An Aerial Reconnaissance of the Cold War Royal Canadian Navy

Using Google Earth imagery to document warships, the one problem is, you can never go back. Before about the year 2000, there are very few captures. This means the warship types documented in our pages overwhelming represent ship classes in service from the late 1970s (leaving service in the early 2000s) up to today.

HMCS Mackenzie Sep. 1962 (cropped), a fine example of the St. Laurent class and their derivatives, up to twenty units which served from the mid-1950s to the 1990s, with none preserved. Credit: Department of National Defence CN-6516/ Library and Archives Canada

Wouldn’t it be nice if older aerial imagery of naval ports could be incorporated into our database? Well, for our home fleet, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), we were able to do just that. In the Fall of 2022, as the World blundered out of Pandemic closures, the Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) deployed to the offices of the National Air Photo Library, at Natural Resources Canada. We have been updating our list with these unique views. We look forward to continuing the research.

Where the aerial mapping magic happens: Ottawa’s Booth St. National Air Photo Library, a federalist pile roughly contemporary with the early Cold War fleet.

Wading through photo reconnaissance flight lines and a challenging database, we called up aerials from Esquimalt, BC, and Halifax, NS, from the 1960s and early 1970s. What we found was a target-rich environment of Cold War fleet units on Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The RCN Pacific Command fleet at Esquimalt BC on a sunny 12 April 1965. This view was captured by an aircraft of 408 RCAF Squadron at roughly 2,500 feet. Here we see three modern destroyer escorts, three Prestonian class escorts, HMCS Grilse (submarine) and a variety of auxiliaries. Credit: National Air Photo Library VRR2634 photo 1047 NRCAN. Crown Copyright.

The RCN of the early postwar era continued to be oriented to Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). The aerial mapping flights caught views of St. Laurent class and follow-on Destroyer Escorts, including some of the newer upgrades with helicopter flight decks or ASROC anti-submarine mortars replacing a Limbo ASW launcher.

A 1966 view of one of the RCN’s sleek 1950s designed Destroyer Escorts, at Esquimalt, showing both Limbo Anti-submarine mortars in uncovered wells aft, a 3″/50 caliber turret forward, and a 3″/70 caliber turret in the bows.

Older Prestonian-class ocean escorts, based on wartime River class frigate hulls, were economical conversions. To complement these surface combatants, we also have a view of both former USN submarines HMCS Grilse, a Balao class diesel-electric attack boat and veteran of World War 2 that had served six war patrols in the Pacific War, and HMCS Rainbow, a similar Tench class. Before the acquisition of new Oberon class boats, these two old boats –Rainbow succeeding Grilse– kept the submarine service afloat. Other long-gone RCN units we added range from Cape Class fleet maintenance ships (having posted about the last of these), HMCS Provider replenishment ship, HMCS Labrador icebreaker, and the list goes on down to the little Bird Class patrol boats.

A remarkable view of Baddeck R-103 experimental hydrofoil at the Government Wharf, Dartmouth June 1964. National Air Photo Library NRCAN VRR2647 photo 779 Crown Copyright.

We encourage you to visit the pages to see these views of a vanished era in Canadian naval history. It all adds up to a more robust documentation of the post-Second World War Canadian Navy: 18 new views that help add 10 new classes of RCN ships. We hope to continue to expand our listings to include new sources of aerial or satellite imagery.

This little fellow may help bridge the gap in capability until we can procure our fleet of aerial maritime reconnaissance drones. [Edited] Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-R01996,_Brieftaube_mit_Fotokamera.jpg: o.Ang.derivative work: Hans Adler, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE , via Wikimedia Commons

RCN Flyers: The Fastest Naval Hydrofoils

52 years after the record smashing flight of HMCS Bras d’Or FHE-400, we explore Canadian milestones in the development of naval hydrofoil technology with great images!

Have the naval hydrofoils had their day? It’s hard not to think that the best flying is behind us, when we look at the glory days when HMCS Bras d’Or (FHE-400) wowed observers near Halifax, Nova Scotia, flying up on her foils at 62 knots, or 114.8 km/h. This wondrous burst of speed occurred 52 years ago today. For this post, the Shipsearcher staff historian takes a look at Canadian naval hydrofoils. A future post will provide a brief survey of other navies’ remaining hydrofoils.

