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Historical Background

The federal government has been providing icebreaking services since 1873 when Prince Edward Island stipulated year-round ferry service as a condition for entry into confederation. In the St. Lawrence River valley, annual winter flooding was caused by the formation of ice barriers in the narrow points of the river. In 1904, icebreakers were assigned to break up the ice at strategic locations in the river and keep the ice moving down the deepest channels. A benefit of the flood control activities was the opening of the river to winter navigation, and other than a few exceptional days during severe weather conditions, the river has been kept open year-round as far as Montreal since the late 1950's.

In the early 1920's, regular Arctic patrols by icebreakers during the short summer navigation season were initiated to respond to several needs, including the resupply of isolated outposts and native settlements and also backing up Canadian claims to sovereignty over the Arctic Archipelago.

  [Picture of the Stanley 2 - one of the first icebreakers]

Stanley 2 - one of the first icebreakers


Main Objectives of Icebreaking Program

  • to ensure the provision, operation and maintenance of icebreakers, facilities and services to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of marine traffic through or around ice-covered waters
  • to support marine related activities and other government objectives, including sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic
  • to minimize the effect of flooding caused by ice jams on the upper St. Lawrence River

  [Picture of a modern day icebreaker]

A modern day icebreaker


Mission Statements (Key Result Areas)

The following 8 services are carried out by the Icebreaking Program:

Route Assistance
To escort ships separately or in convoy, to maintain tracks through ice-covered waters and to stand by for escort requests.

Ice Routing and Information Services
To provide ice information and reconnaissance services, and to manage ice operations centres.

Flood Control
To provide flood control in ice-covered waters where the federal government has traditionally accepted responsibility.

Marine Facility and Port Maintenance
To break out ice from wharf faces and harbour approaches in order to increase accessibility to shipping.

Fishing Harbour Breakout
To break out approaches and clear wharf faces in harbours, where the predominant commercial activity is fishing or is directly related to the fishing industry.

Northern Resupply Support
To coordinate the resupply of Northern settlements and military sites in accordance with the Treasury Board mandate.

Research, Development and Survey Support
To support scientific and data collection activities in ice-covered waters.

Sovereignty Support
To support the interests of Canadian sovereignty by maintaining an active presence in the Arctic Region.

  [Picture of the Henry Larsen - another modern day icebreaker]

The Henry Larsen - another modern day icebreaker


Support To Other Programs

In addition to the primary services defined in the previous section, the Canada Coast Guard (CCG) icebreaking vessels provide secondary support to other programs in ice-covered waters where they are often the only vessels capable of responding in those conditions.

Search and Rescue Program
Providing search and rescue (SAR), medevac and emergency assistance where ice coverage requires the attendance of ice-capable ships.

Marine Regulatory Programs (Ship Safety, Emergencies)
Responding to marine oil pollution incidents in ice-covered waters by providing the necessary resources for the department as lead agency in pollution clean-up in the marine environment.

Marine Navigation Services Programs
Placing, lifting or performing routine maintenance on fixed/floating Navaids in ice-covered waters. Resupplying lighthouses and marine installations during the ice season.


Description of CCG Icebreaker Classifications

Ship Type Description Operational Capabilities Example
1500 POLAR ICEBREAKER Year round operations - all Arctic waters. N/A
1400 MEDIUM POLAR ICEBREAKER Year round operations - all Arctic waters. N/A
1300 HEAVY GULF ICEBREAKER Large ship escort in severe Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic ice and weather conditions. Capable of extended season operations through areas of ice zone 6 or less severity. Louis S. St-Laurent
1200 MEDIUM/GULF RIVER ICEBREAKER Large ship escort operations in southern Canadian waters as well as Arctic areas during summer season. Henry Larsen
1100 MAJOR NAVAIDS TENDER/LIGHT ICEBREAKER Buoy handling and medium capacity cargo; small to medium vessel escort in southern Canadian and sub-Arctic waters. Griffon
1050 MEDIUM NAVAIDS TENDER/LIGHT ICEBREAKER Buoy handling, restricted mainly to deck cargo; small to medium vessel escort in moderate ice conditions south of the Arctic. Earl Grey

Information taken from CCG Icebreaking Operations, Levels of Service, January 1993 and CCG Fleet List, April 1996

Images courtesy of the Canadian Coast Guard, Icebreaking division

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