Labrador is similar in design to American Wind class icebreakers. However, it was modified to include a suite of scientific instruments so it could serve as an exploration vessel rather
than a warship like American Coast Guard vessels. On board the Labrador were a laboratory and a
hospital as well as a helicopter pad and rescue boats.
The Labrador was
the first ship to circumnavigate North America when, in 1954, it transited the
Northwest Passage and returned to
Halifax through the Panama Canal. It was also heavily involved in the
construction of the Distant Early Warning Line, a vast chain of radar stations
built in the mid-1950s to detect incoming Soviet bombers.
When the Department of
National Defence decided to reduce spending by removing its Arctic patrols in
1958, the Labrador was transferred to the control of the Department of
Transport. Thus, the vessel became the first in a line of heavy Canadian
Coast Guard Icebreakers. As a Coast Guard vessel, the Labrador was used to conduct
extensive hydrographic studies, resupply northern RCMP detachments and communities, and transport scientific parties to regions
few other ships could reach. The Labrador's status as Canada's premier icebreaker lasted six years, until completion of the even larger John A. Macdonald
in 1960. Labrador continued in service for over 30 years and was
eventually decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1987.