HCMS Ville du Quebec visits Thunder Bay
By Kris Ketonen
After a picture-perfect docking under sunny skies, an in-service naval warship is opening its hatches to the public.
The HMCS Ville de Quebec arrived at Pool 6 in Thunder Bay at about 9:45 a.m. Wednesday. It’s here as part of the Royal Canadian Navy’s annual Great Lakes deployment, and Thunder Bay residents can take tours of the vessel and speak with its crew starting today.
“Every year, Canada sends a frigate for Great Lakes deployment,” said Yves Germain, the Ville de Quebec’s commanding officer. “This year is a bit special, because it is the 200th commemoration of the War of 1812.”
Thus, the vessel is in Thunder Bay to both mark that anniversary, as well as provide the public with access to the ships and people that make up the Canadian navy.
“This is a great opportunity for the citizens of Thunder Bay to see the navy, and see what we do,” Germain said. “The type of missions and the type of people that are in the Canadian navy.”
Tours of the Halifax-class Ville de Quebec will be available starting today, running until Aug. 19. The tours are mainly self-guided, with residents getting a chance to navigate the narrow corridors and steep staircases to view the upper decks — including the bridge, 57 mm cannon and hangar — up close, and talk with Ville de Quebec crew members.
And the ship is quite the sight, to be sure. It’s about 445 feet long and 53 feet wide, and was originally designed in 1970 at the end of the Cold War as a submarine hunter. The Ville de Quebec’s role has since been expanded, and it’s now considered a multi-purpose vessel, Germain said, and has run various missions, including escorts, all around the world.
Due to its submarine hunting duties, the ship is light and maneuverable. In addition to its cruise engine, the Ville de Quebec is propelled by two turbines reminiscent of the engines on a 747, which together generate about 50,000 horsepower.
Those turbines allow the ship to accelerate to its top speed of 30 knots in about a minute, and only needs 600 feet to come to a complete stop and start reversing.
“It weighs 5,000 tonnes when it’s full,” Germain said. “It’s quite light, and it’s meant to maneuver.
“If you want to hunt for submarines, you need to be fast.”
Thunder Bay Police Chief JP Levesque got a sense of the Ville de Quebec’s speed. He spent a night on the ship travelling from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay Tuesday night, disembarking at Pool 6 on Wednesday morning. His voyage was part of a professional development program offered by the Canadian Armed Forces.
Even getting on the ship was quite the experience, Levesque recalled.
“They don’t stop that boat,” he said. “They send out a . . . rigid inflatable boat.”
That picked up the passengers — Levesque was one of a few Thunder Bay residents to make the journey — and the inflatable boat raced back out to the Ville de Quebec, which was still moving.
“They actually get you on the boat . . . with a crane while both boats are still moving,” he said. “So the adventure’s started right from there.”
During his 20-or-so hours on board, Levesque observed senior staff performing their duties. And there were some similarities — the Thunder Bay Police force has about the same number of officers as there are crew members on the Ville de Quebec, he said.
“It’s the same, but different,” Levesque said. “It’s just interesting seeing different leadership styles, and how (Germain) treats his officers.
“I liked his style,” he said. “Really interesting guy, treats his people really well, but kind of from a distance. Doesn’t get too close to them. He has high expectations. I mean, it’s a battleship, right?
“They’re not coming in . . . and saying ‘okay, this is what’s going on. What do you want to do?’”
Germain’s expectation, Levesque said, is rather that the ship’s crew provide suggestions as to what should be done about a given situation.
For Ed Arvelin, a 90-year-old naval veteran of the Second World War, seeing the Ville de Quebec up close brought back memories.
But, he said, it also “puzzles me. It’s just so different. There are no smoke stacks.
“These are all diesel. What they do nowadays. I don’t know. It’s crazy.”
Arvelin, who spent four years in the navy, actually brought a painting of the original Ville de Quebec — the one in Thunder Bay at the moment is actually the second vessel to bear the name — ramming a German submarine in the Mediterranean in January, 1943. Arvelin’s bother-in-law, the late Jack Savas, served on the Ville de Quebec during the Second World War.
The original Ville de Quebec was a corvette. Arvelin said it was “half the size” of the new one. The original ship ended up sold as a mercantile vessel in 1946.
Ville de Quebec tours are set for today, 1-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.; Friday, 1-4 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Those wanting to tour the ship should not go to the waterfront as visitors will be brought in from remote locations by shuttle buses.
Shuttles will start running at 12:30 p.m. each day. The shuttles will run during the tours, and shut down one hour after the tours end. The public can board the shuttles at the Heart of the Harbour parkade, as well as the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium parking lot.
The vessel includes many narrow passageways and access ladders, and may not be fully accessible to all visitors, the city said.