RCAF Canso A #9759 was manufactured in Boeing's Sea Island Plant during WWII
The Canso picture with 9759 in the foreground was taken at RCAF Station Yarmouth NS in 1943 by Roy Jameison, a ground crew technician with 162 (BR) Squadron. The same picture was published with a story of 162 Squadron by Carl Vincent in the magazine HIGH FLIGHT. It was captioned "A lineup of 162's Cansos in the later white camouflage with 9754 probably in the summer of 1943". RCAF Canso #9754 was built in Sea Island's plant #3 by Boeing and was probably the most famous of all the RCAF Cansos as it was flown by F/L David Hornell during his successful attack of U-1225 in June 1944 which ultimately resulted his being awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.
PB2B-2 image courtesy of the 'David Legg Collection'.
Boeing employees received awards in a Company sponsored contest to name the last PBY to role off the Sea Island assembly line.
The last two batches of PBY Catalinas built by Boeing (40 PB2B-1 and 67 PB2B-2) totalled 107 aircraft of which JZ841 was the last hence the number 107 on the cowling presumably.
In 1939 Boeing of Canada, headquartered at Vancouver, B.C., built a huge manufacturing factory on Sea Island beside the middle arm of the Fraser River to build aircraft for the war effort. The Boeing Aircraft Company's Sea Island, BC plant was well known during WWll for building PBY Catalina Aircraft for off-shore air patrols and the mid section of the B-29. Boeing Aircraft of Canada built 362 PBY flying boats and amphibians designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego and 16 British-designed Blackburn Shark torpedo aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The RCAF called the PBY's Cansos.
According to the book, Richmond Child of the Fraser, page 160; in 1939 the Sea Island Aircraft plant was the only plant in Canada to build the Catalina PBY Flying Boat. There was also an amphibious equivalent, the PBY-5A.
Boeing produced 55 Consolidated PBY-5A "Canso" amphibians for the RCAF and 300 PBY-5 and PBY-6 Catalina flying-boats under the U.S. Navy designation of PB2B-1 and PB2B-2 for the U.S. Navy and British Empire Services. When first opened, the new plant employed 175 people and had a payroll of $300,000.00/year. From 1942 to 1945, there were 362 Catalinas built at the factory.
Production of the PBY was completed in 1944 and Boeing began to manufacture the mid-section of the fuselage, including the bomb bay area for the huge Boeing Superfortress (B-29) bomber. These payloads were trucked to Renton, Washington where they would be matched up with other pre-built sections for final assembly. Just over 1,000 B-29's were assembled at Renton.
At its peak in August 1945 the Sea Island Plant #3 employed 7,000. The plant closed immediately following V-J Day. This sudden closure left stunned workers scrambling for other work all over the place and not just the workers of Boeing's Sea Island factory.
When people were interested in working for Boeing's Sea Island activities during the war, they first had to be interviewed at Boeing's on West Georgia Street. If hired, you were fingerprinted for your identification card and told to go buy coveralls, flat shoes or a sensible-type of oxford shoes. Women had to wear kerchiefs to keep their hair from becoming tangled in machinery. Boeing did not pay for any of these.
One former Boeing employee that was interviewed was a hired as gofer/gopher in 1944 and remarked, "I delivered radio parts to the ships (aircraft) and if the guys wanted nuts or bolts and other parts I'd go for them, hence the term gofer. She said, "You needed good footwear to work on that huge plant cement floor..and of course the stores (Shop) was located across the way in the other building up the stairs, so your feet were pretty sore by the end of the shift. I started at 40 cents/hour and finished at 80 cents/hr in Shop 63. I was making more money then my father at the time who was making 60 cents/hr at Pacific Mills. My husband came from Montreal and was a Boeing electrical inspector at Plant 3 from 1944 to 1945. I lived in Vancouver and had to transfer about five times before reaching Marpole to catch the Boeing Bus. We called it the 'Cattle Car'*. We weren't fortunate enough to obtain accommodation in the new Burkeville subdivision being built for Boeing employees as it was designed for employees with families."
