HMCS Athabaskan takes final salute after 44 years of dedicated service

Navy News / March 10, 2017

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Athabaskan, DDH 282, was paid off during a ceremony at HMC Dockyard in Halifax on March 10, 2017.

HMCS Athabaskan, the last of the four Iroquois-class destroyers, served the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) with distinction. For more than 44 years, these ships carried on the proud legacy of their wartime namesake ships that fought with audacity and courage in the Battle of the Atlantic, Murmansk Convoys, D-Day landings and Korea. Today’s ceremony concludes a significant chapter in RCN history. 

Fondly called the Sisters of the Space Age, or Tribals, these ships were a made-in-Canada solution to the defence and security challenges of the Cold War and post-Cold War era of the late 20th century. Athabaskan and her sister ships Iroquois, Algonquin and Huron fought the ugliest seas that the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans could throw at man and machine for over four decades. They introduced state-of-the-art Canadian sonar technology to undersea surveillance and perfected the combat operations of two large maritime helicopters from each of their flight decks.

In time, the class was modernized to defend an entire naval task force against ever more menacing missile threats, while providing the communications and computer infrastructure for a senior commander to direct major maritime operations in a regional theatre.

Thousands of today’s senior sailors were raised on the decks of Athabaskan and its sister ships, enhancing the credibility of the RCN in operations at home and abroad.  Athabaskan answered the call in the First Gulf War and was in the thick of battle alongside United States Ship (USS) Princeton, disabled by Iraqi sea mines. Iroquois carried the Canadian senior commander and international staff that implemented a most effective NATO embargo during civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Athabaskan provided essential humanitarian aid in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2008, and again following Haiti’s tragic 2010 earthquake. Most recently, Athabaskan undertook effective counterdrug patrols in the Caribbean Sea and worked diligently on the continental defence mission while training next-generation sailors during the modernization of the Halifax-class frigates.

Each ship of this storied class can tell a similar tale of effective naval operations in some of the most daunting defence and security challenges of our times. Every sailor, veteran or serving alike, who has served aboard a Tribal considers their service a badge of honour.

“As a former sailor who was trained and mentored on the decks of a Tribal-class destroyer, I am struck by the great significance of this ship’s decommissioning,” said Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic. “The name Athabaskan, and those of her sister ships Iroquois, Algonquin and Huron, conjure up the greatness of our country, its vast geography, first peoples and impactful contributions of the RCN in war and peace. There are tens of thousands of Canadians who served aboard these ships and whose hearts ache for what has passed. To them, I salute their service and praise their contributions to a navy that remains focused, effective and fully committed to providing value-added contribution to maritime security operations wherever there is water and whenever called upon by the Government of Canada.”

Under the auspices of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, the RCN is in the midst of one of the most comprehensive periods of fleet modernization and renewal in its modern history. Despite the retirement of the Iroquois Class and its long-range air defence capability, the modernized Halifax-class frigates, Kingston-class patrol vessels and Victoria-class submarines are the bridge to the future fleet. These platforms will sustain the essential role of the RCN in the defence of our country and protection of sovereignty in three oceans. Moreover, sufficient capacity exists to provide the Government of Canada globally deployable maritime force options that serve the national interest in defence, security, capacity building in foreign states, and humanitarian aid. 

It is with great anticipation that the RCN awaits the first of the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Vessels and a leased solution from industry for the provision of an underway replenishment ship to support the long distance deployments of a navy widely recognized for its global reach and effect. It is the Canadian Surface Combatant, however, that will return the navy to its full potential, just as the Tribal-class destroyers did during their remarkable era of service from 1970 to 2017.

“For over 44 years, HMCS Athabaskan and its crews have proudly served and protected Canada while responding to the calls of our allies,” said Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander RCN. “While the ship’s role in naval operations has come to an end, the RCN carries on its mission with its modernized frigates, looking to a bright future with its Arctic and Offshore Patrol Vessels, Joint Support Ships and Canadian Surface Combatants. This promising future is anchored in part on the legacy of ships and crews such as HMCS Athabaskan, and their proud service to the RCN and to all Canadians.”