The first ferries to be built in Newfoundland and Labrador in two decades have been formally dedicated.

The MV Grace Sparkes and the MV Hazel McIsaac, both of which honour two women who played pioneering roles in local politics, were christened Friday at the Kiewit dock in Cow Head just outside Marystown.

"We are now back into the shipbuilding industry here in Marystown and that is just terrific news," Darin King, the MHA for Grand Bank, said during the ceremony.

Politicians, shipyard workers and the families of Sparkes and McIsaac attended the ceremony.

Sparkes, though never elected, was a pivotal organizer for the Progressive Conservatives in the 1950s, and was an early and sharp critic of then-premier Joseph R. Smallwood.

McIsaac, a Liberal, made history in 1975 when she became the first woman to win a seat in the post-Confederation house of assembly.

The MV Grace Sparkes will provide service to St. Brendan's while the McIsaac will connect people living on Long Island and Little Bay Islands.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has been struggling for years with an aging fleet of ferries in its domestic service.

"The old ferries are very, very old. They are dilapidated and very long overdue," said Kevin Pollard, the MHA for Baie Verte-Springdale, the district where the McIsaac will be working.

"This is a great day for our district and a great day for our province," he said.

The government intends to replace eight other ferries in the coming years.

A consultants' report in 2006 found that the provincial ferry fleet was outmoded and in dire need of replacement. The youngest ferry at that time was 16 years old, the oldest was almost 50 years old, and the average age of a provincial ferry was 33 years.