Future HMCS William Hall officially named after heroic Black sailor

As is tradition during naming ceremonies, a bottle of champagne was broken across the ship’s bow, with ship sponsor Craig Gibson and Irving Shipbuilding President Dirk Lesko looking on.

Future HMCS William Hall officially named after heroic Black sailor

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

The Royal Canadian Navy has officially named its newest Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship, celebrating the future HMCS William Hall while honouring the legacy of the ship’s namesake during a ceremony in Halifax on April 28.

Minister of National Defence Anita Anand speaks at the naming ceremony for the Future HMCS William Hall, held at Irving Shipbuilding’s Halifax shipyard on April 28.

A large crowd gathered at Irving Shipbuilding’s Halifax facilities for the occasion, including representatives from federal and provincial governments, shipbuilders, Navy and DND colleagues, future members of the crew of the new ship, and descendants of Petty Officer William Hall himself. Those descendants included former RCMP Chief Superintendent Craig Gibson, who was recently named as the Ship Sponsor for the future HMCS William Hall.

Gibson took part in the ceremonial aspect of the naming ceremony that involves breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow of a new ship, as a toast and to pass good luck on to the vessel and its crew.

Petty Officer William Hall, VC (1827-1904) is remembered for his heroic actions as a crew member of the Royal Navy ship HMS Shannon during the 1857 Relief of Lucknow, showing bravery under fire and being one of only two members of his naval brigade to survive the battle. Speaking at the event, Minister of National Defence Anita Anand noted that Hall was the son of freed American slaves, and worked in shipyards growing up in the Annapolis Valley before becoming a merchant mariner and eventually enlisting in the Royal Navy in 1852.

“Hall overcame hurdles to serve his country, and for his service, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was the first Black Canadian, the first Canadian sailor, and the first Nova Scotian to earn this prestigious medal,” she said.

A naming ceremony was held on April 28 for the future HMCS William Hall, the fourth of six Arctic and Offshore Patrol ships being built for the Royal Canadian Navy.

But despite his heroic actions, William Hall was buried in 1904 in an unmarked grave without military honours, and his story wasn’t well known until decades after his death, Anand added.

“Today is an opportunity to give Petty Officer Hall the gratitude and recognition that he deserved so many years ago.”

Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee, Commander RCN, explained that his predecessors decided to break with tradition in naming this new Harry-DeWolf class of ships after Canadian naval heroes, and said he’s grateful this provided the opportunity to share a historic moment with the many descendants of William Hall in attendance.

“We promise that the crew who will operate this ship will do their best to live up to the legacy of your ancestor, because I can think of no greater way to honour his memory,” VAdm Topshee said.

He also spoke about the AOPS project and the National Shipbuilding Strategy in general, and the significance of the new fleet of Canadian ships being built entirely inside the country. It’s a massive undertaking that only a large nation-state like Canada could take on, VAdm Topshee said, highlighting the complex nature of the builds and the skilled workforces required.

“The sheer size of William Hall behind us isn’t enough to appreciate the true complexity of all the different systems within that ship, and more importantly, the great sailors and the training and experience they require in order to operate it in support of Canada.”

The future HMCS William Hall is the fourth of six Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships being built for the RCN, and will be delivered later this year. It will be followed by the future HMCS Frédérick Rolette and the future HMCS Robert Hampton Gray, and it’s expected that all six AOPS will be in the Navy’s hands by 2025. 

The crowd at the ceremony also heard from Irving Shipbuilding President Dirk Lesko, who expressed pride in the progress of the AOPS program, while also looking ahead to the beginning of construction on the Canadian Surface Combatants. As the prime contractor, Lesko said the company is currently readying its team and upgrading facilities in preparation for construction to begin next year. The project will see 15 ships delivered over the coming decades to replace the Navy’s Halifax-class frigates and former Iroquois-class destroyers.