The Naval Service of HMCS Hochelaga

Before the Hochelaga was the steamship making a daily trip from Charlottetown to Pictou and back again it had had several lives which I wrote about in an article titled “One Steamship’s Story – How an Archduke’s Yacht Became a Zionist Immigrant Ship” which appeared in the Spring/Summer 2014 edition of The Island Magazine.

HMCS Hochelaga during WW I. Note the semaphore signaller on the bridge

HMCS Hochelaga during WW I. Note the semaphore signaller on the bridge

One of these lives was as a naval vessel during the Great War. A 1955 report written by the Naval Historical Section in Ottawa contains some additional details which I did not have for the article about the war service of a vessel which was an essential cross-strait link between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

The Hochelaga started life as the Waturus, a private yacht of a member of the Austro-Hungarian royal family and was later owned by an American millionaire. At the outbreak of the war the Canadian navy had a critical need for ships of all sorts and sizes and the yacht was purchased for $70,000 in 1915. Sailed by a civilian crew to Halifax she was placed under naval command and sailed for Montreal to be converted to a naval vessel and armed.  By September she was on coastal patrol based in Sydney. For the rest of the war she operated out of Halifax and Sydney but visited ports such as Louisburg, Cheticamp, St. Lawrence Bay, Gaspe, Quebec and Montreal. There  is no indication that she ever visited P.E.I. ports during this period. The official report also fails to mention the time when the captain of the HMCS Hochelaga was court marshalled for his failure to pursue a German submarine.

A somewhat shabby HMCS Hochelaga, probably near the end of the war.

A somewhat shabby HMCS Hochelaga, probably near the end of the war.

Surplus to needs at the end of the war she was paid off to reserve fleet early in 1919 but was re-commissioned in July of that year in connection with the arrival of the Prince of Wales in Quebec and a cruise by the Governor General in the St. Lawrence and Saguenay Rivers. The ceremonial duties ended in October when she received orders to board two inspectors of the Government Radio Service (operated at the time by the Naval Service). She visited wireless stations along the St. Lawrence and the North Shore where equipment was inspected and supplies landed. She reached Halifax in early November 1919. During that winter along with trawler HMCS Arras the Hochelaga was employed clearing ice from harbours such as Shelburne and Sheet Harbour. In January 1920 she was based in Canso to “assist fishermen off that port in case of distress” a role that the Canadian Coast Guard was later to play but at the time was one of the additional duties of the navy.

Owing to funding cutbacks after the war there were no resources for manning the ships with naval crews and at the end of March 1920 the White Ensign was hauled down and the ship was re-commissioned as the Canadian Government Steamship Hochelaga with a civilian crew under the Blue Ensign. The CGS Hochelaga was re-fitted as a yacht for the Governor General and the Duke of Devonshire embarked in July 1920 for an extended tour of the Gulf of St. Lawrence ports. This harmless excursion was the basis of a diplomatic eruption as the Governor of Newfoundland was also at sea in HMS Calcutta commanded by a British Rear-Admiral. When the Calcutta encountered the Hochelaga in Newfoundland territorial waters the Newfoundland Governor was affronted with the infringement of the sovereignty of his domain and the ensuing wrangle between two representatives of H.M. King George V went on for several months.

SS Hochelaga in Pictou. Photo courtesy of Charles E. Frohman Collection/Hayes Presidential Center.

SS Hochelaga in Pictou. Photo courtesy of Charles E. Frohman Collection/Hayes Presidential Center.

Following that voyage CGS Hochelaga was finally paid off on 30 October 1920 although a captain was kept aboard through the winter along with four stoves to protect the fancy furnishings from moisture.  She was not sold until 1923 when John Simon of Halifax bought her for $11.000 and she became one of the Island’s links with the mainland. That story with the surprise ending to the life of the SS Hochelaga is to be found in The Island Magazine article noted above.

A photo gallery of the known images of the Hochelaga / Waturus can be found here.

I am indebted to Bill Soper of Stanhope who located a copy of the Naval Historical section report and allowed me to make use of it for this posting.

1 thought on “The Naval Service of HMCS Hochelaga

  1. Pingback: From Rum running to Gun running – the Customs Cutter Margaret | Sailstrait

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