To share photographs and memories or view more of our collection on Boeing Aircraft of Canada on Sea Island, please contact the Sea Island Heritage Society.
In 1939, Boeing Aircraft of Canada’s (Boeing Canada) headquarter was located in Vancouver, British Columbia. They built a huge manufacturing factory on Sea Island beside the middle arm of the Fraser River to build aircrafts for the war effort.
Boeing Canada built 362 PBY flying boats and amphibians and 16 British-designed Blackburn Shark torpedo aircrafts for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The RCAF called the PBY’s “Cansos”. The Sea Island Boeing Canada plant was the only plant in Canada to build the Catalina PBY Flying Boat. The PBY-5A was the amphibious equivalent.
Canso A 9759 plane - DND photo courtesy of the Shearwater Aviation Museum
Boeing Canada produced 55 Consolidated PBY-5A “Canso” amphibians for the RCAF and 300 PBY-5 and PBY-6 Catalina Flying Boats under the United States of America Navy (US Navy) designation of PB2B-1 and PB2B-2 for the US Navy and the British Empire Services. When first opened, the plant employed 175 people and had a payroll of $300,000 per year.
By 1944, the production of the 362 PBY Flying Boats was completed and Boeing Canada began manufacturing the mid-section of the fuselage, including the bomb bay area for the Superfortress (B-29) bomber. The payloads were trucked to Renton, Washington in the US where they were matched up to other pre-built sections for the final assembly.
Boeing employees received awards in a company-sponsored contest to name the last PBY to role off the Sea Island assembly line. The last two batches of PBY Catalinas built by Boeing (40 PB2B-1 and 67 PB2B-2) totalled 107 aircraft of which JZ841 was the last, hence the number 107 on the cowling, presumably.
In 1945, at its peak, the Sea Island Boeing Canada plant had 7,000 employees. Immediately after the surrender of the Empire of Japan (V-J Day) on August 14, 1945, Boeing closed the Sea Island plant. This sudden closure left stunned workers scrambling to find work.
Many of the Boeing employees were women. As men went to war, women built airplanes. Thousands of women took up the slack in the workforce and helped boost production. The aircraft riveters became well-known and were called "Rosie Riveters".
The Sea Island Boeing Canada plant also took on a contract from the US Navy to produce a parts catalogue of over 1000 pages. The US Navy Catalina parts catalogue was strictly designed so American mechanics and parts depot clerks could order parts. When the contract was completed, the Production Illustration Department was closed down and most of the staff were either laid off or offered jobs in the factory.
Jack Nellist was a 16-year old draftsman when he joined the Production Illustration group in 1943. The art of production illustration had been developed at Boeing’s head office in Seattle. Over 600 drawings were produced for the Catalina using this technique, and fifty-seven skilled artists made up this production illustration crew. Their work is explained in detail in the Boeing Beam, Vol. 2, No.25, December 8, 1944 which included a photograph of the "Handbook Group".