With a simple internet post, another piece of Canadian history is about to be thrown away and the legacy of an entire era will be relegated into oblivion.
This week on 2 November 2017, the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada posted for tender, “Disposal of former ATHABASKAN (W8482-182411/A).”
On the surface it might seem, “What’s the big deal, an old ship is going to be scrapped?” In reality, this “Old Ship” is the last of her kind and the last chance to preserve an important era in Canadian history. HMCS ATHABASKAN (III) is the sole remaining Canadian Navy ship from the Cold War. During the Cold War, Canada designed several classes of ships, all of which are now decommissioned and destroyed.
ATHABASKAN was one of these incredible Canadian designed ships, construction began in 1969 at Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec and she was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy on 30 September 1972. She had some of the most modern systems and innovations of her time, including several Canadian innovations, the bear trap system to land helicopters on deck, space for two operational helicopters and Variable Depth Sonar, lowered from her stern. These innovations set a new standard for other navy’s to follow and have become the standard for ships of all classes around the globe.
ATHABASKAN was one of four Iroquois class destroyers to serve in the Royal Canadian Navy. The innovations in these ships, earned ATHABASKAN and her sisters, IROQUOIS, HURON and ALGONQUIN the moniker, “Sisters of the Space Age!” Many times these ships operated as the flagships for NATO fleet operations. Often the Iroquois class destroyers were sent throughout the world as the Canadian Government’s First Response to changing international conditions, threats and response to crisis.
During ATHABASKAN’s service to our nation she participated in many of the world’s historical events, including;
- 1973 September 30 -commissioned into the RCN
- 1981 –ATHABASKAN’s Sea King helicopter removed 44 people from oil rig Rowan Juneau off Sable Island in 60 knot winds and sea state 5 conditions
- 1990 -sent to Persian Gulf for Operation FRICTION/DESERT SHIELD (first Gulf War)
- 1991 -ATHABASKAN leads two UN ships, USS TRIPOLI and PRINCETON to safety after each struck mines while conducting operations in the northern Persian Gulf
- 1991 -began TRUMP refit/modernization
- 2000 -ATHABASKAN using her Sea King, boards GTS Katie, 160 kilometers off Newfoundland, to compel delivery of Canadian Military vehicles and equipment being repatriated from Kosovo.
- 2005 -deployed to US Gulf Coast to assist disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina
- 2010 -deployed to Haiti for Canadian relief for an earthquake that had impacted on Jan 12
- 2010 -command ship for Queen Elizabeth II’s review of International Fleet in Halifax Harbour as part of Canadian Navy Centennial celebrations
- 2017 March 10 -officially paid off and retired from active service.
She was not the first ship in the RCN to carry the name ATHABASKAN, there were two predecessors, both Tribal Class destroyers. ATHABASKAN (I) was commissioned on 3 February 1943 and served during WWII with operations off Normandy, convoys to Russia and anti shipping/submarine operations. On April 26, 1944 she helped sink the German torpedo boat T29. Three days later, 29 April 1944, a torpedo from the German torpedo boat T24 sank her north of the Île de Bas while operating with her sister-ship HMCS HAIDA. Her captain and 128 men were lost, 83 taken prisoners and 44 rescued by HAIDA.
HMCS ATHABASKAN (II) was commissioned on 20 January 1948. During the Korean conflict, she served three tours of duty with the United Nations and was paid-off on 21 April 1966.
Each of these ships have earned their own Battle Honours in service to Canada.
- Arctic 1943-1944
- English Channel 1944
- Korea 1950-1953
- Gulf and Kuwait
The thousands of Canadian Sailors that served in the three ATHABASKAN’s have left a legacy of sacrifice, valour and honour, while living up to their ships motto, “We Fight as One!”
Canada has not done well in preserving or educating our nations history, therefor our collective heritage is often forgotten. The Royal Canadian Navy has a rich legacy, sadly only six ships have been preserved.
CSS Acadia (ex HMCS ACADIA)-Hydrographic Vessel, Halifax, Nova Scotia
- HMCS BRAS D’OR -Hydrofoil, Est L’islet, QC
- HMCS HAIDA -Tribal class Destroyer, Hamilton, ON
- HMCS OJIBWA, Oberon class submarine, Port Burwell, ON
- HMCS ONONDAGA -Oberon class submarine, Rimouski, QC
- HMCS SACKVILLE -Flower class corvette, Halifax, NS
Other nations look on their history as an opportunity to celebrate and honour their past. In the UK a number of ships have been preserved from the renowned HMS VICTORY, commanded by Lord Nelson at TRAFAGAR to HMS BELFAST, cruiser during WWII. A total of twenty one, Royal Navy ships are preserved. The United States has an incredible record of preserving it’s national history, with over seventy-five ships preserved as museums.
How can ATHABASKAN be saved?
Time is running out, if this historic RCN destroyer is to be saved it must be done NOW! The tender is out and will close on 4 January 2018. At that time a shipbreaker will acquire the ship and within a few weeks ATHABASKAN will be shredded, ripped apart and her metal will be off for recycling.
A volunteer Facebook group has been formed, “SAVE HMCS ATHABASKAN,” with the intent of preserving this historic ship. In reality, this group will need much more help, than they can do themselves if there is hope for success. We need Canadians across the nation to come forward and demand an end to destroying Canadian history.
We should be looking to established agencies to preserve this ship.
The Ministry of Canadian Heritage plays a vital role in the cultural, civic and economic life of Canadians. Arts, culture and heritage represent $54.6 billion in the Canadian economy and more than 630,000 jobs across the nation. There is an opportunity within the federal Government to ensure our continued preservation of this ship, from the Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Minister of Transport, Minister of Veterans Affairs, Minister of Heritage and our local Members of Parliament. We should be talking to these representatives, explaining the importance of preserving ATHABASKAN and Canadian Heritage.
Parks Canada is responsible for dedication and preservation of National Historic sites and has taken on HMCS HAIDA as such. HMCS ATHABASKAN is also one of these National Historic treasures.
Industry will have to come forward and support the ship. Many industries and businesses in Canada have reaped financial gains from Navy operations, providing construction, equipment, refitting and supplying our ships.
ATHABASKAN can be located in any number of communities, from Halifax, home of the East Coast Navy to Quebec City, home of her birth. It would be wonderful to see an RCN ship preserved on Canada’s west coast, but cost of moving her, would be unreasonable. Any community along the Eastern Seaboard, St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes would be a welcome home.
We must change our own attitudes toward Canadian history and it’s importance to national identity.
If we destroy our history, how can Canadians know the wisdom and folly that makes up the greatness of our past, so we as a nation may set a standard to build a better tomorrow?
A nation that destroys its history, has no future.