Flagship HMCS Haida represents the RCN’s deep bond with the Indigenous peoples of Canada

Navy News / May 21, 2020

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has a long history of ties to the Indigenous peoples of Canada, as evidenced by the two separate classes of ships named after them – the wartime Tribal-class and the post-war Iroquois-class destroyers – as well as several other vessels, including three Oberon-class submarines.

In fact, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Haida - named after the seafaring Haida First Nation of British Columbia – was designated flagship of the RCN in 2018 in recognition of the courageous spirit of this legendary destroyer and all those who proudly served in her. The last remaining Second World War Tribal-class destroyer in the world, Haida is moored in Hamilton, Ont., and is a National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada. Visitors are welcomed to the site year-round to learn about Canada’s remarkable naval history.

HMCS Haida is the very embodiment of the RCN’s proud 110 years of service to Canada, as well as the valour and fearless dedication of the women and men who serve Canada at sea. It is a testament to the RCN’s long history as a fighting force and destroyer navy, and now stands as a permanent reminder of the sacrifice, resolve and courage of Canada’s sailors and of our important ties to the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

HMCS Haida served in the RCN from 1943 to 1963, and saw action in both the Second World War and the Korean War. It is the only surviving ship of the 27 Tribal-class destroyers built before and during the Second World War. As exemplified and embodied by HMCS Haida, the RCN is honoured to have the names of the Indigenous peoples of Canada associated with its ships over the past several decades.

Tribal-class destroyers

The Tribals were a class of destroyers built for the Royal Navy, RCN and Royal Australian Navy, and saw service in nearly all theatres of the Second World War. In the RCN, these ships proudly bore the names of several Indigenous groups from across Canada.

HMCS Iroquois: There have been two vessels named Iroquois in the RCN and both were named in honour of the Confederacy of First Nations people. The first Iroquois, commissioned in 1942, was Canada’s first Tribal-class destroyer. It served in Gibraltar and Russian convoy duties, and pre- and post-D-Day operations, and escorted the German cruisers Prinz Eugen and Nürnberg to Kiel, Germany, for their formal surrender. Although paid off in 1946, Iroquois was re-commissioned in 1949, and completed two tours of duty in the Korean theatre. It was paid off in 1962.

HMCS Athabaskan: There have been three destroyers named Athabaskan in the RCN, and all were named for the Canadian First Nations language group. The first Athabaskan was commissioned in 1943, served in the Second World War, and was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel in 1944. The second Athabaskan, the last of the Tribals to be completed, was commissioned in 1948 and served three tours of duty in the Korean War. It was converted to a destroyer escort in 1954 and was paid off in 1966.

HMCS Haida: There has only been one ship named Haida in the RCN, and it is named after the Haida First Nation. Although commissioned in 1943, today it serves as the modern-day flagship of the RCN. Haida is known as Canada's “fightingest ship” for sinking more surface tonnage than any other RCN ship during the Second World War. It later joined the "Trainbusters Club" during the Korean War. Haida’s legacy is steeped in Battle Honours: ‎The Arctic between 1943 and 1945; English Channel, Normandy and Biscay in 1944; and Korea from 1952 to 1953.

HMCS Huron: There have been two ships named Huron in the RCN and both were named in honour of the Huron First Nation. The first Huron, commissioned in 1943, served in the RCN in the Second World War and was present on D-Day. It helped sink torpedo boat T 29 and destroyer Z 32. Huron was paid off in 1946, but was re-commissioned in 1950, serving two tours in the Korean theatre before being paid off in 1963.

HMCS Micmac: There has been only one vessel named Micmac in the RCN, and it was named in honour of the First Nations of Nova Scotia. It served from 1945 to 1964, and was the first sophisticated modern warship built in Canada and the first of four Tribal-class destroyers built at the Halifax Shipyard.

HMCS Nootka: There have been two ships named Nootka in the Royal Canadian Navy, with the Tribal-class destroyer (second of name) specifically named after the First Nations from British Columbia (the first was a Fundy-class minesweeper named after B.C.’s Nootka Sound). The second Nootka was commissioned in 1946, converted to a destroyer escort in 1949-50, and sailed for two tours of duty in the Korean War. It was paid off in 1964.

