New Brunswick Naval Memorial unveiled after years of work

The New Brunswick Naval Memorial was unveiled in Saint John on June 24.

New Brunswick Naval Memorial Unveiled after years of work

By LCdr Paul Pendergast

The New Brunswick Naval Memorial was officially unveiled in Saint John, New Brunswick on Friday, June 24, causing a loud cheer to erupt from the crowd, who had waited a long time for this moment.

NCSM Brunswicker, the Naval Reserve Division in Saint John, initiated the project in 2017, but they needed a partner. They reached out to the Royal United Services Institute of New Brunswick to provide oversight and help with fundraising for the project.

From left, PO1 Eric Anderson, the Coxn of HMCS Brunswicker, with VAdm Angus Topshee, Commander RCN, and Cdr Tom Watts, CO of HMCS Brunswicker.

A Naval Memorial Committee was formed, which included Commander Marc Brown, former HMCS Brunswicker Commanding Officer as an ex-officio member, along with Honourary Captain (Navy) Noel Kinsella and others including members from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) of New Brunswick, retired members of the Royal Canadian Navy, and academia.

In 2019, the committee made a presentation to the City of Saint John Common Council requesting support for the project by granting a licence to land along the city’s Harbour passage. The request and project were enthusiastically supported by the Mayor and Council.

The land was eventually licenced to RUSI New Brunswick, who then began managing all financial donations to the project.

While the memorial’s progress was slowed due to the pandemic, the committee was successful in garnering support from all levels of government, raised significant capital, and received backing from New Brunswick Legions and local industries.

Saint John has long been a naval shipbuilding center, with 9 of the 12 Halfax-class frigates that currently serve as the workhorses of the RCN being built in the city. HMCS Sackville, now a Naval Memorial and National Historic Site, was also built in Saint John.

A sod turning ceremony was held on November 11, 2021, with construction taking place during May and June, 2022. The design is modelled after the bow section of HMCS Saint John, a River-class frigate that served with the RCN during the Second World War.

During the unveiling ceremony, Captain (Navy) (Retired) Paul Dempsey, Chair of the New Brunswick Naval Memorial Committee, described the purpose of the memorial.

“Our vision aims to have a special place in New Brunswick to honour, commemorate and to educate. We wish to honour the courage and sacrifice of New Brunswick mariners and maritime aviators who paid the ultimate price in the service of our great nation,” he said.

“Also, we want to commemorate the efforts of generations of New Brunswickers who contributed to our nation’s maritime security and the pursuit of our maritime interests. Finally, we aim to educate Canadians and visitors alike to New Brunswick’s remarkable and important contribution to the naval and maritime heritage of Canada, and indeed the world.”

Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee, Commander RCN, paid tribute to the city of Saint John, noting “Saint John has long been a key port and a vital part of the maritime history of Canada, so I can think of no more fitting place for a great memorial like this.” Then added, “The war came to Canada in the Battle of the Atlantic. Many of the sailors who died in the war and the Merchant Marine have no grave to mark their final resting place. This memorial serves that purpose. They are not buried under rows of crosses, they are buried at sea. This is a place where we can come together and remember that sacrifice.”

The unveiling capped a busy week for HMCS Brunswicker, who played a supporting role in the Memorial Cup, the national championship of the Canadian Hockey League, held in Saint John this year. The 103-year-old trophy was established by Captain James T. Sutherland to honour those who died in service during the First World War. It was then rededicated in 2010 to honour all those who died fighting for Canada in any conflict.

The trophy was lowered from a helicopter to a Coast Guard vessel, then brought to the waterfront and handed to two sailors from HMCS Brunswicker, who carried the trophy in a parade to the tournament opening ceremonies. Sailor 1st Class Robert Boulanger and Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Judy Dietrich were given this honour. In the opening game of the tournament, the Saint John Sea Dogs wore a commemorative jersey featuring the HMCS Brunswicker crest. The Sea Dogs won the game, and went on to win the tournament, hoisting the Memorial Cup as Canadian Hockey League champions.