HMCS Bras d’Or flying (foil-borne) 1970: Library and Archives Canada Copyright belongs to the Crown REC70-367

Hydrofoils are a unique mix of aircraft and boat: “Foils” fitted to the lower hull of a vessel act in the water like wings do in the air. With speed and adjustment of the foils, lift is achieved, which raises the watercraft up, and allows it to become “foilborne” with the hull or main body of the craft flying over the surface of the water. When flying, there is very little water resistance to slow the craft down, and so hydrofoils can attain remarkable speeds, and can also be very stable during their flight.

Enrico Forlanini testing one of his boats on Lake Maggiore, 1911. This boat had a ladder-style arrangement of foils, and, in flight, could achieve 37 knots, or 68 km/h. Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The development of hydrofoil technology was an international effort. Canada played an important role in both the origins of the technology, and some of its milestones. Scottish/American inventor Alexander Graham Bell may be regarded as the founding father of naval hydrofoil technology. Hydrofoil experiments came out of his interest in aviation, where he and a small group were designing pioneering aircraft or “aerodrome” (Bell’s term) designs at the very beginnings of powered flight.

Early Days – the “Ugly Duckling” aircraft engine test boat of 1907 shows some of the main features of Bell’s later hydrofoils – aircraft engines, light aircraft construction, and long torpedo-like floats. Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and Cyrus Adler, National Geographic, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Experiments in designing floats for aircraft to become airborne from a water-start led to a passionate interest in achieving lift using wing-like foils in the water. Bell worked out of his estate and laboratory “Beinn Bhreagh” on the Bras d’Or Lakes of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in the first years of the 20th Century. He had been inspired by Italian inventor Enrico Forlanini’s earlier work building hydrofoil boats on Lake Maggiore, in Italy, and had travelled there in 1910 to see these craft. He and his associates, especially F.W. “Casey” Baldwin, collaborated on a whole series of experimental designs.

Alex G Bell e000009100
Bell and some of his important inventions, including the Silver Dart aircraft and the HD-4 Hydrodome. Credit: Library and Archives Canada; Copyright: Canada Post Corporation 2266911

Each iteration of hydrodome overcame faults which had often destroyed the previous craft. During 1913, Bell and Baldwin got to work on a new design, “Hydrodome number 4” – HD-4 – that they hoped would correct previous design flaws, and lead to possible naval contracts. The First World War interrupted further work, as Bell’s Cape Breton boat-works were given over to wartime construction.

Bell's boatworks during the FWW LAC a024363-v8
Female workers at Dr. Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory, Beinn Bhreagh. During wartime, the boatworks was given over to the production of lifeboats. Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-024363

Work on HD-4 resumed at the conclusion of hostilities. The US Navy supplied the Liberty V-12 aircraft engines, and evaluated her in September, 1919. The HD-4 was a triumph for Bell and Baldwin, flying at 61.5 knots, or 114 km/h – a record-breaking speed. Two years later the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) evaluated HD-4 for different purposes. No naval construction followed these projects. Casey Baldwin continued development of several more HD craft after Alexander Graham Bell’s death in August, 1922.

Bell HD-4 Parks Canada 07-431
September 9, 1919. World marine speed record set by Bell and Baldwin’s HD-4 © Parks Canada

Patriot and HD-4 e007140908-v6
The Royal Canadian Navy’s interest in hydrofoil development goes back to the years just after the First World War. HMCS Patriot, a destroyer, is shown towing the HD-4 at 14 knots on the Bras d’Or Lakes, near Baddeck, in 1921. HD-4 was not equipped with any engines for the 1921 evaluation. Credit: Library and Archives Canada / Department of National Defence CN-2947.

Development of a military hydrofoil project became a focus of Canadian government defence research after the Second World War. The RCN partnered with the Defence Research Board (DRB) to work on the Canadian Hydrofoil Project. A cadre of experts forming around the Naval Research Establishment in Halifax, NS. The team looked again at the designs of Bell and Baldwin, subsequent developments, and contemporary programs, such as US Navy hydrofoil designs. Canadian designs would focus on surface-piercing hydrofoil technology. A 45-foot boat, the Massawippi (R-100), was initially acquired in 1951. It helped develop the ladder style of foils used in subsequent designs.

Next came the Bras d’Or (R-103), built by British Saunders-Roe as a unique design. The hull tapered along its length, to a distinctive narrow transom, to give the rear foils room. The V-shaped ladder foils had not benefited from the same rigorous design experimentation as other aspects, and the craft struggled to become foil-borne on trials. Bras d’Or was shipped across the Atlantic in 1957 on the new RCN carrier, HMCS Bonaventure. In testing she eventually reached speeds of 30 knots, or 55 km/h.

