While the Canadian Navy largely works to protect the country from external threats, it also strives to tie the country together internally through its tradition of naming ships after communities in Canada. But a large number of Canadians, from both coastal and inland communities, may not be aware that there is, or once was, a Canadian naval vessel named after their hometown.
Range of communities
From Resolute, Nunavut, in the North, to Windsor, Ont., in the South, about 300 towns, cities and First Nations have had ships named after them. Ontario has the most and Nunavut the fewest, but population is not the deciding factor when the name of a town or city is chosen to appear on a ship.
The hamlet of Quatsino, B.C., near the northern tip of Vancouver Island, has fewer than 100 people, yet there was a minesweeper called HMCS Quatsino. Even small landlocked prairie communities such as Drumheller, Alta., have had ships named for them. As well, more than a dozen First Nations and notable chiefs are included in the tradition, such as HMCS Micmac and HMCS Donnacona.
History of naming ships
The first ships in the Canadian Navy, which came from Britain’s Royal Navy, kept their original names, Rainbow and Niobe. A pair of Canadian Navy destroyers in the 1920s took on the names of explorers. From the 1930s until the 1950s, these types of ships were often named after rivers.
During the Second World War, however, ships began being named after towns and cities. Eventually, these names came from a list, in order of population, from the 1931 Census. The first ships to be named after communities were the small and manoeuvrable corvettes. The custom continued with minesweepers and frigates.
When a community name was already being used by the British or other Commonwealth navies or by the United States Navy, an alternative name was sought that was somehow still tied to the place. The British Navy had HMS Verdun, so the Canadian Navy could not use the name. The mayor of Verdun, Que., suggested “Dunver,” a simple switching of the first and second syllables, and HMCS Dunver was christened.
Although informal committees to name ships existed in the past, a formal one wasn’t created until the 1980s. Keeping to tradition, much of the Navy’s current fleet is named after Canadian communities. Some places, such as Winnipeg, have had several vessels named after them throughout the Navy’s existence.
This piece features an interactive map where users can zoom in on various Canadian communities that naval ships share the name of, with an option to select more detailed descriptions of the HMCS Halifax and HMCS Winnipeg.