HMCS Cabot’s wharf is collapsing into sinkholes and set for demolition next year

After years of speculation, the Department of National Defense has confirmed that a significant portion of a Naval Reserve base in St. John’s is to be demolished.

HMCS Cabot consists of two large buildings on the south side of St. John’s Harbour, with a long concrete wharf atop a pier along the waterfront. According to DND, the buildings are not at risk, but the pier is collapsing.

“The pier is currently in poor condition, some small areas of the pier have collapsed into sinkholes,” DND spokesman Andrew McKelvey said.

HMCS Cabot was originally located in central St. John’s, but was moved to port in 2000. The federal government spent approximately $16 million on the base, which sits partly atop a pier built in 1978.

Steel beams are visible in the sections where the soil was taken to HMCS Cabot. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

The jetty is made of steel crates filled with rocks and gravel. Over time, the boxes corroded and sediment poured out, creating sinkholes in the surface of the wharf. Some steel girders are visible along the edge of the wharf, in places where sediment slides and water rises.

“This has made much of the pier unsafe and blocked off with safety being the top priority around this site,” McKelvey said.

Vessels will continue to dock at private docks

The entire damaged area is fenced and no one from the general public is allowed entry.

When navy ships visit St. John’s, the federal government pays for them to be stationed at other docks around the harbour. For example, HMCS Windsor – a 230ft submarine – spent some time in St. John’s over the summer of 2021 and was moored at a popular spot along Harbor Drive.

McKelvey said the 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 with HMCS Cabot when it comes to St. John’s. (Submitted by Jim Fitzgerald)

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

A contract for the demolition will be awarded later this year, with work expected to begin in 2023. McKelvey said the expected 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 to continue mooring boats elsewhere.

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