The Crowsnest 1959/01, P.13 []
Defence researchers also used a small experimental craft, Rx, to try and overcome issues that were encountered with Bras d’Or, and the “cavitation barrier” which was impeding the development of faster hydrofoils. The hydrofoil system could be easily modified to test different concepts.

Rx, used in testing various configurations, including a small scale trial of the same arrangement to be fitted to FHE-400. NRE Photo by W. R. Carty, Public domain, July 1964 Crowsnest, Vol. 16 No. 7via Wikimedia Commons

Challenges encountered during the testing of R-103, and solutions for optimizing the foil configuration tested on the Rx, would continue to inform the design of the ultimate Canadian project: HMCS Bras d’Or (FHE-400). The new craft was a 160-foot long, 240 ton space-aged wonder. De Havilland Canada was selected as the prime contractor and the craft was built at Marine Industries Ltd., at Sorel Quebec, between 1963-1968.

Bras dOR sketch CROWSNEST 15-7 JUL1963P5
Artist’s conception of HMCS Bras d’Or. DND CN-6571 featured in Crowsnest, 15/7 July 1963 P.5.

Just about everything about the construction of this craft was innovative, from the aluminum hull-form (built upside-down in the shed at Sorel) and Pratt & Whitney gas turbine engines used in construction, to the advanced diamond shaped foils, forged from special maraging steel. The ship needed to be controlled by a qualified pilot, and the small wheelhouse looked more like the cockpit of a jetliner. Instead of rudders, the vessel’s steering was controlled by the unique rotating forward foil. Designers worried about the crew tasked with serving in this revolutionary craft, and effort was spent trying to develop comfortable quarters and sleeping arrangements, and, since a galley was out of the question, the ship was even fitted with the newly-developed microwave oven!

The cockpit of HMCS Bras d’Or, as it currently exists. Credit:

Unusual as it might sound today, Bras d’Or was intended to have been used in an open-ocean or Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role, with the navy also experimenting with a special light and compact Variable Depth Sonar outfit: the SQS-507. The armament would have featured two sets of triple torpedo tubes. It was hoped that a small fleet of hydrofoils would replace the aging, wartime-built fleet of frigates then leaving service, and be significantly less expensive than the RCN’s “Cadillac” destroyer-escorts. The concept of the ASW hydrofoil was that it would patrol in hull-borne mode up to a respectable speed of 23 knots, using regular marine diesels. Bras d’Or was fitted with Paxman diesel engines. Upon establishing a sonar contact, the ship would dash to close proximity using the extraordinary foil-borne speed, before reacquiring the contact and attacking. After lengthy development and a fire that set back construction, Bras d’Or was ready for commissioning in July 1968 (the smaller R-103 was renamed Baddeck to leave the name free for its bigger successor).

HMCS Bras d’Or cutaway. This plan shows what looks a VDS rig on the stern, and what looks like the two torpedo tube launchers on the quarterdeck. Copyright belongs to the Crown: Library and Archives Canada Mikan 5014188

Testing in the waters near Halifax showed her exceptional stability when flying, even in heavy seas. On 9 July 1969, Bras d’Or flew at speeds of up to 62 knots (114 km/h). As far as we know, this still makes her the fastest commissioned warship.* Unfortunately, changing government defence priorities resulted in the hydrofoil project being set aside. HMCS Bras d’Or was decommissioning in November 1971, and this coincided with an end to further Canadian military hydrofoil development. The costs of the program no longer looked likely to provide the RCN with a fleet of “cheap” ASW hydrofoils, and many of the technologies, such as the special sonar and the armament for the ship, had yet to be fully developed, and may have led to more costly programs. As a concept, the ASW hydrofoil was an evolutionary dead-end. Internationally, the development of military hydrofoils continued to focus on high-speed coastal patrol, torpedo boats, and fast-attack craft (gun and missile-armed).

HMCS Bras d’Or as she exists today. Credit:

Today, we are fortunate to have relics of the era when Canada was at the cutting edge of hydrofoil development. HMCS Bras d’Or survives out of the water at the Musée Maritime du Québec, at Islet, QC.

