Coolest School Trip Spotlight: HMCS Haida National Historic Site

In a game of Battleship, a Destroyer typically takes up 3 squares and weighs next to nothing. In real life, one of Canada’s own destroyers, the HMCS Haida, measures an impressive 377 feet long and weighs nearly 2,000 tonnes – anyone thinking of sinking THIS ship had best come prepared for a loss! In her 20 years of service in the Royal Canadian Navy, the HMCS Haida took on various roles, earned numerous battle honours across the globe, and is now a national historic site of Canada.

Commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943, the HMCS Haida began her career in World War II as an escort for ships travelling through the North Atlantic to deliver supplies to Murmansk in Russia. As you can imagine, travelling through these waters was challenging not only because of the constant threat of enemy attack, but also because of the inherent challenge of travelling through icy waters. The Haida was part of a distinct class of destroyer ships called Tribals, which were built with thicker hull plates to withstand the ice and which came equipped with the most technologically advanced sonar and radar equipment that existed at the time. Often referred to as “The Fightingest Ship in the Royal Canadian Navy”, the Haida stood the test of time and is now the last remaining Tribal class destroyer in the world.

Soon after her induction to the Royal Canadian Navy, the Haida was reassigned to join what was called the 10th Destroyer Flotilla and was tasked with clearing enemy ships out of the English Channel in preparation for the landings at Normandy, better known as D-Day. The Haida was quickly recognized as a force to be reckoned with on these waters. During the time she was assigned to this flotilla, she was involved in the sinking of 14 enemy vessels – that’s more than any other ship in the Royal Canadian Navy! As yet another claim to fame, the Haida is now the last remaining Canadian warship to have been a part of D-Day and the events leading up to it.

One of her most famous accomplishments happened one fateful day in April of 1944, when the Haida was patrolling the Channel along the coast of France with another Canadian Tribal class destroyer, the Athabaskan. They were alerted of the presence of two approaching German destroyers, and the battle that ensued saw the Athabaskan get hit by a torpedo, causing her to eventually sink. The Haida, after running one of the enemy vessels ashore and chasing the other off, immediately returned to where the Athabaskan had gone down. The crew of the Haida risked their own lives in an attempt to rescue as many of the Athabaskan crew members as they possibly could. Given their proximity to an enemy minefield, the danger of losing the cover of darkness as it neared dawn, and the probability that German U-boats would be entering the area, the crew of the Haida showed remarkable courage that day and ended up rescuing 48 men from the downed ship.

The Haida ended her service in WWII just as she had started – as a supply convoy escort on the Murmansk Run. After the war, she participated in naval training exercises and was refit before being assigned to duty in the Korean War in 1952. Alongside other United Nations forces, she served two tours of duty in Korea and joined what some refer to as the “Train Busters Club” – a group of ships who were assigned the task of attacking exposed enemy supply trains travelling along the coast that weren’t under the cover of railway tunnels.

Though she experienced quite a bit of action and thrills back in the day, the HMCS Haida now sits peacefully in Hamilton Harbour and is open to the public during the summer. You can experience what it’s like to walk the decks of such a historically significant ship, visit the crew’s living quarters to get an idea of what it might have been like to be serving aboard the Haida, and check out the impressive engines which propelled her a grand total of 688,534.25 nautical miles over the course of her career – the equivalent of 27 trips around the world!

Think you might like to re-create a significant Canadian moment on the HMCS Haida to win Canada’s Coolest School Trip? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Hop aboard the Haida for one of her most famous moments, and help rescue the crew of the Athabaskan. Vice Admiral H.G. DeWolf, captain of your vessel, agrees to wait 15 minutes for surviving crew members of the Athabaskan before having to depart the enemy territory you were in. What types of conversations would be had between your fellow crew members upon hearing this decision? What was involved in the rescue? What happened to the men who didn’t make it to the Haida in time?
  • Travel with your fellow crew members from England to the small port town of Trondheim to participate in the liberation of Norway on VE Day. How long had Norway been under occupation? What were some of the events leading up to VE Day? Recreate some of the celebrations that occurred as you travelled across the country to spread the message that Norway had been liberated.
  • After the war, the Haida was conducting naval exercises near Bermuda when she received a call about a downed B29 bomber nearby. Be a part of yet another exciting rescue as the Haida saved the fallen airmen. The co-pilot of the plane, who was from Texas, gave the entire crew certificates naming them “Honorary Texans” as an expression of his gratitude – put on your cowboy boots, your ten-gallon hat and start practicing your best Texan accent!
  • Join up with pilot Neil Bruce as he establishes Haida, Inc. and saves the ship from the salvage yard by purchasing it for $20,000 back in 1963. Why did Mr. Bruce want to purchase the ship? What would have happened to the ship if he hadn’t purchased it? What was the ship then used for before becoming a national historic site?