LITTLE CURRENT—The sail training vessel HMCS Oriole is usually based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, but the vessel is currently on a good will tour of the Great Lakes that had her visiting Manitoulin recently. HMCS Oriole, at 101, is the oldest commissioned vessel in the Royal Canadian Navy but started out life as a private yacht explained her commander Lt. Cmdr. Robert Pelton.
Her original name was Oriole IV and first came into service during the Second World War. Like many service personnel following the end of hostilities HCMS Oriole went back into private life, before being re-enlisted during the Cold War years where she first saw service on the Canadian east coast before being transferred to the west coast in 1956. In 2018 HMCS Oriole returned to the east coast where she is currently based, she remains in current service helping to train navy personnel and acting as a goodwill ambassador.
The vessel is armed, sort of, although her armament consists of a single brass signal cannon that is never fired in anger.
Between 1924 and 1928 she served as the flagship of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club.
First launched on June 4, 1921, she was laid down by Dominion Shipbuilding and Repair Company of Toronto and George Lawley and Son of Neponset, Massachusetts. Her latest commissioning took place on June 19, 1952. The storied vessel saw action during the Allied retreat at Dunkirk in 1940.
HMCS Oriole, a ketch, displaces 68 long tons (69 tons) empty and 92 long tons (93 tons) fully loaded. She is 102 feet (31.1 metres) long, has a beam of 19 feet (5.8 metres), is 94 feet tall (a tall ship indeed) and draws nine feet (2.7 metres) at the dock.
She is Marconi rigged and has a single shaft 165 hp Cummins diesel auxiliary engine that can drive her through the water at eight knots (15 km/h), although she can easily top that speed while under sail.
Her normal complement is six regular seamen, one officer and five ratings, and 18 trainees.
Manitoulin Sea Cadet Corps members came out in strength to greet the ship while she was at dock at the Port of Little Current, although the cadet visit was not an “official” Manitoulin Sea Cadet event.
It was a bit of a homecoming for HMCS Oriole, as she was sold to the Navy League of Canada in 1941 for use as a sea cadet training vessel. She returned to the Navy League after the war before being called into service for training by the navy in 1950.
The HMCS Oriole crew were kept busy throughout their time in port entertaining visitors who had an opportunity to take guided tours.
The sailors on board had some interesting stories to relate. One sailor was recently returned from a stint off the coast of Africa, where the vessel he was on at the time (basically described as a glorified barge not meant for the Atlantic crossing) had the opportunity to meet some of the famed Horn of Africa pirates.
“I guess they checked the internet on their cellphones and suddenly realized they were about to engage a warship and not a merchant vessel,” laughed the sailor. “They took off in a hurry.”
The HMCS Oriole is making her way back to her home base, attached to HMCS Cornwallis in Halifax.