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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Frank Foord and CS Lord Kelvin
The French Cable Wharf at Halifax, Nova Scotia

Introduction: CS Lord Kelvin was built in 1916 for the Anglo American Telegraph Company for cable repair duties, and was based at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Frank Foord shares this story of protecting the Kelvin against submarine attacks during WWII, part of the memoirs which accompany a model he is building of HMS Ironbound. The page also includes material from Joan Payzant and Matthew Hughson on Ironbound's base, the French Cable Wharf at Halifax.

--Bill Burns

CS Lord Kelvin photographed
during World War 2

Although I was a Canadian (Sub Lieut. RCNVR) I served in a Royal Navy Trawler, HMS Ironbound, from December 1944 in Nova Scotia waters until we decommissioned the ship in Britain in 1945. HMS Ironbound, along with other smaller Navy ships, generally tied up in a berth at the French Cable Wharf at Dartmouth Naval Station in Halifax Harbor. All of those piers are now long gone.

The Ironbound was under the Halifax Local Defence Force command and we spent most of our time making anti-submarine patrols off of the Harbor approaches in the period December 1944 until VE-Day, May 1945. On one or more occasions we were detailed to provide anti-submarine protection to a cable ship, CS Lord Kelvin, which was repairing transatlantic telegraph cable off the Nova Scotia coast. The cable ship was a large freighter-type vessel with equipment to locate a damaged cable, pick it up by grapples from the ocean bottom and drape it over the length of the ship on bow and stern rollers, thus being able to make the necessary repairs on deck. In a wartime situation this appeared very dangerous to all concerned; the cableship would be stationary in the water for long periods, brightly illuminated by powerful deck lights as they worked all night, all an easy target for an enemy submarine.

CS Lord Kelvin was 316.6' L x 41.2' W x 22.7' D, 2641 gross tons. Built at Newcastle upon Tyne by Swan, Hunter in 1916, she served throughout her life laying and repairing submarine communications cables until she was scrapped in 1966.

--Frank Foord


The French Cable Wharf in 1957
Photograph copyright © 2005 L.J. Payzant, P.Eng.
Mr. Payzant was employed at the Naval Research Station
at the time and took the photo from his office window

Note: Author Joan Payzant, who provided the photograph above of the French Cable Wharf, is presently writing a book on sites in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada which were affected by the disastrous Halifax Harbour Explosion of 1917 - the greatest man-made explosion in the world until the first atomic bomb in 1945.

A new building and wharf had been built in 1916 on the Dartmouth north shore of Halifax Harbour for the Compagnie Française Des Câbles Télégraphiques.  The building withstood the explosion, and at present is beautifully restored and used by the neighbouring Defence Research Establishment Atlantic, a Canadian Federal Government organization.  The name of the original cable company is in beautifully crafted raised letters just under the overhanging roof of the building.

Photographer Matthew Hughson, who works in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, made these views of the Compagnie Française Des Câbles Télégraphiques building in June 2005. The building appears to be well-preserved in its current use, almost 90 years after its construction.

The French Cable Wharf building in June 2005.
The company name and 1916 date can clearly be seen.
Photographs copyright © 2005 Matthew Hughson

The French Cable Wharf itself is still in existence, owned by the Canadian Department of National Defence. It was recently (2011) the subject of a remediation project to remove almost a hundred years of contamination, mostly originating from the coal used to heat buildings on the site, and residues of the oil used to fuel ships which used the wharf.

Joel Zemel has a website which examines some details of the explosion - The Anatomy Of A Disaster: An Analysis of Two 1917 Halifax Explosion Blast Cloud Photographs. The site has a large amount of background material. On a cable-related note, Joel provides this information:

The captain of CS Tyrian on the day of the 1917 Halifax Explosion was Alex Dickson. The fourth engineer was named Ernest McPeak (Halifax Herald, 6 December 1918, in a special supplement commemorating the explosion). According to the Halifax Herald, 6 December 1917, p. 9, Tyrian was scheduled to leave that day for Seal island to repair a cable. There had been no communications with the island for nearly two weeks.

If any visitor to this page has further information on the use of the wharf for cable operations after the explosion of 1917, please contact Ms. Payzant via email through the site.

Last revised: 20 December, 2020

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