A strong thread of tradition runs through the activities of navies around the world, and the Canadian Navy is no exception. From the launch of a new ship to events like crossing the equator, members of the Canadian Navy follow traditions passed on from navies of bygone eras. While some are centuries-old traditions, others have evolved for modern times.
Naming and launching a ship
The ceremony to launch a new vessel is akin to that of a baptism. Each launch is unique, but in general, the following occurs: Guests gather near the ship, and a naval band plays “O Canada,” followed by speeches from the ship’s builder or representative and other appropriate guests. A clergy member of the Canadian Forces blesses the ship, and the sponsor, a woman nominated by leaders in the Navy and the country, breaks a champagne bottle against the bow, saying, “I name thee HMCS [name], God bless this ship and all who sail in her.”
Finally, the ship’s builder calls out, “Three cheers for Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship [name],” and the band ends the ceremony by playing “God Save the Queen.” After the ship is launched, a commissioning ceremony takes place some time later, when sea trials are complete. The ship is then considered active with the Navy.
Crossing the equator
Crossing the equator is always a big event on a ship, especially for sailors experiencing it for the first time. King Neptune’s Law states that neophytes go from being tadpoles to shellbacks after the crossing.
Participation in this ritual on Canadian ships is optional and intended to be fun and to prepare the first-timers for the challenging life at sea. Initiation rites include being hosed down on deck and eating some interesting — and less than delicious — food. Cards and certificates are issued to newly initiated shellbacks.
This piece showcases three “crossing the line” certificates given to the HMSC Skeena (1938), the HMSC Ontario (1959), and the HMCS Algonquin (2001).