Canadian Pipe-Layers and DamPaddas

On March 24, 2015 Danny Moodley wrote a comment on that wonderful website Facts about Durban – and this brought back distant memories:

I started work at the Killarney Hotel in 1962. The first Durban to Johannesburg oil pipeline started in 1964. The Contract was given to the Americans. I was offered a job. The contract was completed in 1966. The name of the contractors were McAlpine Somerville. The Artisans came from Canada, USA and Britain. Most of us South Africans were assistances. This contract was given by the South African Railways And Harbours.

McAlpine and Somerville – that name brought back memories! Memories of new people with strange accents visiting us at 95 Stuart Street from Canada and America. One lady did beautiful rich pastel paintings of Eskimo (as we called them then) children.

When they left Harrismith we were left with a few of those beautiful portraits – wonder where they are today?

– this similar-looking pair of 1960s paintings are on ebay for R9 000 –
– more like this


McAlpine started in Britain and Somerville in Canada, both in the fifties. Both became huge pipeline companies. Their SA project was a joint venture. Driving along the roads I remember seeing the signs McAlpine & Somerville near the pipeline; I seem to recall seeing them near Sunnymede and near Swinburne?


A few years later came another influx of workers, called locally – and tongue-in-cheek – ‘Die DamPaddas.’ They arrived to build the Sterkfontein, Driekloof, Driel, Woodstock and other dams; also canals and the power station drilled into the mountainside at Oliviershoek Pass.