Full speed ahead for Project Ojibwa!

Floating dry dock leaves for Halifax – the first step in Ojibwa’s last mission

Ian Raven, Executive Director of the Elgin Military Museum signs the donation agreement officially transferring ownership of HMCS Ojibwa to the Elgin Military Museum.

After more than three years of discussions between the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Elgin Military Museum (EMM), Ian Raven, Museum Executive Director, signed the official Donation Agreement to transfer ownership of the decommissioned submarine HMCS Ojibwa to the Elgin Military Museum in St. Thomas, Ontario. “It went right down to the wire, but I am thrilled to say that Ojibwa is finally ours and Project Ojibwa is going full speed ahead!” said a happy Raven. The final signing took place at the office of Joe Preston, MP who worked hard behind the scenes to facilitate the donation. The Hon. Peter McKay, Minister of Defence, had signed the agreement on behalf of the Government of Canada earlier in the day clearing the way for the transfer of ownership.

Peter Mansbridge, Honourary Chair of Project Ojibwa was quick to respond to the news. “I’m very excited that such a unique part of Canada‘s naval history will now be entertaining visitors from all over the world right here in the heart of southwestern Ontario. Congratulations to all who worked so hard to make this happen.”

Ojibwa will become the centrepiece of the new Elgin Military Museum of Naval History to be built in Port Burwell, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. “This is going to be a museum of national and international status, bringing Canada‘s naval history to the centre of the country and making it easily accessible to a huge audience,” remarked Project Coordinator Dan McNeil, Rear Admiral Retired.

The EMM began discussions with DND to acquire HMCS Ojibwa in March of 2009 shortly after they became aware that the government planned to send the then three remaining Oberon submarines to scrap. Ojibwa has a proud history as Canada‘s first Oberon Class submarine, purpose-built at the Chatham Ship Yards in England to provide service to Canada and NATO during the Cold War. “We couldn’t let her go for scrap without making an effort to save her,” said Ian Raven, Executive Director and force behind Project Ojibwa. “This is a huge accomplishment for a small museum from St. Thomas, Ontario. I don’t mind telling you that there were times when we wondered if it was ever going to happen, but we never let ourselves give up.”

“Everyone connected with the Museum is especially grateful to the Municipality of Bayham and its residents who have thrown their full support behind the project.” said Lynn Acre, Museum board member and former Mayor of Bayham. The Municipality came forward in March by becoming the financial guarantor for the project, putting the last piece of the puzzle in place. “Excitement in the community has been building as the arrival day grows closer. You can see signs of it everywhere. We have been re-energized,” smiled Acre. Local residents have started a theatre group called The Periscope Playhouse, while another group formed a fundraising group, The SubMissions and are holding their first event, a giant yard sale, on May 19th in Port Burwell. Restaurants are selling t-shirts and hats and new plans are forming every day. “Everyone should get on-board to make this thing a success,” says Mayor Ens of the Municipality of Bayham. “It will be great for the community.”

An expert team of engineers, led by Project Manager Andy Wills from BMT Fleet Technology of Ottawa, has carefully planned every aspect of the move and mounting of the submarine. “We have been looking forward to this move for a long time,” said Wills recently. “The planning is all complete. Now things will start moving rapidly. Foundations will be built, dredging will begin and the site will be transformed.”

“Things will move very quickly now that we finally have a signed agreement,” said McNeil. Heddle Marine’s floating dry dock has left Hamilton, towed by the tug Florence McKeil, on the 10-day trip to Halifax. There the dry dock will be submerged while Ojibwa is carefully positioned above it. The dry dock will then be refloated and Ojibwa secured for the journey. She is expected to depart for Hamilton on May 28.

The 10-day journey back to Heddle’s Hamilton shipyard will take Ojibwa through the St. Lawrence Seaway and across Lake Ontario giving many Canadians the opportunity to salute her as she goes by. In Hamilton, she will be transferred to a shallow-draft barge and fitted with permanent cradles. Ojibwa will leave Hamilton on her final voyage travelling through the Welland Canal and across Lake Erie to an official arrival in Port Burwell on September 7.

September 8 has been designated as Landing Day in Port Burwell when the most complex part of the move will take place. The international heavy-lift company Mammoet will use their Self Propelled Mobile Transporters to carefully remove Ojibwa from the barge and slowly transport her over land to her permanent foundation overlooking Otter Creek and Lake Erie.

Once Ojibwa arrives in Port Burwell, she will be spruced up, and made ready for tours to begin in the spring of 2013. The 15,000 square foot interpretive centre, expected to open in 2014, will be an industry leader in application of green energy to museums and will house exhibits covering the breadth of Canadian Naval history.

As Ojibwa makes her final journey to Port Burwell, Canadians along the route will have a last opportunity to wish her Godspeed to her new home. Her route and schedule will be available on the Project Ojibwa web site www.projectojibwa.ca . Her location will be updated frequently to enable anyone interested to watch her go past.

