Constructors and Naval Architects in the RCN

Author: Bill Broughton
Published: Feb 5th 2019
Updated: 2 years ago


The aim of this manuscript is to trace the training and officer classification of constructors and naval architects in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). In terms of their employment, they have always applied their expertise in the design, construction, modification, and repair of ships, submarines and auxiliary vessels in respect of their arrangements, strength, seakeeping, manoeuvrability, stability, ship modelling, corrosion resistance, and structural repairs including damage control.

Firstly, the terms “constructor” and “naval architect” should be clarified as they relate to the RCN. The term naval architect has remained constant overtime at least until now. It applies to technical officers who have completed a post graduate degree in naval architecture. Typically, but not necessarily, they took their naval architecture education at either the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with the United States Navy (USN) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG); or, they took it with the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors (RCNC) at either the Royal Naval College (RNC) at Greenwich or the University College London (UCL). On the other hand, constructors have generally been Commissioned from the Ranks (CFR) officers, typically from either the shipwright or hull technician trades. In the 1960s a few constructors were direct entry officers from the UK with a National Certificate in shipbuilding. There can be some confusion because all of these categories had the rank label “Constructor” and the grey colour between their uniform’s gold rings until the officer’s branches were disbanded on January 1st, 1959.


It might be debatable as to who was the first “constructor” in the RCN. But a review of our Naval Officer Lists ( that were published from Oct 1910 to Oct 1965, and Mar 1969 record a progression of officer rank usages in our group - Carpenter, Warrant Carpenter, Chief Carpenter, Shipwright (1920), and Constructor (1942). The first names in 1910 are Joseph Poling, seniority 17 June 1910 as the Carpenter Officer on HMCS RAINBOW, and Samuel G. S. Morrell, seniority 10 June 1910 as the Carpenter Officer on HMCS NIOBE. They were both on loan from the Royal Navy (RN) and served in those capacities until 1913 and 1914, respectively. Poling returned home and was relieved by Acting Carpenter Charles H. Brown, RCN, seniority 15 April 1913; and Morrell returned home and was relieved by Acting Carpenter Randall Orlando Burnett, RCN, seniority 01 October, 1913. Burnett resigned in 1917. In addition to the two ships, John H. Davey on RN loan served in the Halifax Dockyard as a Chief Carpenter, seniority 26 Feb 1911, until summer 1919 when he retired as a Shipwright LT, seniority 29 Jun 1912. On Armistice Day the RCN had one Shipwright LT and five Warrant Shipwrights.


By 1920 only Warrant Shipwrights Charles H. Brown and John Edwin Hutchings remained. Both served until the summer of 1944, Hutchings intermittently, and Brown continuously. Hutchings resigned in 1920, re-enlisted in 1925, resigned in 1935, re-enlisted in 1939 and retired in 1944 as a Shipwright LT. Brown was promoted to Warrant Shipwright in 1918, Shipwright LT in 1925, Shipwright LCDR in 1935, and retired in 1944 after 43 years of service as a Shipwright CDR, OBE with seniority 1 Jul, 1940. At the end of WWII, the regular RCN had as Constructors a CAPT and a S/LT; and as Shipwrights a CDR, a LCDR, and two LTs. The RCN® had one Commissioned Shipwright and six Warrant Shipwrights. The RCN(VR) had as Constructors, one CDR (Frank Freeborn), 4 LCDRs, 5 LTs, and 2 S/LTs; and also had two Shipwright LTs. The Navy Lists do not indicate if Freeborn had been trained as a Naval Architect, but he may have attended RNC Greenwich. Freeborn later transferred to the regular force and retired in 1961 as a CMDRE having been the Constructor-in-Chief for five years.

