I had about 3 hours to kill in Hamilton on a sunny afternoon. I was trying to follow the coastline of Lake Ontario, eager to find something interesting when the site of a huge battleship caught me a little off guard.
I pulled over in the gravel parking lot and made my way to the little ticket booth that was made to look even smaller by the hulking ship parked behind it.
The brochure that came with my admission ticket told me that this was the HMCS Haida, a 377 ft by 37-1/2 foot National Historic Site.
I soon discovered that this “Tribal Class” Destroyer was mine to explore – there were a couple of interpretive guides at the top of the gang plank, but the rest of the ship was virtually vacant.
I took my time wandering from “room” to “room”, marveling at the confined space that was home for many months to many sailors, and contemplating on the clever inventions that made the day-to-day work efficient, and the tools of battle formidable. When this ship was at sea and on duty, she hosted 14 officers and a crew of 230 men.
The signs on the self-guided tour told of steam turbines and horsepower and knots, and anti-aircraft guns and boffins and torpedoes and mortars, and hammocks and potatoes, and listening to the radio.
As I climbed deeper and deeper into the bowels of the 2000 ton warship, the air grew stuffy and still. The “Fightingest Ship in the Royal Canadian Navy” earned its reputation on the backs of many sailors each doing their own specific job, day in and day out, month after month, in cramped quarters that left me feeling uncomfortably confined after a mere hour.
With a great sense of relief, I ended my tour out in the open air and lakeside breeze, with a view of the blue sky through the anti-aircraft gunner’s site.
The HMCS Haida and its sister ships (Iroquois, Huron, Athabaskan, Micmac, Nootka, Cayuga, and Athabaskan II) were named after indigenous groups from across the British Commonwealth.
There is a nominal fee for admission.