HMCS Bras d’Or FHE-400 on exterior display out of the water at Musée Maritime du Québec. Credit;

HMCS Bras d'or FHE-400 QC 2017

Baddeck (the former Bras d’Or) is in storage at the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, Ontario. After a long period of outside storage, the partially-disassembled boat rests inside a new state-of-the-art preservation facility, and, we hope, will be reunited with its preserved foils.

Baddeck (R-103) stored indoors at the Canada Science and Technology Museum storage facility, ca. 2009. Credit: Kyle Huth.

1990.0323.001.aa.cs R-103 Baddeck CSTMC catalog
R-103 Baddeck / Bras d’Or Canada Science and Technology Museum artifact 1990.0323.001 when it was on exterior display / storage. This image sourced from the museum’s online catalog.

R-103 Bras d'Or-Baddeck CITY OF OTTAWA GEO
Baddeck (R-103) at rear of Canada Museum of Science and Technology, where it was on outside display in the 1990s and early 2000s. The foils were elsewhere. Contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – City of Ottawa.

Massawippi (R-100) appears to have survived, after her 1959 decommissioning, at either at the Nova Scotia Museum or the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (possibly at a storage facility in Mount Uniacke, NS). Canadian Aviation Historical Society member Kyle Huth let us know about the survival of this boat, while we also located some information about historian Thomas Lynch’s attempts to locate R-100, which can be found at the International Hydrofoil Society’s website. Alexander Graham Bell’s HD-4 Hydrodome also partially survives in Baddeck, NS, at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, near a full-scale replica. A future post will pick up the story by examining international naval hydrofoil development and other surviving craft.

The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site and Museum at Baddeck, with this remarkable display of the remains of the HD-4 in the foreground, a full-scale replica, and the Silver Dart replica aircraft. Credit: jockrutherford from Owen Sound, ON, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Additional Shipsearcher and other resources:

Views of the Baddeck (R-103) and HMCS Bras d’Or (FHE-400) are located in the listing for RCN auxiliaries and other ships.

For a detailed account of both Alexander Graham Bell and Casey Baldwin’s work, as well as the subsequent RCN projects, see John Boileau’s Fastest in the World; the Saga of Canada’s Revolutionary Hydrofoils (Halifax: Formac Publishing Co. 2004).

A Canadian War Museum short exploration of HMCS Bras d’Or:

Renald Fortier, curator of the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum discusses the evolution of hydrofoil technology:

Marcelle Cinq-Mars, Military Archivist at Library and Archives Canada, notes the arrival of a new collection of Hydrofoil-related records transferred to LAC from the Defence Research Establishment, Atlantic.

There are several articles on the hydrofoil project in the editions of Crowsnest, the RCN’s magazine. 1949-1965 editions have been digitized on the website:

Dave Mills’ website gives a detailed account of the R-103 Bras d’Or / Baddeck, with lots of visuals, including of her current condition:

* The fastest armed warships, currently, are the Skjold class missile catamarans, which also use Pratt & Whitney of Canada engines to attain speeds of up to 60 knots, or 111 km/h

The Loneliest Minesweeper?

Shipsearcher staff share views of the last of the Algerine class minesweepers that served in vital roles in the Second World War: HMS Minstrel / HTMS Phosamton.

Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) staff search extensively for satellite views of some of the last survivors of famous classes of warships. During the Second World War, the British Algerine fleet or ocean-going minesweeper design formed an important class of Allied warship. At 225 feet long and about 1,300 tons displacement, they were larger than other designs, such as the Bangor or Bathurst sweepers.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2177.png
A tracing of major deck features of the Algerine Minesweeper class, created for recognition purposes.

This new class could be constructed by commercial shipyards – an important feature for speeding up wartime production of the vital hulls. More than half of the 110 ships were built in Canadian shipyards: Port Arthur Shipbuilding, Toronto Shipbuilding, and Redfern Construction. These ships were all powered by reciprocating engines, while some of the British-built ships were turbine-driven. In addition to regular minesweeping duties, ships were quickly pressed into service as ocean escorts, helping to bulk up protection for the vital transatlantic convoys. The dozen Royal Canadian Navy units spent most of their wartime duty in this role, providing important service alongside River class frigates and Flower class corvettes.

