machine shop facility.

"If an individual went in there, he could start machining something tomorrow," he said. "It's still intact and nothing has been stripped out. Fabmar (Metals) is disappointed with the outcome of what's happened. My vision is that, hopefully, there is a future in shipbuilding and industrial work in Thunder Bay for that facility and I'm hopeful the Ontario Shipyards will come back to Thunder Bay."

The Chronicle Journal / Local Journalism Initiative