HMCS HAIDA, the last Tribal class destroyer has been dedicated “Flagship of the Royal Canadian Navy,” in a ceremony at her permanent berth in Hamilton, Ontario on 26 May 2018.
This historic ship has often been described as “Canada’s Fightingest Ship,” having seen active service in the Second World War, Korea and the early days of the Cold War. HAIDA has earned an impressive list of Battle Honours with actions including sinking enemy U-Boats, ships and destroying trains, escorting convoys to Russia, patrols of the Normandy Beaches during the invasion of France and patrols during the Korean War.
HAIDA was commissioned into the RCN on 30 August 1943 at the height of WWII. She remained in service until her paying off on 11 October 1963. Destined for the breakers yard, Peter Ward and a small group of past and current RCN sailors formed HAIDA Inc. and aggressively fought to preserve this historic ship. Their determination and personal sacrifice was rewarded when HAIDA was moved to Toronto in August 1964 and opened as a Museum Ship at Ontario Place.
Although her boilers were cold and machinery silent, HAIDA remained a living ship. Thousands of visitors toured the destroyer and over the years many Sea Cadets lived in ship for training and discovering first hand the legacy of the RCN.
In 2002, HAIDA became a National Historic Site under Parks Canada and following an extensive mid-life refit, the destroyer was moved to her permanent berth in Hamilton, ON alongside the Naval Reserve Unit, HMCS STAR.
It was not just the legacy of this ship, during her 20 years in commission, that was celebrated on 26 May, but also the service and sacrifice of the many thousands of Canadian sailors, past and present, that have served in the Royal Canadian Navy.
The festivities started the day before the service, when HAIDA was closed to the public for the meeting of the RCN’s Naval Board. The board consists of senior RCN staff and they meet to discuss the current and future operations of the Navy.
Saturday, the very large crowd was greeted with a truly festival atmosphere, tents and displays had been set up by the RCN and Parks Canada, several Parks Canada staff were wearing period uniforms of the RCN and Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service and several hundred very pusser looking Canadian sailors in dress white uniforms. HAIDA herself was dressed from stem to stern in signal flags, her brass bell on the brow, shined in the bright sunlight.
The local Naval Reserve Unit, HMCS STAR played host, at 1030 sharp the ceremony began. A massed Guard of Honour, Colour Party and Naval Band marched on to the parade consisting of sailors from five Naval Reserve Units, including STAR and HMCS YORK from Toronto, HMCS PREVOST from London, HMCS CATARAQUI from Kingston and HMCS GRIFFON from Thunder Bay.
Once in position the dignitaries arrived and Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander of the RCN took the General Salute. Blessings were provided by local Indigenous partners from the Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the New Credit. Mr. Bob Bratina, Member of Parliament for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, representing the Government of Canada gave the following remarks,
“Parks Canada’s national historic sites reflect the rich and varied heritage of our nation and provide an opportunity for Canadians to learn more about our diverse history. The Government of Canada deeply appreciates the service and sacrifice of those who serve, and have served, in Canada’s armed forces during armed conflict and in times of peace. HMCS Haida’s ceremonial commissioning as the flagship of the Royal Canadian Navy is an opportune moment to pause and reflect on the contributions made by our veterans for the cause of freedom. This moment is particularly fitting, as the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets are celebrating their centennial this year.”
At precisely 1100 all eyes turned to HAIDA as the ship’s bell was rung six times, the piping party sounded the still on the bosun’s call and the Canadian Naval Ensign and Jack were raised on HAIDA’s fo’c’sle and stern for the first time. The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum then performed a flypast of a WWII C47 Transport aircraft.
Speeches resumed with VAdm LLoyd welcoming HAIDA back to the RCN as Flagship, stating,
“This is a tremendous day for both the Royal Canadian Navy and for Parks Canada. HMCS Haida exemplifies the values of our naval personnel in uniform – service above self; courage in the face of immense danger; indomitable spirit; and the relentless pursuit of excellence. As Flagship of the RCN, Haida now stands as a permanent reminder of the sacrifice and courage of Canada’s sailors, so that future generations of Canadians and sailors can be inspired by its story and the proud traditions of our Royal Canadian Navy.”
Remarks were also given by representatives of Parks Canada and the Mayor of Hamilton. Walt Dermott, Chairman, Friends of HAIDA remarked, “We’re very proud the HMCS Haida will take its place again in the Royal Canadian Navy … we’re beaming from ear to ear and are very, very proud.” Mr Dermott then went on to credit, “The push for designation started with a group called Project Naval Distinction.”
A common accolade, fittingly repeated throughout the day was to Peter Ward and his group, HAIDA Inc. for having the foresight and determination to see this historic ship preserved for future generations and the current Friends of HAIDA for ensuring her legacy continues.
Two Haida Nation Hereditary Chiefs attended the ceremony representing the ships namesake Indigenous People located in British Columbia. They spoke of the record of the ship and how proudly she has carried the Haida name. They presented VAdm Lloyd with a Haida Nation flag. Accepting the treasured gift, the Vice-Admiral immediately dispatched a runner to raise the flag on HAIDA’s port yardarm to fly for all to see.
The ceremony’s came to a close with a salvo fired from HAIDA’s “A” turret, followed by the massed Naval Band playing a rousing Heart Of Oak, with many in the happy crowd singing the words of the RCN Anthem aloud.
I was honoured to be invited to witness this historic event, HAIDA has always held a place in my heart, I was one of those Sea Cadets that lived and trained in her. Each year my cadet corps, RCSCC WARSPITE would travel from Kitchener and stay for four days over the Labour Day weekend. With training and acting as tour guides during the day and shore leave at night in the old blue uniform at the CNE, each night slinging a “mick” from the deckhead. In the late 70’s, I was part of the work party that cleaned and scrubbed the engine room so it could be opened to the public.
Because of the early work of Peter Ward and Haida Inc. and the current dedication by the Friends of Haida, Project Naval Distinction, Parks Canada and the RCN designating HMCS HAIDA as Flagship, this important piece of Canada’s history will remain available for future generation to discover.
Parks Canada Press Release -HMCS Haida officially designated as the flagship of the Royal Canadian Navy
Hamilton Spectator -HMCS Haida becomes ceremonial flagship of Royal Canadian Navy
HMCS HAIDA National Historic Site
Friends of HMCS HAIDA
Project Naval Distinction
History of HMCS HAIDA