During the war and shortly afterwards a number of members of the RCNC came to the RCN, some temporarily on loan, and others who stayed and joined the RCN. The most notable was Sir Rowland Baker who came to Canada on loan in 1948. In 1941 as an A/Chief Constructor he had been Superintendent of Landing Craft in the UK. When he came to Canada, he was made a Constructor Captain in the RCN® with seniority November 9th, 1942. From 1950 to 1958 he was the Constructor-in-Chief for the RCN and led the Canadian design of the St. Laurent Class destroyers.

Another notable Royal Corps Constructor on loan to the RCN during the war was the Director of Naval Construction at Naval Service HQ, Constructor Captain A.N. Harrison. He also set up the Branch of the Naval Constructor-in-Chief.

During WW II Canada started to send selected officers to RNC Greenwich for their two- year post graduate course in naval architecture. The RNC had taught advanced marine engineering and naval engineering since 1873, mainly to British marine engineers and naval architects. If not Freeborn as noted above, based on discussions with others, it is believed that the first RCN officer to go to RNC Greenwich for naval architecture was Earl Kimmerly from 1943 to 1945. He was released in the early 1960s as a LCDR.


After the war, as well as continuing to send selected officers to RNC Greenwich, the RCN also started to send them to MIT for naval architecture training. Officers elected to go to MIT took a three-year course and had a choice of four options: hull, marine, electrical and nuclear. All four options covered traditional naval architecture subjects, but each option had added subjects in its field. On completion of the course, students received two post-graduate degrees: the Master of Science (SM) degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and the degree Naval Engineer (Nav E) for completing the major course requirements for a PhD (but not the minor course, the foreign language, the oral exam, and the PhD thesis requirements).

Based on Navy Lists and information from MIT, it is fairly certain that the first two to go to MIT were Hyman (Hy) Alexander Shenker and Barry Samuel Brissenden from 1951 to 1954 in the post-graduate course XIII-A (Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering) with USN and USCG officers. In fact, they co-wrote the thesis “Reanalysis of some ship structural design criteria /by B. S. Brissenden and H. A. Shenker. 1954”. Shenker had been a Pilot Officer in the RCAF during the war and earned the DFC. On demobilization he transferred to the RCN and did his undergraduate engineering degree at the University of Toronto as a veteran and then was selected to go to MIT. Amongst his appointments was to serve on HMCS LABRADOR as a Constructor LT in 1955. He retired in the late sixties as a Constructor CDR with seniority 01/07/59. Brissenden was appointed Lt (Temp) RCNVR with seniority 10/01/1943. In 1944 he served on HMCS BADDECK. He transferred to the RCN and as a Constructor LT was Constructor Officer on staff of the Principal Naval Overseer, Sorel. He was released as a Constructor LCDR around 1960.

In 1967 the RCNC decided to move naval architecture training from RNC Greenwich to a civilian university where successful naval architecture students would be more formally recognized by a degree-granting institution. Discussions were held with University College London and Cambridge University resulting in an agreement with UCL to provide a naval architecture studies program at the UCL campus. The program would include a one-year post-graduate course leading to a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Naval Architecture within the Faculty of Engineering. RCNC officers would take their undergraduate degree at UCL and external students would join them for the one-year MSc course. Thereafter, selected RCN officers spent one year at the Constructor Training Office (CTO) located in Plymouth Dockyard prior to their MSc year at UCL.

The first RCN officer to be selected to go to UCL was John Thomas. In his case, he started with a year at Plymouth Dockyard, then one year at Greenwich, and then a third year at UCL. John retired from the RCN as a CDR in 1980 after completing the Management Requirements for the Frigate Program. He then moved to the Government of Canada, where he became the Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard. On retiring from the Government John went to work as the President of Irving Shipbuilding, followed by consulting in the public and private sectors until 2018.


On January 1st, 1959, the Navy abolished the Branch rank colours except for medical doctors and nurses who kept their red. By the end of 1959, the Navy Lists no longer used the Constructor and similar rank distinctions. In the early 1960s the Navy established a Personnel Structure Review Committee under the Chairmanship of RADM Tisdall to develop further the new officer structure. For post-graduate trained officers, a major recommendation of the Tisdall Report, with an intended profound effect on their careers, was to be the establishment of a Restricted Duty List on which they would be placed."

