MONTREAL, QC. — When this series began, it began as a way to demonstrate the connection members of the HMCS Montréal have with its namesake city, and her team, the Montréal Canadiens.
Members of her crew that follow the Canadiens are as ardent fans of the team and the game of hockey as anyone else in Canada. They live and breathe by the pulse the Habs provide the city, and when given a rare opportunity to visit the city, look forward to sharing in the experience of a live game.
This spring, however, that hope was dashed. The goal didn’t materialize not only due to an early exit by Les Glorieux, but also by the floods that had struck the province and had caused so much damage.
HMCS Montréal had planned events to coincide with her namesake city’s 375th Anniversary. Planned events included parades, military balls, ship tours and many other events allowing the citizens of the city to meet the sailors who represent their home, and country.
However, while enroute to the festivities, HMCS Montréal and her crew were re-tasked with a much more urgent mission. The ship was sent to Trois-Rivières as part of Operation LENTUS, an effort mobilized to provide assistance in the flooded areas of Québec.
After spending the better part of five days in Trois-Rivières, HMCS Montréal was then redirected to the City of Montréal to continue with Operation LENTUS, along with her initial mission of outreach and celebrations with Montréal 375.
When a major natural disaster occurs in Canada, provincial and territorial authorities are the first to respond. If the province or territory becomes overwhelmed by the disaster, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are ready to help. This assistance is known as Operation LENTUS. This Spring, 2200 CAF personnel were deployed to support Quebec citizens in the four affected regions.
Operation LENTUS follows an established plan of action to support the affected communities. This plan can be adapted to the unique situations that may occur, such as forest fires, floods, or hurricanes.
The objectives of any Operation LENTUS are to help provincial and territorial authorities, to respond quickly and effectively to the disaster, and to stabilize the natural disaster situation
In this case, during Operation LENTUS, all 210 members of the HMCS Montréal took turns providing any assistance possible. The main tasks included distributing and filling sandbags to help solidify and protect key infrastructure such as bridges, sewage treatment, water purification, and power generation and distribution centers.
Many used military vehicles to help civil authorities maintain traffic on key routes, and help evacuate citizens to safe areas. Meanwhile, others reinforced dikes and walls to protect the key infrastructure.
Much of the work provided by the crew included outreach to the citizens of the affected areas. Many went door-to-door to ensure everyone was physically safe, and that they were in good health and spirits. They also ensured that enough food and water were on hand. Further, established where or not the area was safe to allow them to stay. If it wasn’t, that they were escorted to a safer location.
Members of HMCS Montréal should be proud of their efforts. They provided invaluable support to the citizens of Trois-Rivières and Montréal. Despite the long hours of heavy work and shifting priorities, all crew members were proud to provide their fellow Canadians whatever support they could. It is part of the reason they all chose to serve in the CAF.
Once the water had crested and began to fall back to normal levels, the more difficult task to help with the cleanup began. All of the sandbags from key public infrastructure and roads had to be removed. These tasks were done without complaint whenever requested by towns and cities. In total, the CAF filled, distributed, or placed over 640,000 sandbags and cleaned up over 1,000,000.
During this period, HMCS Montréal was able to continue support with flood relief, but also her original task to provide outreach opportunities to the public. This included tours of the ship, five kilometre fun runs in Old Montréal, citizenship ceremonies to welcome our newest brother and sister Canadians, and to visit the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Even though there was no hockey to be seen live, a large group were excited to be provided a private tour of the Bell Centre. Seeing the dressing room made many regress to childhood thoughts of watching their heroes on the ice and imagining them there, preparing to play another game.
In the lead up to the namesake city visit, the ship’s crew spent months raising funds from their own pockets for the Montréal Children’s Hospital and were proud to present the Foundation with a cheque for 10,000 dollars.
Yet, of the thousands of people who took to time to meet the sailors serving in our Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), none touched the hearts of the sailors more than the Children at the Montréal Children’s’ Hospital.
These children have had to face more in their short lives than they ever should. Despite these hardships, their glow and lust for life immensely affected the sailors. Some were brought to tears, yet all had smiles as large as life when meeting these miniature heroes. Sharing a day with them was by far the most rewarding experience.
As much as we all love the sport of hockey and the Montréal Canadiens, this month-long operation reminds us of what is truly most dear to us all. It isn’t a sport, or cheering on our favorite team. It is how we, as Canadians, can help each other. Individual pride is a wonderful tool, but it cannot replace the pride we can feel when we pull together as a team. Only then can any goal be accomplished.