A lovely original colour 1943 photograph of HMCS Sault Ste. Marie,  a Canadian-built Algerine, built by the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Co. and similar to the original configuration of HMS Minstrel. Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada CT-247

HMS Minstrel J-445, was one of the last ships launched from the Toronto, Ontario shipyards of Redfern Construction Company in 1945, as the war ended. Minstrel was transferred to the Royal Thai Navy In 1947 as HTMS Phosamton (or “Phosampton” depending on the source). With most of her sister-ships scrapped in the 1960s, her service stretched on and on into the early 2000s. According to 1980s editions of Jane’s Fighting Ships, she was given an engineering upgrade and modified with a large classroom deckhouse over the quarterdeck, serving as a training vessel.

An Algerine under construction in a Toronto shipyard during 1944, showing the original appearance of the stern and minesweeping gear combined with depth-charge rails. Credit: National Film Board WRM 4986, Library and Archives Canada

Most online sources still call the Phosamton the last active Algerine, serving out of Samut Prakan naval base. However, the Navypedia entry notes it was stricken (removed from service) in 2017, with other sources suggesting it was retired in 2012. A Thai news source had a more accurate updated location that we were able to look up, and images online confirm the location. This minesweeper has been located nearby at Samet Ngam since at least 2013, and shipsearcher staff very much hope that it will be saved from scrapping. However, it has been languishing in a deteriorated condition. More recent views show a large barge moored alongside. As the ship is reported to be resting on the bottom at her berth, the barge may be alongside to commence dismantling the venerable sweeper in situ. Thailand has gone to lengths to preserve other contemporary warships, after their long second careers with the Royal Thai Navy, so there is still hope for this last Algerine.

We don’t often “confirm” ship views, as many ships are pretty obvious, and if we are wrong, very few visitors to our site have ever corrected us! In this case, we sketched out the outline of the satellite view, tracing major features of the ship. We then compared this with online sources and plans in Ken MacPherson’s excellent source book on the topic Minesweepers of the Royal Canadian Navy, 1938-1945, which were themselves made from plans now held by Library and Archives Canada. It is always exciting to identify even a single survivor of a bygone era, lingering on into the present, as this allows us to explore the history of the whole class of vessels, and pester the Shipsearcher staff historian to contextualize or interpret our finds!

This google earth capture has been overlaid with a hand-drawn plan of an Algerine class minesweeper. The outlines of the enlarged classroom on the quarterdeck can be seen in the satellite view extending towards the stern.

Check out our Royal Thai Navy pages for other views of the Phosamton, and other veteran ships, originally from a variety of navies, that are being preserved.

HMCS Bonaventure – Canada’s Carrier – decommissioned 50 years ago

July 3rd 1970 – 50 years ago today, HMCS Bonaventure, Canada’s aircraft carrier, was decommissioned, in a move that surprised many.

July 3rd 1970 – 50 years ago today, HMCS Bonaventure, Canada’s aircraft carrier, was decommissioned, in a move that surprised many. “Bonnie,” the largest and most powerful warship the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has ever operated, had just undergone a major “mid-life” refurbishment.

HMCS Bonaventure model CASMworkFINALBluewithaerials
Overhead photo of a Canadian Aviation and Space Museum artifact, a fine 1/144 Scale model of HMCS Bonaventure made by Dan Linton from Stouffville ON, with various aircraft that served aboard during career. For all use please credit Warsearcher with the URL of the website.

A few years before this, an official history of Canadian naval aviation produced by the Naval Historical Section, Department on National Defence, had concluded a section on Bonaventure with: “At the time of writing Bonaventure has been in commission over five and a half years, with the prospect of many more to come. Canada being deeply committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for the defence of the Free World, the carrier will, no doubt, in the future, as in the past, be frequently working with the warships of her allies.”* In fact, Bonaventure, and all carrier-based RCN operations, had little time left. The lengthy refit proved costlier than anticipated. The government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau decided to dispose of the ship, as a cost-cutting exercise, in the fall of 1969. This controversial decision removed fixed wing aircraft from Canadian naval aviation and limited it to helicopters attached to destroyers and frigates.

