This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip to Content

HMCS Kootenay

 

Hon. Michael L. MacDonald: Honourable senators, all Canadians are aware of the great dangers our soldiers face when on active duty, as they face danger at this very moment in Afghanistan. However, even in peacetime, the military must live in an environment fraught with potential danger.

I rise today to draw the attention of honourable senators to the anniversary of the worst peacetime tragedy in the history of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Forty years ago tomorrow, there was a disastrous explosion aboard Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Kootenay. She was one of seven "Restigouche"-class destroyer-escorts in the Canadian Navy and the First Canadian Escort Squadron.

(1350)

On the morning of Thursday, October 23, 1969, HMCS Kootenay was taking part in a NATO exercise 200 miles west of the Royal Navy base at Plymouth, England. Shortly after 0800 hours, while carrying out power trials — with both main engines set at full ahead — a gearbox in her engine room rose to a temperature of over 600 degrees and finally exploded.

Nine men died and more than 50 others were injured, some seriously.

Earlier this month, on October 2, 2009, survivors who were on board the Kootenay that day, along with their family and friends, travelled to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, England, which is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the United Kingdom. Four of the nine sailors who perished that tragic morning were laid to rest there.

This journey, which they called the Kootenay 40 Plymouth Pilgrimage, gave all the former Kootenay crewmen an opportunity, perhaps their last, to say goodbye to their fallen comrades; to their old "wingers."

"They exceeded any standard that you wanted for training. And they had guts." These are the words of Neil Norton, Kootenay's commanding officer on the day of the explosion.

The courageous actions of these former Kootenay crewmen helped to expedite the creation of the Canadian bravery decorations.

In the wake of the tragedy, families, friends, the media and the general public pleaded with the federal government to honour these sailors for their duty and sacrifice. On December 30, 1971, D.W. Groos, the honourable member of Parliament for Victoria, asked in Parliament: "Would the Prime Minister use his influence to speed up the awards as they are now more than two years overdue?"

The Decorations Committee even suggested that the highest level of bravery decoration be called the "Kootenay Cross." While this proposal was not accepted, on May 10, 1972, Queen Elizabeth II accredited three new bravery decorations. Appropriately, the very first Crosses of Valour, Stars of Courage and Medals of Bravery were awarded to crewmen of HMCS Kootenay.

As the memorial order of the 1969 ceremony stated:

At the going down of the sun, And in the morning, We shall remember them.

Honourable senators, we remember: Chief Warrant Officer Vaino Olavi Partanen, 41, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, awarded the Cross of Valour; Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class William Alfred "Billy" Boudreau, 40, Halifax, Nova Scotia; Petty Officer 1st Class Eric George Harmon, 42, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; Petty Officer Lewis John Stringer, 29, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, awarded the Cross of Valour; Leading Seaman Pierre "Pete" Bourret, 24, Halifax, Nova Scotia; Leading Seaman Thomas Gordon Crabbe, 29, Dartmouth Nova Scotia; Leading Seaman Gary Wayne Hutton, 24, Bedford, Nova Scotia; Able Seaman Michael Alan Hardy, 21, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; and Ordinary Seaman Nelson Murray Galloway, 19, Hamilton, Ontario.

Honourable senators, I ask that we please take a moment and remember these nine young Canadians. These dedicated men lost their lives serving their country 40 years ago. We also extend our heartfelt sympathies to those who have had to live for the last 40 years without a husband, a father, a son, a brother and a friend.