More than allies, we’re friends

Navy News / July 24, 2019

For many Canadians, the distinctive customs and traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) can sometimes make it seem like a very unique world - and indeed it is!

These customs – such as the Crossing the Line ceremony, naval toasts of the day and ships’ mascots – bind all mariners together, no matter the language they speak or the country they call home.

Commodore (Cmdre) Angus Topshee, the Commander of Canadian Fleet Pacific, says honouring these universal customs and traditions is not only key to building strong esprit de corps within a ship’s company, but is also the foundation of building life-long sailor-to-sailor ties with other navies, which contributes to stronger navy-to-navy relationships.  

“It is through these activities that strong bonds are formed and morale improved, both within our fleet and with other navies,” says Cmdre Topshee.

Formal traditions, such as toasts of the day, are typically used at special occasions and mess dinners. The time-honoured Crossing the Line ceremony commemorates a sailor’s first crossing of the Equator.  

But not all customs are formal in nature - some are downright silly and allow our sailors to build friendships not just with their shipmates, but also with those from other navies. One such tradition involves ships’ mascots, with one ship’s company sneaking off with another ship’s mascot, only to return it later during a deployment.

“‎The best ships’ companies ensure all of their members feel valued and included – there’s no magic formula for that -- but it almost always involves a strong dose of the right type of fun,” Cmdre Topshee says.

The Commander of the RCN, Vice-Admiral (VAdm) Art McDonald, was recently reminded of how important these traditions are to building international friendships.

During a visit to Esquimalt, B.C., VAdm McDonald seized the opportunity to reconnect with an old “shipmate”, the mascot from Her Majesty’s New Zealand Ship (HMNZS) Te Kaha, which is alongside in Canada for 18 months for its mid-life refit.

Nearly 20 years ago, when VAdm McDonald was a lieutenant-commander onboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary, he and other Calgary officers were invited onboard the Te Kaha while in port in Auckland, New Zealand. They took the opportunity to sneak the mascot – a wooden pig – across the Te Kaha brow and onto Calgary. As is normal, the mascot was returned to Te Kaha later in the multinational deployment.

As VAdm McDonald’s experience proves, these traditions help cement friendships amongst allied navies that last a lifetime.