Looking back as HMCS Scotian gets set to celebrate 75 years
By Joanie Veitch,
Between nearly being housed at a former British military prison site to narrowly avoiding being decommissioned during government cutbacks in 1964, as HMCS Scotian gets ready to celebrate its 75th year, there are plenty of examples that speak to the long and storied history of the Naval Reserve Division.
“When you take the time to look back, it is incredible… the sheer determination the unit has shown over the years despite the hurdles they’ve had to overcome along the way. They’ve always met the challenge and found a way to keep going,” said PO2 Andrew Ripley, a naval reservist and unit historian for HMCS Scotian.
When HMCS Scotian was commissioned on April 23rd, 1947, the unit paraded in HMC Dockyard in Halifax, in Building D-14, but at one point the former Melville Island prison site on Halifax’s Northwest Arm looked like it would become Scotian’s home. Transferred from the British to the Canadian government at the turn of the century, the old prison barracks had burned more than ten years earlier, but the Canadian Army had been using the site as a storage facility and it was deemed a suitable site for the naval reservists.
“Several interested parties lobbied for the site, including the nascent Scotian, but the yacht squadron had a bigger lobby and that’s what it is there, still to this day,” said PO2 Ripley.
While the unit marks 75 years on April 23rd, the history of the naval reserve in Halifax goes back even further.
The first reserve unit was the Halifax Half-Company, which operated from 1925 to 1935. From 1935 to 1939, the unit name was changed to Halifax Division.
“Effectively it ceased to exist in 1939 because the entire ship’s company signed up for active service,” said PO2 Ripley.
In 1943 HMCS Haligonian came into existence. Initially housed in an old hotel at the corner of North and Barrington streets before moving to the former St. Joseph’s Church Hall, its main function was to act as a recruiting centre during the Second World War and a demobilization centre after the war ended.
After HMCS Scotian itself was established in 1947, it paraded at the HMC Dockyard until 1959, when the unit moved up the hill to the G-Block Barracks at HMCS Stadacona.
It was during the next period — when the unit was housed at the Seaward Defence Base, a storage facility near Point Pleasant Park — that it nearly closed for good.
“In February 1964, in the face of significant defence cutbacks, Scotia’s ship’s company of 30 officers and 125 men was officially reprieved from decommissioning thanks to the lobbying efforts of the Commanding Officer at the time, Captain Bruce Oland,” noted PO2 Ripley.
Captain Oland held command of HMCS Scotian from 1963 through to 1967. His son, Commander Richard Oland, was also commanding officer of the unit, from 2008 to 2011.
There are more than a few family connections in the line of commanding officers over the years.
“It’s sort of a family affair in the unit. Not just the actual family members, but also that sense of family amongst unit members too. There’s always been a strong sense of camaraderie here at Scotian over the years,” said PO2 Ripley.
The unit takes pride in its spirit of adventure as well.
In 1973, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, a team under the command of a Scotian officer undertook a major expedition, sailing a pair of 27-foot whalers across the Arctic Circle.
The team was led by Bruce Waterfield, who was then Lieutenant-Commander but went on to become a Captain and Commanding Officer of Scotian from 1977 to 1981.
Starting at Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife, the 12 reservists travelled more than 1,700 kilomtres along the Mackenzie River to Tuktoyaktuk.
A display board commemorating the expedition hangs in a corridor in the Admiral Hose Building — Scotia’s home since 1985 — and the expedition flag hangs in the Chiefs and Petty Officers’ Mess.
Other significant milestones include celebratory events, such as when Commander Marjorie Hickey, Scotian’s first woman to be appointed Commanding Officer (1995-1998), led the unit in a Freedom of the City Parade in 1997, in celebration of the unit’s 50th anniversary. There are also examples of service during hard times, as demonstrated by the naval reservists who worked tirelessly to assist the search and recovery efforts when Swissair Flight 111 went down off the coast of Nova Scotia on September 2, 1998.
The unit will celebrate this history and mark the 75th anniversary on April 23, 2022 with a gala dinner at Hotel Halifax, with current and former HMCS Scotian members in attendance.