*Another former Boeing employee described this 'bus' as a lumbering converted 1941 HD Ford high-boy type flatdeck truck with a box built on to carry passengers on wooden bench seats. Because it was built up onto the flatdeck body, the 30-odd "bus" passengers sat up rather high and could actually see over the truck cab. Everyone referred to it as "the cattle car".
The 'gofer' lady later added, "Sometimes the Boeing workers were able to car-pool with those that had cars. Car drivers were given an extra gas ration coupon if they drove other Boeing workers to and from homes. I worked 4 weeks of day shifts and then 4 weeks of afternoon shifts. There were two start and end times for each shift. Staggering the shifts helped to ease the traffic congestion when thousands of employees would try to enter or leave the plant at the same time. Everyone didn't appreciate being delayed by the infamous Marpole or Eburne swing bridges over the Fraser River. They were subject to frequent openings for tugs and fishboats tying up traffic for long periods of time. I worked 6 days per week. The shifts I recall; one from 7:15 to 3:30, the other from 8 to 4:30. The Plant was open 7 days a week and Sunday was overtime, but I never worked on Sundays. Boeing employees were only granted ½ hour lunches and at first no breaks. The Union soon had that straightened out and workers were granted two 10-minute breaks per shift. Smokers had to go outside. There was a large cafeteria for those that didn't pack their own lunch. I never ate there.
On entering or leaving the big Boeing gate you had to show your I.D. card. You also had to open your lunch box to show the security people that you were not carrying anything unauthorized out. Of course we had to punch in and out on the time clocks too."
Many of the employees were women. As men went to war, women built airplanes. Boeing actively solicited women workers. Especially after the Americans joined the war in December 1941. Thousands of women, symbolized by "Rosie the Riveter"* took up the slack in the workforce and helped boost production. They became quite skilled and adapted quickly to the heavy work. The aircraft riveters became well-known and were called "Rosie Riveters". These wonderful women worked in the various aircraft assembly plants all over the world. In Fort William, Ont. they worked on Hurricanes and Helldivers. In Montreal, Vicker's had another PBY plant. Women aircraft workers everywhere worked very hard, coped with men's attitudes and the working conditions, but had fun.
Sea Island's Boeing Plant also took on a contract from the U.S. Navy to produce a parts catalogue of over some 1000 pages.
The U.S. Navy Catalina parts catalogue was not used by the employees at Boeing Canada. It was strictly designed for American mechanics and parts depot clerks for ordering parts. When the contract was completed, the Production Illustration Dept. was closed down and most of the staff were either laid off or offered jobs in the factory.
A former Boeing draftsman said in a May 2004 email, "A few of us were transferred to the engineering dept. to work on the B-29 contract. This was not a parts catalogue. The drawings were engineering blue prints for the B-29 assembly line workers. Many of them were women and very few could read conventional blue prints. Our blue prints were all drawn in perspective, showing each assembly in an exploded or cutaway view. However, the actual technique was similar to the Catalina catalogue."
57 skilled artists made up this production illustration crew and their work is explained in detail in the Boeing Beam, Vol. 2, N0.25, December 8, 1944 which includes a photograph of the "Handbook Group".
Boeing's assembly plants and ancillary facilities were well organized. Each plant was broken down by various shops doing specific chores. Each shop had a foreman and more than one lead hand to oversee the work.
Boeing also had a very social structure for after hour activities with sports clubs for employees and their families to keep morale up. Boeing had a PR Department, which was also responsible for publishing a fortnightly employee newsletter called the Boeing Beam. Each Plant in Vancouver and each shop had its own 'reporter' to tell of the comings and goings of the workers and the important work that they did. Employee safety was of prime importance. So was security. Films and lectures reminded employees that, "Loose lips sink ships".
The Sea Island Heritage Society would love to hear from former Boeing employees and hear their stories. We're compiling a list of all the workers - a mammoth job. Do you know anyone that should be added to that list?
We'd also appreciate receiving any Boeing related photographs.
*More on "Rosie the Riveter" and a copy of a poster of Rosie can be seen at the homepage of Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park, Richmond, California, U.S.A.
