Feature Story                                                                                  Thursday February 17, 2011                                              

Sheepdogs of the Sea

HMCS Chilliwack replica makes her final voyage to the Museum

Staff/Voice photos

 

Lt.-Com. Marjorie Locke (left), Mayor Sharon Gaetz, Lt.-Com. Elaine Fisher, RCN Don Bellamy (Ret), Lt.-Com. Phil Homer, CPO 2nd Class and RCN Ronald Docherty (Ret) present a plaque which gives an historical overview of the HMCS Chilliwack.

 

t was the 3rd of September, 1939, when a German U-boat torpedoed the passenger liner SS Athenia, that was crossing the Atlantic and bound for Montreal with 1103 passengers and 305 crew aboard. The ship was a sitting duck and 118 people lost their lives.

 

So began the 6-year "Battle of the Atlantic" for control over the shipping lanes which pitted the surface naval forces of the Allies against the notorious "wolf-packs" of Die U-bootswaffe in World War II until 1945.

One of the Royal Canadian Navy ships in service on the east coast was named after the city of Chilliwack.

The HMCS Chilliwack started out as a Flower Class ship, named as such to help boost morale, but by the time the ship saw active service as an escort in the Atlantic, she was re-categorized as a Halifax Class ship which were named after Chilliwack.

The Corvette-style cruiser was built at the Burrard Dry Dock Company in Vancouver and her sparkling hull breeched Burrard Inlet inlet Sept. 14, 1940. The ship was light, fast for it's size, cheap to build and had long range which made it ideal as an escort and was equipped with enough guns to provide protection to shipping convoys in the U-boat infested Atlantic. In 1941 it was put into service after arriving in Halifax where it was commissioned to the Newfoundland command.

In February 2010, Neil Currie and Don Bellamy, presented a hand made scale model of the HMCS Chilliwack to council for display in the lobby for their Centennial Year. Now that year has passed and the 4-foot replica will find a permanent home amongst Chilliwack Museum's most prized antiquities.

On Monday, at the regular council meeting, Lieutenant Commander Elaine Fisher, and other Navy staff and retirees from the Royal Canadian Navy, were at City Hall to present council with a large commemorative plaque featuring a historical overview of the Chilliwack's most famous vessel.

Fisher told council that because the Canadian Navy was 100-years-old and the theme of their centennial celebration was "Bringing the Navy to Canadians", they could put more of a face their branch of the forces.

"We live in a country with the world's the longest coastline" and a country "truly linked to maritime trade" in the world, the navy is "faceless," and many Canadians know little about the Navy.

Fisher explained that the Navy has a long-standing tradition of naming ships after cities and all toll, over "300 vessels have been named after Canadian towns, cities, communities and First Nations."

Currently, the Navy has 28 ships in service with their own civic monikers;

What makes this navy ship special is that she was actually built on the west coast and her bow broke home waters first before sailing away into the history books.

The ship's stats indicate that she was almost 1000 tonnes, 62m long and 10m wide and only drew 3.5m water. Fisher said that even though the Chilliwack was only designed for a crew of 35, she often worked with more than 85 sailors on board. Fully loaded she worked at a top speed of 16 knots when escorting ships in the Atlantic from St. Johns to Iceland.

"She had a 4" gun, a 2-pounder, 2-20mm guns and a hedgehog mortar and depth charges," said Fisher adding that "she was the largest warship ever produced in Canada.

"On March 6th, 1944 the HMSC Chilliwack found a U-boat and chased it for 32 hours off of the coast of Ireland bombarding it with depth-charges eventually forcing the damaged submarine to the surface. A boarding party from HMCS Chilliwack managed to retrieve invaluable information and take 40 prisoners from the U 744 before she sank.

Sadly, in 1945 the ship was decommissioned and eventually broken up and sold as scrap.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz accepted the plaque and thanked the delegation for the contribution that they make daily in service to the country.

 

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