Luxury Yacht and War Effort

LINK - April 2016 / May 9, 2016

By Samuel Venière, Historian, Naval Museum of Quebec

The Jeffy Jan II (HMCS Harbour Craft 54) is a luxury yacht, better known to Quebec City residents as “Churchill’s yacht.” According to popular lore, Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, boarded the yacht during the Quebec Conference in 1943, when he and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were welcomed by William Lyon Mackenzie King for a summit meeting in the walled city. It was a unique occasion for Quebec City, and the whole world was watching. During the conference (codenamed Quadrant), at 5:30 p.m. on 23 August 1943, Churchill confirmed that Britain had agreed to mount an operation which would change the course of the Second World War, and even the course of history. That operation later became known as the Normandy landings.

It was a pivotal moment: the fate of the free world was at stake. The yacht, which had been ordered in 1939 from the renowned manufacturer Chris Craft by the Caldwell family in Ontario, had then been sold to the Canadian Navy in 1940 to support the war effort. Because of its quality and its elegant look, it was chosen for use as first-class transportation for the dignitaries and VIPs arriving by seaplane from Canada, the United States and Europe. Seaplanes must land on water, and once these seaplanes landed on the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City, the Jeffy’s job was to carry the passengers to the dock. After disembarking there, they would head to the Citadel or the Château Frontenac, where the major decisions would be made.

Rebuilding a heritage

The Jeffy Jan II was recently acquired by the Naval Museum of Quebec and will soon be fully restored and exhibited to the public as a reminder of the 1943 conference, when the eyes of the world were on Quebec.

Restoring this historic vessel was no small task. It had fallen into serious disrepair over the years, and for the last seven it had been left to the mercy of the elements. It was purchased at Lévis in 2014, then transported to the Port of Quebec for a brief presentation. Until recently, the Jeffy was in storage, awaiting better days. On 14 March 2016, Boulet Lemelin Yacht Inc began work on the restoration. Their mission is to restore the entire yacht to its original 1939 condition—but without its engines, since it would not sail again. Instead, it would become an important artefact and a powerful symbol of the war effort.

To achieve uncompromising historical accuracy, a project of this scale must be inspired by, or even copied exactly from, precise documentation. The Naval Museum of Quebec assembled an exhaustive collection of material, including the original blueprints provided by Chris Craft; photographs and personal accounts from the Caldwell, Shee and Cantin families who had owned the yacht; and in-depth research reports. Together, all this formed a body of solid historical references to guide the restorers’ work and help them achieve their goal: to give us an exact re-creation of the Jeffy Jan II as it was in 1939.

The restoration of the Jeffy is scheduled for completion in the winter of 2017, when it will be reborn in all its former glory.