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Looking back on 15 years of Crane & Hoist

Exploring the changes and shifts across Canada's heavy lifting industry over Crane & Hoist's first 15 years.

May 27, 2024  By Saul Chernos


In 2012, the planning, engineering and other preparations took longer than actually lifting the carbon dioxide stripper into place at Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan. Photo: SNC Lavalin

The 15 years Crane & Hoist Canada has served the sector has made for an interesting ride.

The magazine’s coverage has included evolutions in lifting technologies, improvements to safety and performance, and highlighting hoisting systems used for unusual tasks.

This is especially true in terms of cranes operating in crowded urban centres. In our first issue, Winter 2009, we wrote about space becoming tighter across Toronto.

“There’s usually no private property to hoist from,” Ward Crane Rentals president Dave Ward lamented.

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Various cranes worked on the new Champlain Bridge across the St. Lawrence River in Montreal in 2016. Photo: Infrastructure Canada

Obstacles ranged from directly adjacent buildings to a mishmash of poles and wires.

In 2011, we highlighted Montreal’s crowded skyline, including 10 tower cranes on a single hospital project. Montreal hadn’t had this much action since the 1976 Olympics, one participant noted.

Solutions included deftly engineered shoring, increasingly compact machines, and carefully worded legal contracts. In 2013, Toronto lawyers Leor Margulies and Chris Doucet recommended negotiating as early as possible to secure air rights.

“Offer a small but real compensatory amount to the adjacent owners in exchange for written permission to intrude into the air space,” they advised.

Safety concerns are eternal

Safety has also proven a perennial topic. In 2010, we wrote about cranes working well past their prime. A fatal collapse in Seattle had inspectors and crane industry watchers worried about the same happening in Canada.

“If your crane is over 25 years old stop using it,” urged Washington State inspector Gaytor Rasmussen.

Sadly, Canada has had multiple crane-related fatalities. In 2014, the federal Transportation Safety Board investigated the death of a crew member of the Federal Yoshino, a Canadian-owned ship, who fell while working from a provision crane’s basket.

“It was not certified for lifting personnel, its hoisting cable did not meet the required safety factor and it did not have additional braking capacity,” the TSB concluded.

The company that managed the ship responded that it had since taken steps to prevent a similar tragedy.

Considerable engineering has gone into addressing safety.

In 2012, Rayco-Wylie Systems of Quebec City added the R180 wireless wind speed indicator to its lineup, citing customer demand.

In 2013, we highlighted University of Alberta research into crane stability in high winds. Lead author Shafiul Hasan and colleagues proposed building information modelling software to sample and analyze conditions on a regular basis, all while considering a crane’s particular specifications, to warn lift personnel about potential hazards.

Regulation has also advanced. Soon after the Seattle collapse, Ontario’s labour ministry extended inspection requirements to exceed a crane’s structural elements and include electrical, mechanical and hydraulic components.

Henry Vogt, with the ministry’s construction health and safety program, said older cranes mandated out of service in stricter jurisdictions were landing in less restrictive ones, including Ontario. In 2015, Ontario introduced new working-from-heights rules, including a new training requirement that applies to crane operators.

Efforts have also been made to increase diversity in Canada’s crane sector.

In 2010, Esther Gilbert, owner of Vulcan Hoist in Montreal, spoke about going on the road to sell electric chain hoists in the 1950s and 1960s.

“I had to do much more than the average salesman because in those days people thought a woman didn’t know anything about machinery,” Gilbert recalled.

She kept her cool, read all she could, spent time inside the manufacturing plant and repeatedly proved herself.

In 2015 Perri Arnold of Alberta, Sabrina Sabic of Nova Scotia and Denika Mitchelmore of Newfoundland told us about their experiences in the field.

Certainly, there would seem to be a tie-in with the ongoing shortage of skilled labour, which was already evident in 2013 when we reported on high demand for skilled trades due in part to steady market activity.

“There’s a lot of competition to keep your own crane operator,” noted Guillaume Gagnon of Grues Guay in Quebec.

Technological changes continue across the industry

Technology has also progressed. In 2011, we reported on new rechargeable lithium-ion battery packs that generate and store juice whenever a crane lowers its load. The cranes still needed diesel or conventionally-generated electricity, but batteries helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“We want to have a low carbon footprint and be as environmentally friendly as we can, so we’re certainly going to look at all the options and opportunities,” one Nova Scotia port operator said. In 2012, we reported on GPS providers working to improve crane capabilities on the basis that information generated can help enhance safety, reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Does this photo from 2009 make you feel claustrophobic? There are ways to trump that feeling when working within spitting distance of Toronto’s banking and commercial towers. Photo: Saul Chernos

In 2016, Ontario high school students began training on crane simulators thanks to a program steel producer ArcelorMittal Dofasco launched in Hamilton, Ontario.

It’s particularly exciting when cranes do unconventional jobs.

In 2010, Peiner SK 186 and Comedil CTT 311 cranes decked with blue lights created ambiance at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche outdoor arts festival. To avant-garde instrumental music, the cranes pirouetted gracefully against the dark sky.

In 2011, 10-tonne cranes assembled multi-tonne, high-end detectors physicists used to search for theoretical dark matter two kilometres underground at a Sudbury, Ontario nickel mine. To get the Kone CXT 500 monorail and CXT 504 gantry down the shaft to an area fully shielded from cosmic rays, crews dismantled the machines into sections, squeezed small components into an elevator, and engineered metal slings to carry larger sections underneath.

In 2012, we reported on preparation for tightrope walker Nik Wallenda’s planned crossing of Niagara Falls. Six-hundred-tonne hydraulic cranes were used to anchor and support the journey.

When Canada legalized marijuana in 2017, cranes helped set up industrial grow-ops.

Of course, routine jobs — our bread and butter — have also varied. In 2012, crews used two cranes to assemble a carbon capture system at a Saskatchewan coal-fired power plant to ease its environmental load. One crane, a Manitowoc 18000 crawler, was shipped in 39 separate truckloads and its use required extensive planning and engineering.

In 2015 in Labrador, crews began working from mobile work platforms, crawler cranes and two 340-metric-tonne overhead cranes to build the Muskrat Falls Generating facility on the Lower Churchill River.

One unfortunate fact of life is vandalism. In one particularly brazen copper theft in 2013, thieves stole electric cabling from more than a half-dozen tower cranes from a Port Coquitlam, B.C. yard. That same year, a Sydney, Nova Scotia company lost use of a 45-tonne container crane under similar circumstances. We’ve also routinely reported on thrill seekers climbing cranes illicitly at night. To protect against these illegal activities, experts recommend perimeter fencing, lighting, patrol guards and alarm-activated cameras.

As time marches on, challenges continually arise. In 2019, researchers raised the spectre of zombie cranes, where hackers seize remote control of cranes. Trend Micro’s team analyzed multiple real-world set-ups — with permission of course — and discovered surprising vulnerabilities.

Climate change also stands to present both opportunities for work on maintaining infrastructure but also considerable chaos. In 2022, flooding hampered major arterial routes in B.C., keeping crews busy even while blocking access to sites where they were badly needed.

Brave new world? No doubt. But whatever the future brings, we wish glad tidings to all.


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