HMCS Cayuga: Named after the Cayuga peoples from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, there has been only one ship named Cayuga in the RCN. It served from 1946 until 1964 and saw three tours of duty in the Korean War.

Iroquois-class destroyers

The Iroquois class included four helicopter-carrying, guided missile destroyers. Like the wartime Tribal-class ships before them, these ships were named to honour the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Launched in the 1970s, they were originally fitted out for anti-submarine warfare, using two CH-124 Sea King helicopters and other weapons.

HMCS Iroquois was the lead ship of the Iroquois-class destroyers. The second vessel to carry the name, it entered service in 1972 and was based in Halifax. Highlights of its career include serving with the blockading force of the ex-Yugoslavia in 1993-94, and supporting coalitions against international terrorism in both 2001 and 2008 in the Arabian Sea. It was paid off in 2015.

HMCS Huron served in the RCN from 1972 to 2000. It was the second vessel to use the designation HMCS Huron. Career highlights include, in 1990, being one of three Canadian warships to visit Vladivostok, Russia, for the first time since the Second World War. In 1991, it relieved her sister-ship Athabaskan in the Persian Gulf, and was deployed to the Adriatic Sea in 1993 in support of the United Nations naval embargo of the former Yugoslavia. After decommissioning, its hull was stripped and used in a live-fire exercise, and was eventually sunk by gunfire from its sister ship, HMCS Algonquin.

HMCS Athabaskan served in the RCN from 1972 until 2017. It was the third vessel to use the designation HMCS Athabaskan. Highlights of its career include participating in the Persian Gulf War in 1990, and delivering humanitarian aid supplies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

HMCS Algonquin served in the RCN from 1973 to 2015. Named after the First Nations peoples, it was the second vessel to use the designation HMCS Algonquin (the first was a V-class destroyer that served the RCN between 1944 and 1970). In 1977, it was the first of its class to cross the equator. Other career highlights included joining NATO vessels in the Adriatic enforcing the blockade of the former Yugoslavia in 1993, and deploying to the Gulf of Oman in 2002 as part of Canada’s contribution to the campaign against terrorism.

Oberon-class submarines

HMC Submarines Ojibwa, Okanagan and Onondaga were built in England and commissioned between 1965 and 1968. These were Canada’s first truly operational submarines, also named for Indigenous peoples of Canada.

HMCS Ojibwa: Named after the Nishnaabe peoples, there has been only one vessel named Ojibwa in the RCN. It was originally intended for service with the British Royal Navy, but transferred to Canadian ownership and entered RCN service in 1965. Ojibwa operated primarily with Maritime Forces Atlantic until her decommissioning in 1998. In 2010, Ojibwa was laid up in Halifax awaiting disposal, with the Elgin Military Museum planning to preserve her as a museum vessel. The submarine was towed to Port Burwell, Ont., in 2012, and was opened to the public in 2013.

HMCS Okanagan: Named after the First Nation Alliance, there has been only one vessel named Okanagan in the RCN. It entered service in 1968 and spent the majority of its career on the East Coast. The boat was paid off in 1998 and sold for scrap in 2011.

HMCS Onondaga: Named after the First Nation Confederacy, there has been only one vessel named Onondaga in the RCN. It was built in the mid-1960s and operated primarily on the East Coast until its decommissioning in 2000 as the last Canadian Oberon. The Museum of Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père in Rimouski, Que., purchased the boat for preservation as a museum vessel. The submarine was moved into location in 2008 and is open to the public.

Other ships and units

The names of other RCN ships – including several River-class destroyers, Bangor-class minesweepers and Flower-class corvettes, as well as shore-based units including Naval Reserve Divisions – have also been based on Indigenous culture throughout the decades. This tradition carries on into today’s fleet, with ships such as HMCS Yellowknife and HMCS Toronto. These ships were all named after Canadian geographic locations, such as cities and rivers. The names of these locations were all derived from their local Indigenous languages. Explore the rich history the RCN has with Canada’s Indigenous peoples by visiting the list of historical ships that served in the RCN since its inception in 1910.