This post is another of a series of excerpts from my book Tin Can Canucks.  As the book is still under development these posts should be considered as part of a work in progress.  These excerpts are presented as they’ve been developed and may not be in chronological (or any logical) order.

HMCS Assiniboine (II)Specifications

Length: 366’
Beam: 42’
Draft: 13’ 2″
Displacement: 2263 tons

Laid Down: 19-5-1952
Launched: 12-2-1954
Commissioned: 16-8-1956
Paid Off: 14-12-1988

Armament: 4 x 3”/50 HA/LA guns, 2 x Limbo ASW mortar, homing torpedoes

When Marine Industries Ltd. of Sorel, Quebec delivered HMCS Assiniboine (II) to the Royal Canadian Navy it was the first post-war warship built by that yard for the RCN which subsequently commissioned her the 16th of August 1956. Her arrival in Halifax on the 25th saw her assigned to the Third Canadian Escort Squadron.[1]  She, her squadron-mates and ships from the First Canadian Escort Squadron undertook a goodwill tour of North Europe ports in October and returned back in Halifax in mid-November.

With sister HMCS Margaree (II), Assiniboine took part in an International Naval Review at Hampton Roads, Virginia in June of 1957.

HMCS Assiniboine in swell

DND photo, courtesy of RCNA Peregrine.

She was transferred to Esquimalt in January of 1959 where she became part of the Second Canadian Escort Squadron.  She hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip in mid-July when they travelled from Vancouver to Nanaimo, British Columbia.

In 1962 she underwent conversion to a destroyer helicopter escort (DHH) which saw her after end remodeled to include a flight deck and hangar.  The single stack was split in two each of which was outboard of the helicopter hangar.  To make room for the flight deck the aft 3-inch/50 mount and the Limbo anti-submarine mortars were removed.  Assiniboine was the first of her class to undergo conversion; much of the work was done by the Victoria Machinery Depot Company of Victoria, British Columbia.  The remainder of the work was undertaken by HMC Dockyard Esquimalt.

HMCS Assiniboine and Sea King Helicopter

This photograph shows two major postwar Canadian naval technology developments: operating large helicopters from relatively small ships, and the variable depth sonar. (courtesy http://www.warmuseum.ca/)

June 28, 1963 she recommissioned and departed for Halifax in September.  There she had the “Beartrap” rapid helicopter haul down equipment installed and became the trials vessel for this system.  In that capacity she spent two years chasing storms around the North Atlantic, purposely hunting for poor weather in which she could trial the “Beartrap” system.  Ultimately the trials were successful and the “Beartrap” became a common fitting on all future Canadian destroyers and frigates.[2]

In January 1975 she rendered assistance to the freighter Barma, rescuing her crew after the freighter began to take on water some 185 miles off Boston.

Assiniboine was selected for the Destroyer Life Extension Refit (DELEX) which she undertook entering dock at the Canadian Vickers yard in Montreal on April 23rd, 1979.  She returned to service in mid-November.

In June of 1981, Assiniboine was leading four other vessels NATO Standing Naval Force Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT) out of Halifax harbour when she grounded on Point Pleasant Shoal in heavy fog.  It took several tugboats to get her free.  Her participation in a NATO exercise was thus canceled while she underwent a damage inspection and repairs.[3]

Assiniboine Limbo Well in 1956

Limbo well of HMCS Assiniboine in a photo dated October 1956. (Courtesy Rick E. Davis)

In 1984 she was assigned to escort the Tall Ships Race from Bermuda to Halifax during the early summer.  When the British sailing vessel Marques sank, Assiniboine took up a prominent role in the search for survivors.  She would receive the Chief of Defence Staff Unit Commendation for her efforts, becoming only the second ship in the RCN to receive it.

She returned to Halifax in July of 1984 having discovered fractures in her upper deck stringers and plating.  She entered dry-dock for repairs on July 17th at Marine Industries Ltd.’s Sorel shipyard—her birthplace—for a ten month refit.  This stretched out to seventeen months due to a strike at the shipyard.[4]

HMCS Assiniboine was decommissioned on December 14th, 1988, and taken out of service the following January.  After being surveyed post-decommissioning it was discovered that her steaming plant was in excellent condition, and as she was of similar configuration of the remaining steam-powered destroyers, it was decided to use her as the alongside steam training vessel, replacing HMCS St.Croix (II).[5]

She served as a floating classroom for technicians at the Fleet School for 6 years before being handed over to Crown Assets for disposal.  She subsequently sank in the Caribbean Sea while under tow to the breakers.  In 32 years while under commission she had sailed some 700,000 nautical miles.

[1]  Wartime RCN ships built by Marine industries’ Sorel yard included Flower-class corvettes Arrowhead, Bittersweet, Dunvegan, Fennel, Sherbrooke, Sorel, Calgary, Fredericton, Kitchener, La Malbaie, and Regina as well as Bangor-class minesweepers Brockville, Esquimalt, Transcona, and Trois-Rivières.  They would later build the  hydrofoil HMCS Bras d’Or in 1968 with their last ship for the Canadian Navy being the frigate HMCS Calgary which was commissioned in 1995.

[2] Known in other navies as a Helicopter Hauldown and Rapid Securing Device (HHRSD) the “Beartrap” was developed by the RCN’s Experimental Squadron VX-10 in conjunction with Fairey Aviation in the 1960s.

[3]  (Cleaves, 1981)

[4]  (Barrie & Macpherson, 1996) p. 19

[5]  (Lynch, Twilight of the St Laurents, 1990) p. 192