HMCS ACADIA. Photo # H-588 from the museum collection.

 

 

The first vessel of the Royal Canadian Navy to bear the name HMCS ACADIA was the Canadian Government Ship ACADIA which was built in 1913 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, for the Hydrographic Service.1  This vessel was of steel construction, 170 feet in length by 33.5 feet in breadth, with a triple expansion steam engine and was capable of a top speed of twelve knots.

CGS ACADIA first arrived in Halifax on 8 July 1913 and after being hurriedly inspected and fitted out set forth on 7 August from North Sydney on a surveying expedition to Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay.  In spite of ice and weather conditions which were described as “the worst on record”, ACADIA had a successful season and after several minor adventures, including the rescue of the crew of the steamer Alette, which was holed by ice and had to be beached, returned to Halifax on 5 November.

During the navigational season of 1914, ACADIA was again in Hudson Bay carrying out hydrographic and geographic surveys; ice conditions there were even worse than in 1913 and she suffered considerable hull damage before making Halifax again on 10 November.  During the winter, the ice damage was repaired and the ship refitted, and during the spring and early summer of 1915 ACADIA carried out a hydrographic survey of the approaches of Halifax Harbour, taking some 1,400 miles of linear soundings over an area of some 700 square miles of ocean.

Before beginning her survey of the Halifax approaches, ACADIA was for a short time employed in the dual capacity of surveying vessel and naval patrol ship.  Though unarmed and under civilian command, ACADIA was one of two ships (the chartered vessel Sable I was the other) stationed in the Bay of Fundy under orders to watch for suspicious vessels which might be engaged in minelaying or acting as depot ships for enemy submarines.  Fortunately she did not find it necessary to stop and board any suspicious vessels during her patrols; it is interesting to speculate on what would have been the outcome had she met an armed German minelayer.

During the remainder of the 1915 season, ACADIA was engaged mainly in fisheries investigation work and made three cruises to Newfoundland on this duty before being laid up for the winter.

Commissioned for service again in June 1916, ACADIA spent the entire navigational season of that year in extending her hydrographic surveys of the southern Nova Scotia coast, and was paid off again in November. 

During 1916, it became increasingly clear that the long-expected German submarine offensive in Canadian waters would soon become a reality.  During the summer, the large and powerful submarine cruiser Deutschland, though she was then fitted out as a cargo carrier, had shown by her visits to the United States that Germany now possessed the means of operating off the North American coast.  Even more ominous was the visit of U-53, which sank five ships off Nantucket Light Vessel in October 1916.  These warnings of what might happen should the U-boats ever appear in strength in Canadian waters resulted in a last-minute effort by the Government to increase greatly the size of her patrol force.  Orders were placed in February 1917 for twelve anti-submarine trawlers to be built for the Canadian forces, and shortly thereafter the Admiralty placed orders in Canada for the building of a further 36 trawlers and 100 drifters, some of which it was expected would serve with the RCN.  In addition, the Canadian Government purchased seven trawlers from United States owners for use as patrol vessels and acquired as many suitable vessels as were available in Canada both from private and from Government departments.  Among the latter class of vessel acquired for use by the patrol service was the ACADIA.

After refitting and being armed with a 4-inch gun, she was commissioned on 16 January 1917 and joined the Canadian Patrol Service as HMCS ACADIA.  Her first Commanding Officer was Lieutenant H. H. DeLally Wood, RNCVR.  Designated as an Auxiliary Patrol Vessel, ACADIA spent the next two years on a variety of duties:  carrying out anti-submarine patrols in the Bay of Fundy, off the southern shores of Nova Scotia and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the mouth of the river to Newfoundland; escorting Canadian built submarines from Quebec City to Halifax; escorting trade convoys from Sydney; tending to the needs of the wireless stations along the East Coast; and numerous other minor tasks, including the rescue of shipwrecked sailors, such as the crew of the tanker Retlaw which struck a rock and sank off Egg Island in February 1917.  Shortly before the war ended, she was selected for an experiment in the use of observation balloons for spotting submarines.  The necessary equipment was fitted in her and just before the Armistice she made a trial cruise with a captive balloon in tow.

With the end of the war in Europe, ACADIA returned to the Hydrographic Survey Branch and her work of charting Canadian waters. But she was not to be allowed to go her way in peace, for with the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 she was once again called upon to serve under the White Ensign.  Though she was now twenty-six years old, ACADIA was still in good condition and was among the first group of Government vessels the Commanding Officer Atlantic Coast, on 2 September 1939, requested Naval Headquarters to procure.  ACADIA at the time was engaged in important surveying work, but such was the urgency of the moment that she was immediately ordered to Halifax and there, on 2 October 1939, she was handed over to the Royal Canadian Navy, and recommissioned as HMCS ACADIA.

