The Holy Grail of Artifacts from HMCS Skeena Has Finally Come Home

In Editor Choice, Local, Photo Gallery

The ships bell from the HMCS Skeena has finally made it back to the 116 Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Skeena at 17 Mill Street South in Port Hope.

For Lieutenant (N) Chris Barker who is the Executive Officer with Skeena it’s been a goal of getting the ships bell back home where it belongs for the last two decades.

And a long journey it has been.

Shortly after 9 a.m. on Saturday, October 24, 2020, Barker lifted the heavy brass bell from his vehicle and walked into its home.

HMCS Skeena was a River-class destroyer that served in the Royal Canadian Navy from 1931-1944. It served as escort duty in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Skeena and her sister HMCS Saguenay were the first ships specifically built for the Royal Canadian Navy.

Barker has a long history with the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Skeena and has become well versed in the history of the ship.

The 97 metre Skeena was lost in a storm on the night of October 24, 1944. She was anchored off Reykjavík, Iceland and dragged her anchor and grounded in 50-foot (15 m) waves off Viðey Island with the loss of 15 crewmembers.

Fourteen of the crew members are buried in Reykjavík and one was never found.

HMCS Skeena in Port Hope honoured the 76th anniversary of the loss of the ship on Sunday, October 25, 2020 with a virtual service carried on social media.

The original ships bell will ring 15 times for each of the sailors lost in the sinking of the ship.

Over the years, Barker, survivors of the ship and cadets have travelled to Reykjavík, Iceland to take part in ceremonies.

“It was just by chance of fate it came into my possession and I’m very happy to have it relocated to the home of RCSCC Skeena.”

RCSCC Skeena in Port Hope was created in 1941 and has been in existence for over 75-years training cadets from ages 12 – 18 years old in citizenship, seamanship, sailing and many other areas.

“We’ve had a long history and over the years with our involvement with our namesake, we’ve become home to a lot of memorabilia and artifacts from the ship.”

“I’ve very pleased to receive, what I call the holy grail.”

Since being taken off the ship in 1944 it has taken had a “bit of mystery where it was.”

Approximately 20 years ago it was discovered at the Burlington Naval Club. Efforts to have the been transferred to RCSCC Skeena in Port Hope proved unsuccessful over the years.

Then once the Burlington Naval Club disbanded, the bell seemed to disappear as well.

Barker said the bell seemed to reappear on the museum ship HMCS Haida in Hamilton.

The Friends of the Haida were very receptive about RCSCC Skeena borrowing the bell for remembrance ceremonies, but when ownership was transferred to Parks Canada, once again, the bell vanished.

Even after help from Ottawa and Halifax, the ships bell from HMCS Skeena seemed to be lost forever.

Approximately five years ago a tip from a daughter of a survivor from the ship contacted Barker stating the bell might be located at the Burlington Library.

Although the library didn’t have it, archives in Burlington did a search and said it again, “possibly,” could be at the Canadian Forces Staff College in Toronto.

Barker was elated when he received the message the bell was in storage at the Staff College.

“Over the last few years with communication going back and forth, a Senior Officer decided the bell would be better fitted here, displayed proudly at the Skeena building along with the other artifacts in memory of the ship and 15 crewmembers.”

Barker picked it up on Friday and brought it to the Skeena building first thing Saturday morning.

“Words can’t express how I feel about the bell. To be able to have it here within the Skeena building along with all the other memorabilia and artifacts.”

There is only one last surviving member of the HMCS Skeena who lived in British Columbia, “but knowing that many of the Skeena survivors and veterans have passed by these doors and into the building have generously donated their artifacts and memorabilia that they saved off the ship and now I’m proud to be able to add the bell to their collection.”

Barker spent Saturday afternoon meticulously going over the bell and shining it up for the ceremony on Sunday.

“It’s finally home.”

Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

Has been a photojournalist for over 30-years and have been honoured to win numerous awards for photography and writing over the years. Best selling author for the book Highway of Heroes - True Patriot Love

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