Can anyone please help identify the ladies in this photo kindly donated by Eileen Garcia (photographer unknown)? The woman on the left is Isabel Beveridge (1921-2001). Who are the others?
The mural behind the ladies looks like the mural on the White Spot Restaurant on South Granville Street in Vancouver.
The November 10, 2004 edition of the Nanaimo's Harbour City Star newspaper (pgA10) has this photo of Miss Beveridge and with 3 other Boeing "Rosie Riveters" with a letter to the editor about her being one of the first blind
women hired by Boeing to sort and package rivets in their Vancouver warplant. The letter by Eileen Garcia of Nanaimo, tells that Miss Beveridge was the first blind woman to graduate from UBC. She eventually became a
Social Worker and was inducted into New York's Columbia University Hall of Fame for her contribution to the welfare of others. Edna Isabel Beveridge attended Vancouver's Jericho Hill School as well as UBC and eventually
graduated from New York's Columbia University in 1952. Eileen Garcia of Nanaimo BC also donated a copy of a August 31 1944 Province newspaper clipping with a photo about former blind Boeing worker Isobel Beveridge explaining how generous co-workers raised $1600 to send her to NY to determine if she was a candidate for one of the early cornea transplants.
Ms. Garcia is the author of the book, "Beyond Jericho", Growing Up Blind and Resilient - The Story of Isabel Beveridge as told to Eileen J Garcia (of Nanaimo, B.C.)
The War Worker
At seventeen school seems
When other guys have gone
To sit in class all day is hard,
When you dream of working at
West Coast Ship Yard.
Then even the girls who are
Would sooner be working the swing
shift at Boeing.
We may not be old enough yet,
to go fighting,
But a War Workers life, can
sure be exciting.
The city's sure the place
For small town guys, like you
The West end famed for its room
Not quite like home but what
we can afford.
On Granville Street, both night
You'll find War Workers, out
Some go to movies, some roller skate,
some sit in bars and talk.
While others seem to spend their time,
standing under Birk's big clock.
The Ship Yards are booming on Vancouver's
Building "Ten Thousand Tonner's" to help
win the war.
High up on the on the scaffolds the riveters work,
regardless of wind, rain or snow.
They're doing their best to set a new record,
with only one hour to go.
The buckers and burners are going full bore,
while the cranes make one final lift.
We punch out our time cards and head for the gate,
It's the end of another long shift.
The workers swarm out looking carefree
Now they're heading for home, on the
old North Van Ferry.
Out on Sea Island at Boeing's big plant
the War Workers labor away.
They're building Catalina and Canso, aircraft
to hasten the dawn of V-day.
The big planes are starting to take on their shape
as they move out of Shop ninety nine.
Each day they keep growing like some living thing
as they move down the assembly line.
Some planes now completed are out on the tarmac
the Airforce inspection is through.
This scene brings a thrill that would never be told,
by old War Workers like me and like you.
Then it's on with the routine of building more
aircraft, for the boys overseas are still dying.
We must "Carry On" as the War Posters say "Buy
Bonds" just to help "Keep 'Em Flying."
On Saturday night sharp at
We're catching the Bus heading home
to White Rock.
The Bus driver's an old guy we've
known him for years,
And watched him with awe, as
he shifted the gears.
There's girls that seemed older
when we went to school.
And guys we looked up to, when they
beat us at pool.
Now here on the Bus we're all
fitting in right.
Just a bunch of War Workers; heading
home; on Saturday night.
Written by former Boeing Aircraft (Canada) Ltd. worker and now 80-yr old,
David Taylor; and kindly submitted to the Sea Island Heritage Society (SIHS)
February 13, 2006
Plan View of wartime Boeing Aircraft Canada Ltd's Aircraft Manufacturing Plant #3 on Sea Island, Richmond, B.C. 1945. Courtesy of Mr. I. Edwards of Nanaimo, B.C., June 8, 2009
Tom Wilson of Abbotsford B.C. kindly donated four Boeing photos taken on March 31, 1943. The shots were of PBY Flying Boat JX 270 destined for the RAF.
Tom grew up in Langley and flew for Art Sellers for many years. He retired from Conair in 2001.