Somewhere on the North Atlantic Ocean — There is a special bond felt by Habs fans all over the world. The only requirement for membership in the “club” is to simply fall for the majesty of an historic franchise. Members of this club come from every walk of life and are scattered all over the globe. One group of that membership can claim to being and seeing all these things as sailors of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).
One ship in the Atlantic Fleet, based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, can boast a special bond with the city that gave birth to the storied Montréal Canadiens. That ship proudly bears the name Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Montréal.
There is a long tradition in the RCN of christening ships with the names of great Canadian cities. Of the 12 RCN Halifax Class Frigates afloat today, we find names such as Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Calgary. Yet, only one has the good fortune to bear the name Montréal.
As with all Canadian ships, great lengths are taken to provide the connection between ship and city. This is done with the sharing of gifts, visits by the crew, and if at all possible, having the ship sail to the namesake city.
As you wander the passageways of the ship, you’ll notice familiar street signs, such as Rue Sainte Catherine. There are also murals of famous street views of Old Montréal. Memorabilia is located from stem to stern, all of which is donated from the city and her citizens as gifts to the crew to help provide the character of the ship.
Frequent visits over the years have been made by the HMCS Montréal to the city of Montréal. The importance of the connection between a ship and its namesake city is not to be underestimated. The ship’s company always looks forward to these visits, as they are made to feel as welcomed as any native born Montréaler. These visits also provide the opportunity for members of the RCN to share their experiences travelling the globe as members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and to provide a glimpse of shipboard life to local Montréalers who are willing to feed their curiosity and step aboard.
There is a bond shared by those who practice the profession of arms. This bond can be deepened by the shared experience of rooting for la Sainte Flanelle. I am well acquainted with this phenomenon, as I am also a long-time Canadian Armed Forces veteran and am currently a crew member of the HMCS Montréal.
Long voyages away from home, family, and friends would cause anyone to become nostalgic and yearn for a taste of home. For these sailors aboard HMCS Montréal, hockey, namely Canadiens hockey, provides for them this touchstone. For a few hours, they use hockey to escape the routine of shipboard life and can momentarily feel as if at home while cheering for their team.
It is not unusual to have an 18 hour workday, sometimes longer, while at sea. There are many duties and responsibilities that must be completed daily. When a ship is underway at sea, there is no one else to rely on to complete these tasks as a ship must be self-sufficient. Despite the very long working hours and difficult conditions, all of these fans will forego precious sleep in order to catch a glimpse of their hockey heroes.
The operational schedule for a Canadian warship can be extremely busy. This calendar year, the crew of the HMCS Montréal will spend most of the year away from their homes and families as they sail over 200 days, which does not include the time spent in port visits.
They will complete Arctic Sovereignty Operations and Artic Training Exercises. They will also conduct international training exercises with her North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. Mixed in will be visits to foreign ports that will allow for the ship’s company to visit War Memorials and Monuments laid in honour of our Canadian heroes.
No matter the schedule, a near unanimous response is that the highlight for the crew, especially for those who love the Canadiens, will be the namesake city visit in May 2017, when they will be able to temporarily be part of the community. If they are lucky, they will be able to catch a glimpse of their hockey heroes in person at the Bell Centre.
For anyone making a trek to Montréal to experience the city during the NHL playoffs and wishing to visit a Canadian Warship, the HMCS Montréal will be visiting the old port of Montréal in May 2017 as part of the city’s 375th Anniversary Celebrations.