For more information, please contact:

Melissa Raven, Marketing and Media Relations 1-519-633-7641 media@projectojibwa.ca www.projectojibwa.ca

Click here to download EMM Press Release 

Click here to Download DND Press Release 

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  1. Jim "lucky" Gordon

    A very short sail with a lifetime of memories

    By Jim ‘Lucky’ Gordon, MMM, CD
    Chief Petty Officer First Class Retired
    Submariner, commissioning crew HMCS Ojibwa

    She had been laying here at NAD, in the view of all who crossed the Angus L MacDonald Bridge, since her decommissioning 14 years earlier. I would often catch a view of her as I crossed the bridge. I always felt bad for her and pondered her fate. Having known her so intimately for so many years I hoped she would not suffer the brutal torches of the breakers yard. She deserved so much better.
    On this special day, 26 May 2012, I would have the pleasure of simply sitting on the fin as she was loaded aboard the Heddle Marine Drydock.
    At NAD, as I walked slowly down the jetty I observed that sections of her casing had been removed and I could see the flaking paint and rust showing through on her pressure hull and tank tops. The black of the remaining casing and her once proud fin had faded to large blotches of grey and white. Civilian riggers and seamen from the Heddle Marine Drydock were fitting her with unfamiliar rigging required for securing to the dry dock that would transport her to her final destination in Port Burwell. She was sitting very high in the water, void of torpedoes, equipment, liquids and stores removed many years earlier. Ugly marine growth covered her ballast tanks up to her original waterline. Up close she was a dreadful and pitiful sight. I think I could sense that she knew I was there. Her embarrassment seemed evident to me. I think she hung her head to avoid my shocked expression.
    Her appearance was far from that when she first entered Halifax harbour on that cold windy day in January 1966. Even on that day she hadn’t looked her best. The 11 day dived transit of the unforgiving North Atlantic, her first of many, had taken its’ toll on the linseed oil and lampblack over flat black paint I had applied back in Chatham Yard to give her that sleek, black messenger-of-death look she was so proud of. But on that special occasion she wore her sea scars proudly. On that day I stood on her casing with heaving line in hand as she approached Jetty 4 with authority. I could feel her swell with pride when the Stadacona Band broke into a rousing rendition of Heart of Oak and the inboard berthing party and dignitaries applauded and cheered. On that day she was welcoming their inspection with all her glory. And my heart swelled with pride knowing that she trusted me to be a vital member of the crew that gave her the eyes, ears and tender loving care essential to her success.
    And now, 46 years and 4 months later, I wanted to apologize for crossing her brow to invade her misery. I made my way up into the fin. I tried not to see the filth left behind by years of nesting birds. I was sorry that the deck of the bridge was gone. I paused for a moment at the top of the ladder to recall the many times I had stopped there, on my way below, with main vents open , to shut the upper voice pipe cock and then proceed quickly below through the conning tower as she slipped quietly into her comfort zone below the surface. And at the bottom of the ladder in the control room, watching the Diving Officer of the Watch in the tower I would repeat his report to the Captain, “Upper lid shut, one clip on, two clips on, ..upper lid shut two clips on sir”. I could still hear the wash of the sea into the fin and over the conning tower as we slipped into an expanse very few would ever be privileged to know.
    I hitched myself up onto of the top of the fin and sat just forward of where the attack periscope would, once, silently rise for the final set-up on the surface target or one last all round look before going deep. It didn’t take much imagination to see the compass repeat and the back of the Officer of the Watch’s head as he took a fix on an edge of land. Just for a moment I thought I heard the much anticipated request through the voice pipe, “Bridge helm permission to relieve the lookout”. Great, my watch is over. I can’t wait to get that cup of tea and watch the movie in the forends. Wow, I want to stay in this place I’m in. It’s hard to come back to reality.
    Down below on the casing the Heddle crew were scurrying around, taking lines from the tugs and preparing to slip the berthing lines from the jetty. It didn’t seem very seamanlike and it looked a bit confused. Damn! I wish I could go down and take charge of that lot. But I closed my eyes and imagined the orders from the XO on the bridge at Harbour Stations, “let go four, let go three, hold two, heave in on the capstan, slow ahead starboard.“ Then, “stop together, starboard 10, slow astern together,… Let go two, let go one.” I felt a bit of a rush as the last line was gone and the tugs were setting us free of the jetty. The tugs moved us out astern and began manoeuvring us out of the chamber and around the jetty. I swear I felt the guttural rumble and throb of the port donk as it flashed up and belched huge white billows of diesel exhaust out of the surface muffler. Ahhhh, that sweet permeating smell of diesel.
    As we cleared the north end of the jetty and moved south out past the Heddle dry dock I felt the strong south easterly wind blowing up the harbour on my face. I could smell the open sea. She smelled it too. We moved up ahead and then they positioned her stern at the opening of the drydock and slowly began to move her astern into the cradle. She balked, reluctant to be pent up. With a ships head of 120° she was pointed directly out to sea, past George’s Island, McNabs, Maugher’s Beach Lighthouse and gone baby gone! I felt her shudder and list, ever so slightly, to starboard. It might have been the little pup tug pushing at us below the fin to force her into position. But in my heart it was a shudder of eager anticipation. Like a energized Arabian steed champing at the bit. She was trying to break her reins and snorting “Let me go. I long for the deep blue water where I belong!”
    My last harbour stations in this fine lady was truly an honour. It gave me excellent opportunity to reflect on the eternal esteem and comradeship that lies in the hearts and souls of my underwater messmates. I submersed myself in a flood of exciting memories afforded by this magnificent vessel. And I appropriately rounded off my time with her. From commissioning on 23 September 1965 at Chatham England where she was built, to her grand entrance to Halifax Harbour 26 January 1966, to now, the last time she would grace the waters of this historic sea port. She has always been such an important part of my life and who I am.
    And now I am content that her life will continue in a new role that presents the legacy of an era of the brotherhood of submariners who served her well. She will represent the finest of professionalism and tradition as an example for the new breed to follow. Complete with a face lift, a little make-up and a fresh coat of flat black paint, she will stand proud at the Elgin Military Museum for all to see.
    Until we meet again lady.
    Fair winds and a following sea.
    HMCS Ojibwa, Ne Ke Che Da

  2. Wow, that was amazing!