All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

The World Wars

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The Splinter Fleet

By 1942, the need had arisen for wooden minesweepers. Magnetic mines could not be detonated by wooden vessels. Newfoundland was one of the few places where the construction of wooden ships was still a prized skill. A 1942 Board of Trade recommendation proposed that such ships be constructed in Newfoundland, using local materials and workmen.

Between 1944 and 1947, ten identical, 500-ton motor vessels were completed at Clarenville. They became known as the "Splinter Fleet." Some were used as minesweepers during the war, and in the immediate postwar period. Others were chartered or purchased to supplement the Railway Coastal Service or to ship salt fish to the Caribbean.

After the war, freight and passenger traffic declined almost to the same low levels of pre-war years. Despite the many improvements made during World War II, the Newfoundland Railway was still essentially a nineteenth-century operation. In 1947 it carried only one-seventh the amount of freight it carried during the war years. As of April 1, 1949, when Newfoundland became Canada's 10th province, the Newfoundland Railway with its seven hundred and five miles of three-foot-six inch gauge track, badly maintained and in need of massive overhaul, became the newest element of the Canadian National Railway.

Five of the ten wooden boats of the Splinter Fleet under construction in Clarenville, c. 1945.
Between 1944 and 1947, ten identical, 500-ton motor vessels were completed at Clarenville and became know as the "Splinter Fleet". A.R. Penney Collection.