After being refitted at Halifax, ACADIA was placed under the administrative control of the Commander-in-Charge, Halifax, for duty with the training establishment HMCS STADACONA.  The training of the officers and men who manned the principal fighting ships of the Royal Canadian Navy was to be ACADIA’s main contribution to victory during the Second World War, but from May 1940 to March 1941 she performed other duties as well.  During much of this period, she was one of a small force of little ships which daily patrolled the Halifax approaches to prevent submarines from lying in wait there to attack the rich conveys that entered and left that port.  Occasionally, in addition to anti-submarine patrolling, she was called upon to act as close escort for small convoys to and from Halifax and the Halifax Ocean Meeting Point.  In June 1940, she helped with the escorting of HX 47 and HX 48, the Halifax portions of fast convoys bound for Britain.  During this period of patrol and escort, ACADIA also carried on with her training duties and usually had officers and men aboard for instruction in seamanship and anti-submarine work during her regular operational missions; on occasion, she also took large groups of trainees out for special cruises.

ACADIA’s annual refit came due in October 1940, but because of the acute shortage of ships at Halifax she had to continue on operations until April 1941.  By this time many of the newly built corvettes had come into service, and it was decided that ACADIA could be spared from active operations and allowed to devote herself entirely to training duties.  She went in for refit at HMC DOCKYARD, Halifax, in April 1941 and during refit was converted to an anti-aircraft training ship.

When her conversion was completed in July 1941, ACADIA was transferred to the operational and administrative control of the Commanding Officer, HMCS STADACONA, at Halifax, and began a career as an Anti-Aircraft and Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS) training ship.  She continued in this work for almost two years, and during this time most of the volunteers passing through the RCN’s training establishments at Halifax received much of their practical gunnery training in her.

In May 1943, a German submarine penetrated the Halifax approaches and laid mines to block the entrance of the harbour.  These were quickly swept by the minesweeping forces but it became necessary to check-sweep and mark new safe channels into the port.  ACADIA was therefore temporarily relieved of her training duties and put to work lying dan buoys to mark the newly swept channels.  Shortly after completing this work, ACADIA ran aground near the Dartmouth Pier on 8 July 1943 and had to be docked for fairly extensive hull repairs.

While ACADIA was in for repairs, the opportunity was taken to carry out various alterations and additions to better fit the ship for a new training role with Captain (D), Halifax, to whose control she was transferred on 3 November 1943.  Captain (D) at this time was responsible for the “working-up” of all operational ships and for ensuring that the training of all ships’ companies was kept at a high standard; he also maintained a training course for Commanding Officers and Executive Officers of escort ships.  ACADIA remained under the orders of Captain (D), being used chiefly as a training ship for officers, until 9 June 1944 when she was transferred to HMCS CORNWALLIS, the navy’s large training establishment for new-entry seaman at Deep Brook, Nova Scotia.  For the remainder of the war HMCS ACADIA helped train Canada’s young seaman in the arts of gunnery and seamanship.

With the end of the war in Europe, the RCN suddenly found itself, for the first time since 1918, with a surplus of ships, and among the many ships that could now be dispensed with was HMCS ACADIA.  Accordingly, the Department of Mines and Resources was informed that she could now be returned to peacetime role.  After inspecting her to determine whether it would be feasible to reconvert her as a hydrographic survey ship, the Mines Department agreed to accept ACADIA and the RCN paid her off on 3 November 1945.  By the terms of the original requisitioning agreement, the RCN was obligated to return ACADIA in as good condition as feasible, and due to an acute shortage of labour and materials and the press of other work, it took some time to do this.  It was therefore not until mid-1946 when ACADIA was formally handed back to her original owners.

After being refitted for survey work, ACADIA embarked once again on the career of which she had first been designed.  [Update from museum files - ACADIA retired from service on 28 November 1969 to become a museum ship at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth Nova Scotia. On 09 February 1980 she was handed over to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic for preservation and interpretation. She is moored at the Museum's North Wharf and open to visitors from May to October.]

Endnote

1 The Canadian Hydrographic Survey Branch was at this time under the Department of the Naval Service; it was transferred to the Department of Marine and Fisheries on 30 June 1922 upon the establishment of the Department of National Defence.