Tall ship Oriole might not be back after repairs in Nova Scotia

Tall ship HMCS Oriole, the oldest ship in the Royal Canadian Navy and beloved on Vancouver Island where she has made home port since 1954, might be moving east.

HMCS Oriole is in Lunenberg, N.S., undergoing repairs. She was sailed there, though the Panama Canal, to join in Canada 150 celebrations in the summer.

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But it’s not certain that she will return to CFB Esquimalt, said Lt.-Cmdr. John Nethercott, spokesman for the Royal Canadian Navy, Pacific.

“They are looking at whether to leave her on the East Coast,” he said. “But no final decision has been made.”

If Oriole fails to return, her loss will be sorely felt by sailing enthusiasts and lovers of Canada’s Pacific naval history.

“She’s iconic,” said Victoria resident and naval historian Barry Gough, author of Britannia’s Navy on the West Coast of North America, 1812-1914.

Gough noted many navies and naval forces, including the Chilean navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, maintain tall ships to teach junior officers the ways of wind and waves at sea.

He said if it’s important to the Canadian Navy, it makes sense to keep Oriole on the West Coast where she can be sailed year-round.

Charlotte Gann, spokeswoman for the annual Swiftsure International Yacht Race hosted by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, said HMCS Oriole has many roles in Victoria.

For example, Oriole makes a special appearance every year on the last Saturday of April to officially open the recreational sailing season for the yacht club.

Oriole is a key player at November’s Sea of Lights event every year in Cadboro Bay. And she is a feature at Swiftsure weekend every year.

“HMCS is a key part of sailing tradition in Victoria,” said Gann.

HMCS Oriole is a 31-metre ketch with a main mast height of 29 metres. The keel was laid down in a Toronto boatyard in 1920 and she was completed the following year for distillery magnate George Gooderham.

She sailed out of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto until 1939. She was willed to the Navy League of Canada in 1940. Oriole sailed the Great Lakes until 1948 and was transferred to the navy the following year.

In 1954, Oriole sailed for the Panama Canal and Esquimalt, where she has made home port ever since. She carries two officers, six navy sailors and 12 junior officers under training.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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