Canadian Ships of WWI and WWII at the Maritime Museum

By Rita Button

This fall, representations of Canada’s maritime contributions to World War I and II, identified as Home Port Heroes, have the mainstage at the Maritime Museum on Humboldt Street. HMCS Haida represents the Canadian effort of WWII while the Galiano dramatizes experiences of the first World War. As is usual for the Museum, the installations are interesting, informative, and displayed in a way that creates interest while fostering understanding. Here’s some of what you’ll discover when you go.

Pascale Guindon, National Program Coordinator for Parks Canada, was available at the Maritime Museum for a short period of time to add information about the HMCS Haida, a tribal class ship built in Great Britain. (https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/ihn-nhs/on/haida/devouvrir-discover/hist1) The state of the art radar system along with a thicker than usual hull contributed to the Haida’s ability to be relatively safe in the Arctic where, toward the end of the war in the dark winter, she often escorted convoys to Murmansk.

Although HMCS Haida worked to keep seamen safe during war time, she has the reputation of being the “fightingest ship” (description at the Museum) of the Canadian destroyers. She and her sister Tribal ship, the Athabaska, were active in WW II battles. In 1944, HMCS Haida and HMCS Athabaska chased two German Destroyers just off the French coast, resulting in the Athabaska’s being hit by a torpedo. The Haida continued chase, and after destroying one of the German vessels, returned to rescue the seamen on board the foundering Athabaska. HMCS Haida’s Captain, Harry de Wolf ordered the lowering of the life boats, resulting in the rescue of forty-seven men in eighteen minutes! Six more were picked up by the motor cutter. (IBID) The whole fleet at the base in Plymouth cheered when the ship returned.

By 1963, the Haida was about to be sent to the scrap heap, a fate its fellow tribal destroyers had already experienced. The British, for example, had begun to decommission their tribal destroyers beginning in 1946. However, the Haida was saved because five men, one of them Mr. Peter Ward, whose father was one of the 128 who died on board the Athabaska, organized to buy the HMCS Haida—Mr. Ward remortgaged his house—with the final result that HMCS Haida became the Royal Canadian Navy’s ceremonial flagship and now is a National Historic Site docked at Hamilton Harbour.

On May 26, 2018, the ceremony marking the designation of HCMS Haida as the Royal Canadian Navy’s flagship, two Haida Nation Hereditory Chiefs, Lonnie Young and Frank Collison, presented Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy with the Haida flag which was “hoisted over the ship.” (http://www.lookoutnewspaper.com/ceremony-marks-hmcs-haida-designation-navy-flagship/) Thus, the bond between the Haida Nation and the ship was symbolized by the flag.

In contrast, HMCS Galiano, is more of a local story. Built in Dublin, Ireland in 1913, as an “Examination and Fisheries Protection vessel,” (https://navalandmilitarymuseum.org/archives/aarticles/ship-histories/hmcs-galiano) her function was to patrol Canadian waters, ensuring fisheries boundaries were being respected.

HMCS Galiano and her sister ship HMCS Malaspina, were pressed into military service toward the end of World War I. Minesweepers and supply ships, they transported fuel and other necessities to what was then known as the Queen Charlottes, now Haida Gwai, and to weather stations such as Trial Island.

At the end of October, 1918, Trial Island and the Queen Charlottes required supplies, especially fuel. HMCS Malaspina was scheduled to do the service run. At Trial Island, they would pick up Miss Emily Brunton, the housekeeper for the Trial Island weather station men. It was Miss Brunton’s first time off the island in sixteen months. However, the Malaspina required extensive repair work to her bow. Consequently, the Galiano was given the assignment.

At that time, many of the HMCS Galiano’s crew suffered from influenza which was raging its way up the West Coast. Seven of the crew had to be replaced by seamen who were new to the routines of the Galiano. They successfully completed the Trial Island part of their voyage; however, when they sailed into the open sea, they were beset by horrifically tempestuous weather conditions. Not only were the waves coming at them from every direction, but gale force winds were also blowing wildly, and thick fog impaired their ability to see. The last radio message, sent by Michael Neary on October 30, was “Holds full of water. Send help.”

The ship disappeared. It sank less than two weeks before the end of World War I, the only Canadian vessel lost in WWI.

Jan Drent, a volunteer at the Maritime Museum who explained the unfortunate events of the Galiano to me, also let me know which sailors on board the Galiano that day had next of kin who lived in James Bay:

Wireless Operator 3rd Class, Michael Neary who would have sent the final wireless message—next of kin is his mother, Honoria Neary who lived at 239 Superior Street.

Able Seaman Arthur Jewkes—next of kin is mother Sarah Jewkes, who lived at 334 Michigan Street.

And so, the war fought across the Atlantic, affected many—those who courageously put themselves into dangerous situations, and those who seemed far from the action, doing what they could to alleviate the suffering of others while enduring their own.

Check out the Maritime Museum where you’ll learn more about these ships and the challenges they faced.

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