Completed in 1889, the Halifax Graving Dock is today still fulfilling the role for which it was originally intended. With Halifax the base for Britain’s Royal Navy North American and West Indies Station in the 19th century, the Halifax Graving Dock was designed to accommodate the Navy’s largest warships of that period; and it was the largest drydock on the Eastern seaboard of North America at the time.
The dock is 567 feet long at the top, shortening to 549 feet at the floor, as the landward end is stepped. The gate is 89 feet wide, with the dock itself being 102 feet wide at the top and tapering to 70 feet at the floor. The maximum draught of ship that can be accommodated is 27 feet, limited by the depth of water over the keel blocks at high water.
The dock survived the Halifax Explosion of 1917, which occurred just 300 metres to the North. Such was its robust construction, carved into solid bedrock and lined with concrete, that it was operating again within just two months. The dock played a vital role during World War II (1939-45), serving as the front-line repair facility for ships involved in the Battle of the Atlantic, and it continues to support the Royal Canadian Navy today.
The drydock was awarded the designation of a National Historical Civil Engineering Site in 2014, and today forms part of the Halifax Shipyard, operated by Irving Shipbuilding Inc. Although access to the site is restricted, the drydock can be viewed from outside the security perimeter near Barrington Street, just North of HMC Dockyard. The same dimensions and layout as when it was designed, it is the sole surviving piece of infrastructure in Eastern Canada from the Royal Navy’s Victorian era.