Nfld. & Labrador

HMCS Cabot wharf collapsing into sink holes, set for demolition next year

After years of speculation, the Department of National Defence has confirmed the jetty at HMCS Cabot in St. John's harbour will need to be demolished.

Cost of demolition has yet to be determined, says DND spokesperson

HMCS Cabot is a Canadian Forces reserve base in St. John's. Its wharf has fallen into disrepair and has been fenced off from the public. It is slated for demolition. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

After years of speculation, the Department of National Defence has confirmed a significant section of a naval reserve base in St. John's is set for demolition.

HMCS Cabot consists of two large buildings on the south side of St. John's harbour, with a long concrete wharf atop a jetty along the waterfront. According to DND, the buildings are not at risk, but the jetty is falling apart.

"The jetty is currently in poor condition, with some small areas of the jetty having collapsed into sink holes," said DND spokesperson Andrew McKelvey.

HMCS Cabot was originally located in the centre of St. John's but was moved to the harbourfront in 2000. The federal government spent about $16 million on the base, which sits partially atop a jetty constructed in 1978. 

Steel beams are visible in sections where the ground has washed away at HMCS Cabot. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

The jetty is made of steel boxes filled with rocks and gravel. As time passed, the boxes corroded and sediment spilled out, creating sink holes on the surface of the wharf. Some steel beams are visible along the edge of the wharf, in places where sediment is slipping away and water is coming up through.

"This has rendered much of the jetty unsafe and is blocked off from use with safety being of the utmost priority around this site," McKelvey said.

Ships to continue docking at private wharfs

The entire damaged area is fenced off, and nobody from the general public is allowed to enter.

When navy boats visit St. John's, the federal government pays to have them stationed at other piers around the harbour. For example, HMCS Windsor — a 230 foot submarine — spent some time in St. John's during the summer of 2021, and was docked at a popular spot along Harbour Drive.

McKelvey said that practice will continue, allowing the Canadian Forces to operate in St. John's without using the damaged wharf.

HMCS Windsor, shown here departing St. John's in 2016, cannot dock at HMCS Cabot when it comes to St. John's. (Submitted by Jim Fitzgerald)

The buildings at HMCS Cabot are still in use, with cadet programs taking place twice a week. 

A contract for the demolition will be awarded later this year, with the work slated to begin in 2023. McKelvey said the anticipated cost remains up in the air.

DND and the Canadian Coast Guard have yet to decide what to do with the site after demolition — whether to rebuild the wharf atop a new jetty, or continue docking boats elsewhere.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.

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