HMCS Haida is arguably one of Canada’s greatest warships. Today she is the last surviving example of 27 Tribal Class Destroyers which were built during World War II for the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Navy and the Australian Navy between 1937 to 1945. Canada’s most decorated warship won honours for her service in the Artic, English Channel, Normandy, Bay of Biscay and Korea.
In their time the Tribal Class Destroyers were one of the most advanced pieces of weapons technology combined with ship design. Mounting twin guns made the Tribals incredibly powerful for ships of their size. Speed was also a huge advantage for the Haida and her sisters. They were designed to reach a speed of 36.5 knots, Haida’s record top speed was 40.6 knots. A former crewmember commented that at high speed Haida’s wake looked like a large rooster tail. Every inch of these ships was used to maximum efficiency in living space and weaponry. Like most ships of this class the Haida was equipped with depth-charge throwers, four inch guns on the upper mess deck where more than 100 men ate, slept and dressed; a sickbay; the captain’s day cabin which could be transformed into an emergency operating room and four torpedo tubes mounted amidships.
The Haida was the fourth Tribal Class fleet destroyer ordered by the Royal Canadian Navy. She was launched in August 1942 and twelve months later after completing and passing her acceptance sea trials she was commissioned in August 1943. The Haida and her sisters saw considerable amount of action in World War II. Not long after her commissioning she was operating out of Scapa Flow with the Royal Navy assisting with convoy escorting duties to North Russia on the Murmansk run.In December she was present when when the German Battleship Scharnhorst was sunk by the British Home Fleet at the Battle of North Cape. In early 1944 Haida was operating out of Plymouth with a mixed force of ships from the British, Canadian and Polish navies. The plan was to clear out enemy shipping from the French Coast in anticipation of Normandy. Haida achieved her greatest fame during this period by destroying more
enemy vessels than any other ship in the R.C.N.
Haida achieved continued fame in her postwar career. In 1949 while operating in waters off the coast of Bermuda, Haida and her crew were first on the scene ready to assist in the rescue of the crew of an American B29 that had gone down. In 1950, Haida was taken out of service for modernization and conversion to an Anti-Submarine escort with improved sonar. A 50-calibre aft mounted gun was installed for Haida’s two tours of duty during the Korean War. After the war she served with the Canadian Atlantic Fleet until 1963 when she was taken out of service. In all Haida had sailed 688,534 nautical miles – twenty seven times around the world and did every duty known to fleet destroyers.
The Haida was destined for scrap but a group of Torontonians saw Canada’s most famous warship had to be saved for future generations. Thus began Haida’s sojourn on Toronto’s shoreline where I had the opportunity to visit her during a trip to Ontario Place in the late 1970’s. It was a memorable visit for me; I was able to have my first glimpse into Canada’s maritime past. In 2002, Haida was moved from her berth in Toronto across the lake to Port Weller Drydocks in St. Catharines. It was during this restoration that I had the chance to visit the Haida again as her hull plates were being replaced. I was doing an article for Niagara Life Magazine and was given a tour of the Haida and that part of the facility. From the floor of the drydock looking up, I could truly appreciate the size and design of this heavily gunned warship. Once the repairs were complete the Haida was moved to her new berth on August 30, 2003. She was given a Queen’s welcome as she was towed into her permanent home at pier 9 in Hamilton Harbour. I look forward to visiting her again one day.