For post-graduate trained officers, a major recommendation of the Tisdall Report, with an intended profound effect on their careers, was to be the establishment of a Restricted Duty List on which they would be placed. Post-graduate candidates would be drawn from the General List at the end of their Second Sea Phase, and be selected based on “suitable testing procedures and proven ability”. On completion of PG education they would “become Restricted Duty Officers (RDOs) and relinquish command at sea”. Their subsequent employment was to be “only in their specific fields and fields of a general nature pertaining to all RDOs”. This last statement was amplified by giving the numbers of positions open to RDOs above the rank of CDR; namely, General List Officers had only 3 of 80 positions (3.75%) above CDR denied to them and all three were at the rank of CAPT. On the other hand, RDOs had 54 of 80 (67.5%) denied to them. Furthermore, the opportunity for promotion above CDR for RDOs was even less than the 26 open to them above the rank of CAPT. because all but the three CAPT positions could be filled by General List officers rather than RDOs.

The author of this manuscript submitted a brief to the Tisdall Committee arguing that the RDO scheme would be detrimental to the Navy by limiting a proper opportunity for senior appointments to such highly qualified officers. In part the submission said “This scheme over-emphasizes employment ‘only in their specific fields’, an apparent result of assuming that those who leave the main stream for three years are forever incapacitated to see the forest for the trees. On the contrary, the purpose of graduate study is described in the calendar (1962) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as follows: ‘Although graduate study is often popularly associated with a high degree of specialization, M.I.T. believes that such specialization, though valuable, is secondary to extending mental horizons, producing new orientations, and developing growth in intellectual courage and depth of understanding.’” The submission was acknowledged to have been received, but its offer to appear before the Committee was not entertained. Fortunately, in 1964 when the Minister of National Defence, Paul Hellyer, ordered that the Canadian Armed Forces be unified, the RDO concept was overtaken by that event and never re-surfaced.


The initial steps towards unification involved the integration of various functions within National Defence Headquarters including personnel management. In the case of the Navy, both engineering and supply officers were particularly affected. Supply Officers were amalgamated with army and air force supply and finance officers into a new Logistics (LOG) Military Officer Classification (MOC). Marine engineers, combat systems engineers, naval architects and commissioned from the ranks (CFR) constructors were grouped into the Maritime Engineering (MARE) (44) classification.

Initially the various naval executive and technical groups were blended to form the Sea Operations Group. This had a negative consequence on the recruitment of Military College cadets into the MAREs. Apparently, the potential candidates were often interpreting Sea Operations to mean not really practicing engineering. When Commodore Ray Ross, Director General Maritime Engineering and Maintenance at the time, became aware of this, he approached the Personnel Branch about placing MAREs in an engineering grouping for purposes of recruitment. As a result, an even better arrangement was adopted wherein MAREs were a separate entity (unique if you will) for recruitment. The next recruiting year the number of MARE applicants rose from less than ten to over thirty!

It took from 1969 to 1972 to achieve an initial MARE specification. In 1973 a MARE study was conducted leading to changes in the training of Marine System (MS) and Combat System (CS) officers. Marine engineers and combat systems engineers were placed in separate Sub-MOCs; whereas naval architects and constructors were designated Qualifications. New designations were assigned: 44B for Marine Systems Engineers, 44C for Combat Systems Engineers, 44D for Constructors, and 44E for Naval Architects.

