Canadian Maritime Engineering is one of the longest-serving businesses in the forestry industry in the Alberni Valley.
Canadian Maritime Engineering, or CME, got its start as Alberni Engineering Works, founded shortly after the First World War on Bird Street, across from the train station, where it still stands today. Fred Bacon started the company with a blacksmith and helper, and quickly made boatbuilding his specialty along with general engineering, according to historian Jan Peterson in her book Twin Cities: Alberni—Port Alberni. The company has undergone several different name changes, from Alberni Engineering and Shipyard Ltd., to Alberni Engineering, and most recently CME.
“For decades, forest industry has been a large part of our business here,” said Steve Dunagan, CME’s manager in charge of business development at the Port Alberni branch. “They’ve been our longest term customers because we build marine vessels specifically for the forest industry, in the way of sidewinders, pod dozers and small harbour tugs (tugboats).
“Every mill, every booming grounds, every dryland sort needs vessels to support that part of their work. We’ve been working since the early ’30s developing boats specifically for that industry, then building on them as they’ve evolved to what they are today.”
Historical photos exist showing vessels in various states of construction in the middle of Harbour Road, which back in the 1930s and ’40s was still a dirt road. Dunagan said the company’s photo archive is a treasure trove of engineering feats.
“Fishing and forestry would have been their two main customers back in the day,” he added.
As technology has changed over the years, so too has the company. Their focus on customers has not: fishing and forestry, and now mining are still the mainstays. The company has evolved with the industries as needed.
There are only three companies on the west coast of B.C. that build some of the vessels necessary for the forestry industry, including CME. Port Alberni’s company looks after maintenance on all the forestry-based vessels located in the Alberni Harbour because they are the only one capable of dewatering vessels (putting them in drydock).
“We have three of their (Western Forest Products) boats in for routine maintenance and upkeep,” Dunagan said.
CME is also in the process of manufacturing nine new boats for the forestry industry.
They have learned over the years how to be efficient in their boatbuilding—manufacturing several at a time instead of one at a time.
“Now they’re very standardized and we produce them like an automobile (assembly) line, really.”
There are CME-built vessels located all the way along the North American coast from the Pacific Northwest in the south to Alaska, and throughout B.C. They recently delivered seven to a company in Mackenzie, B.C.
Now, CME is building vessels for its new lease and rental business to accommodate smaller mills and businesses that can’t necessarily afford to buy their own.
With all the new business, CME has expanded. “In the last two years we’ve doubled our staff to respond to the demand,” Dunagan said.