We have to admit to being a bit conflicted when we heard that some old decommissioned vessels and other equipment were being removed from the Marine Transportation Services (MTS) shipyard in Hay River.

On the one hand, it’s junk.

But it seems Hay River has a soft spot for junk, especially when it’s any sort of vessel that once sailed on Great Slave Lake or down the Mackenzie River. We’re not trying to be insulting, just stating a fact. You can see several old vessels slowly decaying on Vale Island.

But Hay River is not alone in having a hard time saying good-bye to old vessels. On the East Coast of Canada, one vessel – the SS Kyle – ran aground in 1967 and has not been moved since. Instead, it has become a tourist attraction, and in 1997 was even painted to restore some of its pre-grounding glory.
Just imagine that. Basically, a derelict vessel was painted to make it look nicer. (It may come as no surprise to anyone that such unique and curious behaviour happened in Newfoundland – Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, to be exact.)

Now, we’re never going to suggest that the dilapidated vessels in the MTS Shipyard be preserved as tourist attractions.

However, we can say that some of the vessels are interesting to look at in their own way. Especially when you are at the Hay River Beach, it’s kind of nice to look out over Great Slave Lake and then glance to your right to see some of the actual vessels that sailed the lake in years past.

On the other hand, if you look closely into the shipyard it is obvious that it is filled with a prodigious amount of junk. It almost appears that the former owner of the shipyard –Northern Transportation Company Ltd. – was averse to throwing away anything in its decades of operation. Perhaps a good term for that is hoarding.

So there’s no doubt that much of what is in the shipyard is junk – plain and simple – and Hay River and the NWT will not be the poorer historically, culturally and especially environmentally if is taken away as scrap.

Perhaps there should be some balance reached in keeping some of the decommissioned vessels for historical and cultural reasons, while at the same time cleaning up the shipyard of the true junk.

On Feb. 6, Infrastructure Minister and Hay River South MLA Wally Schumann told the Legislative Assembly that the cleanup started in late 2018, and about 500 tonnes of scrap metal had been removed, including 10 barges and one tug. And another 500 tonnes will possibly be removed by the time the project is completed in the fall.

If that is the case, it appears that many of the old tugs in the shipyard are safe for the moment.

Of course, some people might want all of the old vessels gone, but we wouldn’t mind if some of them remain. They are a part of Hay River’s history, and add to the unique Northern flavour of the town.

And they wouldn’t even need to be painted.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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