This composite shows Bonaventure and RCN naval aircraft, including many types that operated from the carrier. Late in her RCN career, Bonaventure also operated the new Sikorsky Sea King Anti-submarine helicopter. Crowsnest May-June 1960 edition, p.10. Photo credit would now be Crown Copyright, Department of National Defence, HS-61120

Bonaventure was a Majestic class variant of the British 1942 Light Fleet Carrier design. The concept was born out of wartime necessity. By mid-1942 the Royal Navy (RN) had lost a total of five fleet carriers, and two escort carriers, to enemy action. The vast sphere of operations, and expanding duties carriers and their aircraft could perform, meant that more “flat-tops” were needed, and they had to be produced faster. The plan for 16 ships was intended to fill the gap between large, expensive, and difficult to produce fleet carriers, and smaller escort carriers, whose roles were more limited. Light Fleet Carriers were also suitable for construction in civilian shipyards, freeing up naval yards for other priority work. They were certainly not intended to be an enduring cornerstone of any fleet. And yet, after the Second World War, of the 15 ships completed under two sub-classes, 10 of them wound up serving for decades in other navies.** For mid-sized navies, including Canada’s, these ships represented an excellent entry-level carrier to build a naval aviation service around.

HMCS Bonaventure dec. 1969 e011154074-v8
This Dec. 1969 view of the last sail past of HMCS Bonaventure in Halifax Harbour shows the beautiful lines of this updated design. Credit Library and Archives Canada / Department of National Defence HS 69-3061 Crown Copyright.

The careers of some of Bonaventure’s sister-ships are worth mentioning. The aptly-named HMS Venerable entered service early in 1945. During her 52-year career, she served in the Royal Netherlands Navy as HNMLS Karel Doorman, before being transferred to Argentina, as ARA Veinticinco de Mayo. During the 1982 Falklands War, she participated in some limited operations against the Royal Navy, and was also high on the list of targets for RN submarines. By the late 1980s she was inoperable, and became a source of spare parts for her sister-ship NAel Minas Gerais. This ship, also commissioned early in 1945, was originally HMS Vengeance. Vengeance also served in three navies (the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, and the Brazilian Navy). As NAeL Minas Gerais, she became the last of the class in service, decommissioning in 2001, after an incredible 56 years!** This may well be the World’s second longest serving carrier.*** Minas Gerais Brazil 2002

Minas Gerais India scrapping 2004
This remarkable view shows former NAeL Minas Gerais in May, 2004, immediately before she was run up on the beach at Alang, India, for scrapping.

Another sister-ship, the Indian Navy’s INS Vikrant, was decommissioned in 1997. It survived as a museum ship in Mumbai dockyards until 2014. Vikrant’s history is further explored in a recent post about her scrapping and the page for Indian Navy carriers.

INS Vikrant and Viraat Mumbai 2010
INS Vikrant, at bottom, and the slightly newer INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes), both with very long service. Vikrant, the oldest remaining sister-ship of Bonaventure, was scrapped in Mumbai 2014-2015, while the Viraat appears to be destined to become a museum ship.

The Royal Canadian Navy built its postwar naval aviation service around three of these light fleet carriers, which served Canada successively as HMCS Warrior (1946-1948), HMCS Magnificent (1948-1957), and HMCS Bonaventure (1957-1970). Bonaventure, at 704′ overall length and 20,000 tons full-load displacement, was conspicuous at her usual berth at the Naval Dockyard, Halifax, NS.

HMCS Bonaventure HFX 1960 DNS-26014
HMCS Bonaventure in her usual berth under the Angus MacDonald Bridge, ca. 1960. Credit: Library and Archives Canada / Department of National Defence DNS-26014 Copyright belongs to Crown.

Composite view of multiple satellite captures [2003, 2005, 2019/09] of Halifax naval dockyard wharf No. 4 and Jetty no. 5 edited to appear closer to the 1970 arrangement, with a crane added from the nearby government wharf, Dartmouth. Dan Linton’s model of HMCS Bonaventure has been superimposed on a 705’ footprint. Bonaventure would not have been moored across these two berths, but her usual berth at no.4 would place her directly under the Angus L. MacDonald bridge. This composite is inserted only to provide a general mock-up. For all use please credit Warsearcher with the URL of the website.
During the mid-1950s Canada arranged for the completion, to an updated design, of the ship which was intended to become HMS Powerful. Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland, (famous as the builders of ocean liners, including RMS Titanic) resumed work on the carrier, which was commissioned in January 1957 as HMCS Bonaventure. She had a stronger flight deck to operate larger, heavier aircraft, enlarged deck elevators to move them from the hangar, and more powerful steam catapults to launch these aircraft. A mirror landing sight system helped pilots maintain a safe approach, as they also heard audio tones to help them keep their eyes on the carrier, not their instruments.

Photo of the Mirror landing system, on the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum model, built by Dan Linton from Stouffville ON. For all use please credit Warsearcher with the URL of the website.

