50 Years ago… Sir Robert Bond

July 14, 2022

by Robert G. Allan, P.Eng.

In 1972 a commission was received from the Canadian Ministry of Transport to design a railcar ferry for the Sydney to Port-aux-Basques route between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The Sir Robert Bond is the largest individual vessel ever designed by Robert Allan Ltd. She measured 135.34 m LOA x 21.72 metre beam and was powered by four 2200 BHP diesel engines with combining gearboxes into twin shaft-lines.

The “credentials” for this contract were the very successful railcar ferries designed by Robert Allan Ltd. for F.M. Yorke & Sons in Vancouver, the Greg Yorke and Doris Yorke, built in 1964 and 1968 respectively. The initial intent of the Ministry of Transport to emulate those west coast vessels for the Gulf of St. Lawrence route were soon put to rest when the impracticality of operating an open-deck ship on those stormy and often ice-bound waters was brought to their attention!

Built by Port Weller Dry Dock of St. Catharines, ON in 1975, the ice-class Sir Robert Bond had only a brief career in its intended role as a railcar ferry for CN Marine. In 1978 it was converted to a car and truck ferry, with augmented passenger accommodation to operate between Lewisporte, Cartwright and Happy Valley-Goose Bay (Labrador) in summer. It still served on the Cabot Strait while other ships were in refit during the winter and early spring.

In 1998 the Province of Newfoundland took over Marine Atlantic’s local services and the Sir Robert Bond remained on the same run until 2010. It then went into winter only service between Corner Brook and Blanc Sablon until 2014 when it was declared surplus.

Various plans for subsequent use were never realized and ultimately the ship’s Canadian registry was closed in January 2019 and this versatile ship was destined for scrap, although it is not clear that ultimate destiny has yet been met.

(With thanks to Mac Mackay’s “Shipfax” for historic references.)