10 August, 2022


Golden Era Of Canada-Sri Lanka Relations – Part-I

By Senaka A. Samarasinghe

Senaka A. Samarasinghe

The Colombo Plan

Immediately after the Second World War (WWII), Canada and the United State took a lead role to rebuild international financial systems through the creation of new institutions and programs in Europe. Among them Marshall Plan (European Recovery Program) was the most well-known and was initiated in 1948. Main objectives were to rebuild war-torn regions, remove trade barriers, modernize industry, improve European prosperity, and prevent the spread of communism. Similarly, for Asia-Pacific region on July 1st 1950 the Colombo Plan was formed for cooperative, economic and social advancement, named as such because the meeting was held in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). This is one of the oldest regional inter-governmental organizations established by Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom and currently has expanded to 27 member countries (1).

The objectives of the Colombo Plan were:

* to promote interest in and support the economic and social development of Asia and the Pacific;

* to promote technical cooperation and assist in the sharing and transfer of technology among member countries;

* to keep under review relevant information on technical cooperation between the member governments, multilateral and other agencies with a view to accelerate development through cooperative effort; and

* to facilitate the transfer and sharing of the developmental experiences among member countries within the region with an emphasis on the concept of South-South cooperation (2).

Modernising Railways in Sri Lanka under the Colombo Plan

In 1883, a company called the Locomotive and Machine Company of Montreal Ltd was established. In 1904 this Company was purchased by the American Locomotive Co (ALCO). With the development of Post-war diesel competition, General Motors (GM) formed in 1949 a new Company named General Motors Diesel Division in London with a Canadian subsidiary in Ontario.

Ceylon Government Railway (CGR) (later Sri Lanka Government Railway – SLGR) was contemplating to do away with steam engines and to introduce diesel engines and this was done with Colombo Plan funding. Accordingly, in 1954, General Motors (GM) manufactured fourteen (14) locomotives, which were exported to Sri Lanka. These were popularly known in Sri Lanka as Canadian Engines. These engines were named after the Canadian 10 Provinces and two Canadian cities, to wit: (1) Ontario, (2) Alberta, (3) Saskatchewan, (4) British Colombia, (5) Quebec, (6) Manitoba, (7) Nova Scotia, (8) New Brunswick, (9) Prince Edward Island, (10) Newfoundland (ten Provinces), (11) Montreal, (12) Vancouver (two Canadian cities). Locomotives 13 and 14 were made in the United States and were imported for the Cement Corporation, Sri Lanka. They were named (13) Galle and (14) Kankasanthure (two Sri Lankan cities) because these were used to transport clinker (raw material for cement) from Kankasanthure to the cement factory in Galle. Later these two engines were handed to the Sri Lanka Railway’s locomotive fleet. The engine capacity of these two locomotives were 1500 Horse Power (HP), whereas, the others manufactured in Canada had 6000 HP and were capable to carry 150 rail carriages at 65 MPH.

Thus in 1954, Colombo Plan funds were utilized for providing 14 GM diesel locomotives to CGR to replace the steam engines and the CGR was able to complete its programme within ten years.
The South-bound Yal Devi train with thirteen carriages powered by Alberta, whilst on its run from Kankesanthure (KKS) through Jaffna to Colombo was blasted on Jan. 19th 1985 by the Tamil Tiger terrorists (LTTE), by triggering a landmine when it was nearing Murikandi-Kokavil station. The Sri Lanka Army camp at Kokavil fell into the hands of the Terrorists which made the northern railway line effectively impossible, till after the end of the war in 2009.

On Dec. 26, 2004 was another major mishap. The Southern line Matara Express train pulled by the locomotive Manitoba on the costal line with approximately 1,700 passengers on board was hit by a huge Tsunami wave, which towered 40 feet, at Peraliya, when the train was more than 200 metres away from the beach. As a result, the giant 78 tons locomotive Manitoba was carried more than 100 metres from the railway track killing many passengers and the crew of the engine (3).

Hardy Institute – Ampara – Gal Oya Multi-Purpose River Basin Development Project

In 1933, the Tennessee State in the US formed the Tennessee Valley Authority to implement the US Government owned multipurpose river basin project. The selected area for management was 150 miles (240 km) based on the drainage basin of Tennessee River. In 1948, Sri Lanka started a similar project by damming the Gal Oya 108 km (67 miles) long river at Iginiyagala. Just after independence from British colonial rule, the first Government of independent Sri Lanka, one of the Commonwealth member countries, decided to start multipurpose river basin development projects to provide self-sufficiency in the staple food of rice.