Most obviously, the carrier was the first in the class to be built with an angled flight deck, a development that made it one of the most advanced warships then in service. This feature helped increase the tempo of flying operations. Bonaventure could operate its complement of Banshee jet fighters, leaving some portions of the deck for landing as other areas could be used simultaneously for takeoffs, helicopter operation, or aircraft parking. The upgrades influenced other navies to embark on similar lengthy rebuilds of their carriers, and Vikrant, mentioned above, went through a similar rebuild of an uncompleted hull, before her transfer to the Indian Navy.

[Detail of] HMCS Bonaventure early in her RCN service off England in June 1957. Library and Archives Canada, Department of National Defence image CT-521 Copyright belongs to the Crown. The flight deck’s 7.5 degree angle and modest port projection (compared to a straight axial flight deck) may not seem like much today, but represented a real improvement in flying operations over her predecessors.
Compared to other ships in the class, Bonaventure had an active, if short, service life, with the standard ports-of-call visits, and many Cold War exercises with NATO allies designed to keep units ready to defend the sea lanes from Soviet submarines and surface ships. She operated several aircraft types, including McDonnell F2H Banshee jet fighters and Sikorsky HO4S helicopters. When the Banshees were decommissioned, the career was reoriented to an exclusively Anti-Submarine (ASW) role, with Grumman Tracker aircraft conducting patrols. Later, the new Sikorsky Sea King helicopters again upgraded Bonnie’s ASW capabilities. This busy career came to an abrupt end with the 1969 decision. Soon after her decommissioning, Bonaventure was sold for scrap, and made a last long journey to a ship breakers yard in Taiwan in 1971.

Bonaventure’s starboard anchor on display at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, Massey Building, Aug. 2014. Credit: Warsearcher.

Fortunately, there are several relics of Bonaventure’s time in Canadian service scattered around Canada. In addition to several surviving aircraft in various museum collections, Bonnie’s “Mule” or deck tractor, is in the collection of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa [click here for a link to the artifact entry]. The ship’s bell is at the Shearwater Aviation Museum, across the harbour from her usual berth, in Dartmouth, NS. Two signal guns are located at HMCS Discovery, Vancouver BC. Two of Bonaventure’s immense anchors are also preserved. The starboard anchor is on display at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec.

HMCS Bonaventure Anchor Memorial in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, in 2007. Credit: abdallahh from Montréal, Canada / CC BY (

The port anchor has been located in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, since 1973. This 9-ton stockless anchor is the centerpiece of the Canadian Peacetime Sailors’ Memorial, which is dedicated to the memory of post-1945 Canadian naval deaths. In early 2018, the deteriorating monument was substantially rebuilt by local reservist members of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

HMCS Bonaventure anchor monument Halifax NS 2016For a few more views of Bonnie and some related topics, check out our RCN carriers tribute page. We decided to add Bonaventure to our database project, which mostly features google earth images of (at last count) more than a thousand warships from 27 navies, because we intend to find other aerial imagery that allows us to further interpret the history of RCN carriers and other ships, once the World reopens.

* J.D.F. Kealy and E.C. Russell A History of Canadian Naval Aviation 1918-1962 (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1965) p.116.

** Differences between the two sub-classes, the original Colossus and the Majestic units, are explored elsewhere on this site, under the relevant navy pages that include these carriers. Two ships of the 15 were also completed as maintenance carriers, and had very different careers.

***The Centaur class carrier INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes, shown above), served 58-years, from 1959-2017. By comparison, the longest serving US Navy aircraft carriers have been the USS Midway (1945-1992 – 47 years), and the recently decommissioned USS Enterprise (1961-2017 – 55 years)

Shipsearcher launches!

Find the warships!

The first pages of Shipsearcher have now been released. This summer, a break-away faction of Warsearcher staff began honing their ship identification skills. It started as background research for our R & D programs, but it quickly snow-balled to absorb resources from war trophies research and postcard collecting sections.

Could the new Ship Identification Directorate (SID) identify warships from various captures of satellite imagery? With the amount of contextual information and photographs proliferating online, we believe the current pages, and those to come, are an interesting, original record of warships. As of October, 2019, there are pages up for US Navy current surface units, US Navy retired/historic, Royal Canadian Navy. The imagery in this post is a sneak peak at some that will appear in pages still building. We also have a page up about sources and the ID process.