So what’s in a name? When it comes to naming naval ships, quite a lot. With a fall 2015 deadline looming to begin cutting steel on the first of the combat vessels at the Irving Shipbuilding Inc.-owned Halifax Shipyard, part of the $36.6-billion shipbuilding strategy, what to name those ships will soon become part of the conversation.
(Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Jim Irving, CEO of Irving Shipbuilding, Peter MacKay, then minister of defence, and Steve Durrell, then president of Irving Shipbuilding view a Coast Guard patrol cutter model at the Halifax Shipyard in Halifax)
This year, the federal government announced that it has named two Royal Canadian Navy joint support ships that will be built by Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Seaspan Marine awarded a nearly $8-billion package to construct the navy’s next-generation non-combat vessels. Those supply ships will be named HMCS Queenston and HMCS Chateauguay, after two War of 1812 battles. Ken Hansen, a research fellow with the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said that represents a “very poor choice” for names because the War of 1812 was “militarily insignificant” to Canada. “That war was about … a British colony and our place in the British global empire,” Hansen said in an interview. “It had nothing to do with Canadians. It was mostly fought by British troops.” Instead, he would rather have seen 20th-century battles at Vimy Ridge during the First World War and Juno Beach during the Second World War honoured. “There, Canada did something, at Vimy Ridge in particular, that no other country had been able to do. And if you listen to the conventional history about it, people will claim that we became a country on that (day). “(They both) were a huge military accomplishment within a joint and combined alliance construct where we were a major contri-butor to two very important wars against aggression, and in the (Second World War), a really repugnant German regime.” A navy spokesman was unavailable to comment on the ship-naming process.
In a news release sent out when the names of the Queenston-class ships were first announced, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said that the names “recognize the achievements and sacrifices of those early Canadian soldiers who fought and died in these critical battles during the War of 1812.” “The War of 1812 was a defining moment in our nation’s history that contributed to shaping our identity as Canadians and, ultimately, our existence as a country.” Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, said in that same release that “the events surrounding the War of 1812 remind us of the sacrifices of soldiers and sailors who fought for their country during a pivotal moment in Canadian history.” What could the ships built in Halifax be named after? While that remains unclear, it appears that affixing names of significant military battles is a shift in policy for the Harper government. Hansen noted that, for instance, the United States routinely names their ships after battles in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. “War battle names are a common thing in their navy as well, not so much in ours.” He has a unique perspective into the process, having served as secretary of the Ship-Naming Committee for the Royal Canadian Navy. In the early 1990s, the committee was tasked with naming the ships in the Kingston-class of coastal defence vessels.
While that class was eventually named after Canadian towns and cities, Hansen described a “laborious process” of finding names for those 12 ships, running the gamut of geographic places, including islands, bays and rivers, as well as explorers and even birds. “You name it, we tried them all, and the Liberal government of that day wasn’t having it, and they kept rejecting it. So the navy recommends to the government, but the government wouldn’t come directly to us and say call them this or call them that. “Now apparently that has changed, and I am sure the (Harper) government directed this.”