This arrangement of the MARE classification caused confusion as to what should be the training regime for naval architects. Most of the officers who had been selected had started out as marine engineers, although a few had an ordnance or combat systems background. The career point at which officers had been selected also varied. Some had only completed first sea phase, some had completed second sea phase, a few had been ship Engineering Officers, and at least one went directly from receiving his baccalaureate with only cadet sea time. One of the ramifications of this disparity of when an officer had been selected for PG in naval architecture, was that some more senior officers did not want to accept them for “field” positions such as in dockyard production, or squadron engineering officer, because they had not been the EO of a ship. After discussions within the naval architecture community, it was recommended that candidates not be selected before they had completed at least their second sea phase. With this proviso, naval architecture and constructor were changed to be Specialties.

Meanwhile, in the early 1980s, the personnel branch was approached to have the 44D Constructor specification require Hull Technicians who were being selected for commissioning to attend a technology level course in naval architecture/shipbuilding. This specification change was approved and candidates began to attend the Marine Institute of Memorial University in Newfoundland.

In the early 2000s, a few years after the creation of the Officer Training Division within the Canadian Forces Naval Engineering School, the naval technical community was actively discussing the restructure of the MARE classification and numerous options were being debated including a one-single concept. There was a MARE Restructuring Working Group with ADM(HR-Mil) personnel to examine potential options for the classification. From recommendations made by the MARE Council and the Working Group, and other discussions at Naval Board, the Chief of Maritime Staff (CMS) ordered the restructuring of the MARE classification.

The result was a transition to a structure of three specialties within what became the Naval Technical Officer (NTO) Branch. The new occupations were: Maritime Systems Engineers (MS), Naval Combat Systems Engineers, (NCS), and Naval Engineer (Nav Eng). The Naval Engineer Occupation became the terminal NTO occupation for Commanders and Captains (N) drawn from both MS and NCS officers. Promotions by specialty commenced in 2003.


The expertise and knowledge associated with the Naval Architecture and Naval Constructor fields would be acquired through Occupation Specialty Specifications (OSS) like other specific skill sets within the Branch such as missiles, underwater systems, reliability and maintainability, etc. A QSP Board (Qualifications Specifications Plan) was used to craft the OS Specifications.

For Naval Architecture, the programs at MIT and UCL would remain the two options for selected candidates coming from either the MS or the NCS occupations depending on their academic background and experience. In the case of MIT, in 2004 The Department of Ocean Engineering was amalgamated with the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Course XIII-A was re-designated Course 2N with the title The Naval Construction and Engineering Program. It is offered as both a two-year program leading to a Master of Science degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and a three-year program leading to the degree Naval Engineer. Currently the RCN is sending selected candidates to the two-year program as the three-year program is usually available only to the American students. RCN candidates will select electives within the program and some will have the opportunity to complete a second degree (Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering).

In the case of UCL, the program has not changed significantly over recent years. The program lasts 18 months and includes two components. The first component is the core degree curriculum including study areas such as ship dynamics, ship hydrodynamics, ship structures and advanced engineering analysis. The second component, which normally consumes the last four months of the 18-month program, is the submarine design course, which focuses on all aspects of submarine design including a design project. The submarine design course is now part of the Occupation Specialty Specifications for Naval Architecture.

In addition, a liaison with the University of British Columbia (UBC) has commenced so that their naval architecture program could be considered a potential and valid program for the OSS; that would give the RCN three potential streams of qualifying naval architects.

For Naval Constructors, a specific course was designed so that the requirement for Liquid Cargo Officers for the AORs would be addressed.


Today, the naval architecture skills remain at the forefront of the naval engineering community as coastal formations (Fleet Maintenance Facilities) and Ottawa organizations (DGMEPM and DGMPD(Sea)) require and extensively use the naval architecture skills set. With capital ship building projects in full motion. and the efforts to maintain the current vessels operational and safe, there is no doubt that the naval architecture specialty will remain an essential part of the naval engineering areas of work for years to come.


The author gratefully acknowledges the information, suggestions and proof reading so generously offered by the following Naval Engineers: Simon Page, John Thomas, Don Wight, Bob McNeilly, and Pat Barnhouse.