“Workboats for the World: The Robert Allan Story”

Robert Allan Ltd.,
“Workboats for the World: The Robert Allan Story”, a history of Robert Allan Ltd.,

Published Apr 13, 2023 11:40 AM by The Maritime Executive

On April 5th a celebration was held to launch “Workboats for the World: The Robert Allan Story”, a history of Robert Allan Ltd., written on the cusp of the company’s 95th year of successful business, by R.G. (Rob) Allan with Peter A. Robson. Although the book was released in December 2022, the lengthy vacation of the author through the first three months of the year meant that any public ceremony had to be delayed until early April.

Hosted by Robert Allan Ltd. and held at the dramatic Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, overlooking spectacular Vancouver Harbour, the launching was attended by about 150 members of the BC maritime community. As Rob Allan said in his opening remarks, this venue was “hallowed ground” for the Allan story, situated as it is immediately next door to the site of Wallace Shipyards where the elder Robert Allan first worked on his arrival in Vancouver in 1919. It was also the site where the 1941-built, Allan-designed North Vancouver Ferry No. 5 brought wartime shipyard workers to the north shore shipyards and where it ended its days as the Seven Seas Seafood Restaurant. Most importantly however the Gallery sits virtually on the site from which C.H. Cates & Sons Ltd. operated for nearly a century as Vancouver’s premier ship-docking tug company. The long association with Cates is a treasured one in the history of Robert Allan Ltd., and the presence of 93-year-old Terry Waghorn, former President of Cates, was a special bonus at this occasion.

The evening began with Rob Allan describing the creation of this “hefty” book, a process in his words not unlike designing a ship, through many iterations and edits, culminating in the selection of a quality “shipyard” (i.e., a publisher!) to take the manuscript, photos, and drawings to a suitable conclusion. He praised the work of Howard White and entire production team at Harbour Publishing/Douglas & McIntyre for the excellent work done in creating this truly beautiful book. Collaborator Peter A. Robson and publisher Howard White also spoke about the process of creating what is being widely called a most important piece of BC maritime history.

Rob Allan concluded by extending thanks to all involved in the writing and publishing of the book and thanking those people whose contributions to the company’s ongoing success have made it an easy story to tell.

Part two of the evening focused on discussion about the importance of creating a registry of historic vessels of BC in order that an accurate record of important ships in this province is not lost. The importance of this registry was highlighted by words from Tom Beasley, President of the Board of Vancouver Maritime Museum. Attendees were asked to lobby their MLA’s on this matter.

The finale of the evening was a plea by both Rob Allan and Emerson Watt, President of the SS Master Society to support the preservation of the iconic steam tug Master, which was a century old in 2022, and can claim to be the only surviving wooden-hulled, steam-powered tug afloat in the world. The audience was extremely generous in their support of an immediate requirement to have fabricated a proper weather cover for this lovely old tugboat.

The evening was special, attended by many interesting people from BC’s marine industry, past and present. Copies of the book are available direct from Harbour Publishing.

And,, as the icing on the cake, on April 11th the authors were advised that this book was just awarded the 2023 gold medal for corporate history by Axiom Business Book Awards.

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