In 1907, University of Saskatchewan was started. Within a short period, this became an important agricultural education institute on the Canadian prairies. Prof. Evan Alan Hardy was the head of its Departments of Agriculture and Engineering for over 30 years. With this experience Prof. Hardy came to Sri Lanka as a Consultant to work on dry zone agriculture under the auspices of the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (UN/FAO) and the Asia Foundation. About the same time, in 1956, the Colombo Plan decided to lend counterpart funds to the Gal Oya project to start a Regional Technical Training Institute for South Asia. Prof. Hardy was selected as the Director of this Institute. Subsequently, students from Burma (presently Myanmar), Malaysia, North Borneo, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore also joined. He was the Director of this Institute until 1966. Under the Colombo Plan this Institute was provided with an auditorium, lecture halls, machinery and other equipment, laboratories, an agricultural farm demonstration area, hostels for students and a library (4).

The Institute started with 70 students with Project engineering and agricultural staff. The course period was 11 months, which was residential; and the main subjects covered were irrigation, soil science, agriculture, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and surveying. They studied from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. and their leisure time was even supervised by the lecturing staff. Hardy Institute graduates went on for further studies and professional services to United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia. In Sri Lanka, the Gal Oya Development Project was able to replace foreign engineers very quickly with the Hardy Institute graduates who performed well in service.

In 1967, the Institute was renamed Hardy Senior Technical Institute (also known as Hardy advanced Technological Institute) in honour of the pioneering work of Professor E.A. Hardy of Canada. The Institute carried out a National Diploma in Technology (NDT) course until it was transferred to the Institute of Technology of the University of Moratuwa. In 1893, the Ceylon Technical Faculty started the Junior Technical Officers (JTO) course (5).

As a token of gratitude for his services the Evan A. Hardy Memorial Museum was opened at the Hardy Institute campus in Ampara in May, 2010 by the Canadian High Commissioner Mr. Bruce Levy. More than a decade of service (1956 – 1967) and the vision of Prof. Hardy created a new era in engineering education in Sri Lanka giving emphasis to field-level practical experiences that was initiated with the Gal Oya multipurpose river development project.

Construction of Colombo Air Port

In the early 1960s, with the increase of passenger air traffic the Government of Sri Lanka had plans to build a new international airport and the same need was also there in Winnipeg at the same time. As air passenger capacity was more or less alike in these two cities, the Government of Canada took the initiative to construct the Colombo airport under the Colombo Plan aid scheme with the same contractor as the one that was used later to build the Winnipeg airport. So, the Colombo airport terminal building and other buildings were completed by a Winnipeg builder.

The civil engineering initiative paved the way for human migration between these two cities and two countries. In the mid1960s, after the completion of the Colombo airport project, three Sri Lankans migrated with the contractor to Winnipeg. Descendants of these three have now expanded to three large extended families. Majority of them are living in Winnipeg and few of them have migrated to other Provinces in Canada and several members are now living in the US. The Airport project helped Canadians also to settle in Colombo but the numbers were very limited.

The close collaboration between these two countries in the construction of the new Airport led to the naming of the link-road from the International Airport to the main highway as “Canada Friendship Road”. It was a great honour that Rt. Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, who incidentally is the illustrious father of the present Prime Minister of Canada, Rt. Honourable Justin Trudeau, graced the occasion of naming the road. This nomenclature still exists. With such comradeship the relationships between the two countries, Canada and Sri Lanka, were at its peak.

The airport civil engineers hired the services of a Sri Lankan electrical engineering company, namely, Fentons Ltd. (Estab. in 1921), as a local contractor. Even in 2019, Fentons Ltd. is serving the new hangar project and installation of fire detection equipment in collaboration with a Canadian agency, MIRCOM. Today, Fentons Ltd. has a major share in Sri Lankan business in the areas of mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) and information and communication technologies (ICT). This is a good example of improving skills through business ventures.

Aerospace industry in Winnipeg is competitive at global level manufacturing world class products for customers globally. This could be a new industrial venture for co-partnership between Sri Lankan and Canadian industrialists.

Similarities in the Two Cities – Colombo and Winnipeg

Some demographical characteristics of the two cities Colombo and Winnipeg are depicted in 
Table 1 below. Under the first three variables, namely, population, ethnic diversity, and religion, there are similarities, and under two variables, namely, size of city and population density, there are differences.

*To be continued.. 

*Senaka A. Samarasinghe MSc – Coordinator, Institutional Development Unit (Retired), Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka

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Latest comments

  • 5

    Eagle Blind Eye and your fellow patriots,

    Please copy , paste and save this article on your computer. Whenever you get the urge to rage against Canada, you should always read this article, ……

    Whatever you decide to do please do not jump in front one of the moving Canadian engines.

    • 2

      How can Eagle rage against Canada?
      He is a Canadian.

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