Cold War Intrigue on Ontario’s South Coast

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In Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, was a mysterious vessel called the Nautilus—a sophisticated submarine designed to have total independence from land and fulfill a “mission” to roam the globe defending against tyranny.

That was 1866.

A hundred years later, the Cold War was bubbling on the surface. It polarized our world into two competing powers who engaged in building advanced arsenals, lofty space programs, and espionage. Public paranoia over an impending large-scale conflict simmered.

Under the surface, submarines like Canada’s HMCS Ojibwa carried “riders” in this clandestine new world. Their mission: enter hostile waters, collect valuable information, and help keep tyranny at bay. Sound familiar?

Cold War Climate

“Those of us who lived the Cold War certainly remember some tense times”, Ojibwa Communications Director Melissa Raven said.

“But for the most part, we lived our lives taking our safety and freedom for granted, oblivious to the dangers that lurked beneath the surface”.

Rick Morgan, a former HMCS Ojibwa submariner, reminisced about those tense times from the perspective of an insider.

“Back in the 1960s we were involved in a Cold War that we thought could turn ‘Hot’ at any time. We were only 20 years past World War II and had grown up learning how to ‘duck, roll and cover’ in the event of nuclear attack. We remembered hearing tests of the civil defence sirens outside our schoolroom windows. The Soviets had tried to arm Cuba with nukes and the whole world almost went over the edge as a result”.

HMCS Ojibwa Saved from the Breaker’s Yard

Huge, elegant, and imposing, HMCS Ojibwa was Canada’s first Oberon-class submarine and served her entire “official” career with Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) in the North Atlantic. We are learning that she did so much more as secrets of the cold War are beginning to surface. Ojibwa, it turns out, participated in countless missions to undisclosed locations – most still classified.

Decommissioned in 1998, HMCS Ojibwa now resides in the charming southwestern Ontario town of Port Burwell, brought there by the Elgin Military Museum of St. Thomas, Ontario.  She stands as a Cold War interpretive centre and a monument to the submariners who put their lives on the line. Slowly their stories are being revealed to the shock and amazement of visitors.

Submariner and Sonar man Jim “Lucky” Gordon recalled some of those missions.

“We might have to slip into hostile harbours and remain undetected while gathering intelligence. The atmosphere would be electric, absolute silence throughout the submarine”.

Visitors now flock to the impressive site on Ontario’s South Coast to relive that electric atmosphere through dynamic tours on board the submarine.

Visitors experience wins praise

Bonnie Wright, who visited the submarine in August, was enthusiastic about her experience at the submarine.

“On the inside tour you are shown most areas of the boat—something that you don’t get on many of the other subs displayed in other cities. The guides were very knowledgeable and they were able to pass on many stories that they have heard from submariners who have visited the boat”.

The Travel Industry Association of Canada recently short-listed the Elgin Military Museum for The Brewster Travel Canada Innovator of the Year Award for the opening 2013 season of HMCS Ojibwa.

Celebrate Sub Days

On September 27 and 28, 3 Pitt Street, Port Burwell will be home to Sub Days, marking the 100th anniversary of Canada’s submarine service. Submariners will tell stories of the “Silent Service” and Navy League cadets will be leading skill-testing exercises for kids and families. Everyone is invited to test their spy craft skills on September 27 in the unique new Cold War spy game – The Hunt for Blue September.

HMCS Ojibwa is a truly unique experience. How often do you get to snoop around a Cold War submarine?” asked Melissa Raven.

“Visitors are able to look behind the curtain of the Cold War to a time when international crises brought us closer to World War III than any of us imagined. Ojibwa is definitely a ‘must see’ destination”.

The Museum of Naval History
A “Sub” Station of: The Elgin Military Museum
3 Pitt Street, Port Burwell, Ontario
Telephone: 519-633-7641 | Email: [email protected]