Friday 26 April 2013

The Last Tribal HMCS HAIDA (G63 & DDE215) - Revisited

Spring is in the air finally!! Yes, we are still getting the odd blast of Arctic air that has wandered over the top from Russia, but for the most part the skies are blue, the temps are warming and the tops of my asparagus have started to pop out of the ground. Life is Good. However, the warming climate was not the case last February when I snapped the last Tribal-class destroyer, HMCS HAIDA, parked along Pier 9 where she  serves as a museum ship in Hamilton, Ontario. The 377' HMCS  HAIDA was launched in 1942 in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England and served in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) from 1943-63. When commissioned, her pennant number was G63 (the 'G' was a British classification for a destroyer built after 1940) and during WWII the HAIDA sank more enemy tonnage than any other Canadian warship. She is the only surviving Tribal out of 27 ships that were constructed between 1937-45 for the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, and the RCN. Like their British counterparts which bore names like AMAZON, ZULU, and GURKHA, each RCN tribal was named after a specific indigenous nation. The Canadian tribals were named IROQUOIS, ATHABASKAN, HURON, MICMAC, NOOTKA, CAYUGA and HAIDA, which is a Pacific Northwest Coast nation primarily located in Northern British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. During her active service, the HAIDA received many honours and awards for her involvement in the Arctic 1943-45, English Channel 1944, Normandy 1944, Biscay 1944 and Korea 1952-53. To check the ship's armaments or more details about her many prestige achievements, feel free to Google the HAIDA. You won't be disappointed and the stories make it easy to appreciate why she was dubbed, "The Fightingest Ship in the RCN".

Meanwhile after a modernization refit in 1952, the HAIDA was recommissioned as a destroyer escort and the pennant number was changed to DDE215. However, the wear and tear of actively participating in two wars, and the anti-submarine warfare tactics that followed during the Cold War with Russia, resulted in many more refits. Knowing her career was soon to end, 50 years ago yesterday, the HAIDA left Halifax for her last cruise, a summer tour of the Great Lakes. Below is HMCS HAIDA slowly making her way towards Lock 4 on the Welland Canal during that Great Lakes tour in 1963. I don't know who took the photo but the print has been sitting in my box of Sea Cadet memories, for years. A good a time as any to share it, I suppose.
It was during that Great Lakes tour that HAIDA Inc. was formed by a group of individuals who wished to acquire her for preservation. Instead of being sold for scrap, the proud destroyer was purchased by HAIDA Inc. for $20,000 in 1964 and was eventually towed to Toronto where she was restored and moored near the Naval Reserve base, HMCS YORK. Soon after, the Ontario government acquired the HAIDA and moved her further west to ONTARIO PLACE where she remained as a museum and a Royal Canadian Sea Cadets training facility until 2002 when she was purchased and moved to Hamilton's waterfront by Parks Canada. Once again owned by the Government of Canada, HMCS HAIDA is now a National Historic Site and open to the public from mid May until mid October.

I toured the HAIDA a few times when she was parked at Ontario Place when we lived near Toronto in the early 80's but what I really enjoyed the most about the HAIDA was when she got to perform with the Toronto Symphony concerts at Ontario Place's 'Forum' (an outdoor auditorium) and as the orchestra played Tchaikovsky's '1812 Overture', the HAIDA would fire off her 4" guns to simulate the cannon fire in the piece. BOOM would go a volley, and then another, and another right on cue. WOW!! I still get goose-bumps when thinking about it. It was truly a BLAST from my past that I will never forget.  
On May 26, 2018, HMCS HAIDA was designated as the Royal Canadian Navy's flagship for sinking more surface tonnage than any other RCN warship during the Second World War, hence being known as Canada's "Fightingest Ship".

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