Hamilton’s Fairmiles

In 1939, the British boatbuilder, Fairmile Marine, designed a series of motor launches, which could be built in dispersed sites and then assembled as a kit in small shipyards that would normally not have the capacity.  The Fairmile B, intended to be used as a submarine chaser, was only one hundred twelve feet long and displaced 79 tons, and was built of double diagonal mahogany planning over plywood frames with plywood bulkheads.  They were propelled by two gasoline engines and had a speed of 22 knots.  They were often armed with a number of 20mm Oerlikon guns and carried an ASDIC to detect submarines and depth charges and “Y” gun depth charge throwers.

Eighty-eight of these small vessels were built in Canada in small boatbuilders and shipyards, with the majority built on the Great Lakes in places like Midland, Penetanguishese, Sarnia and Orillia.  They served on both coasts and in the St. Lawrence and as far afield as Bermuda and the Caribbean.  Those built on the Lakes travelled along the St. Lawrence to Quebec City where they were fitted out with armament and other equipment in Bassin Louise, right where HMCS MONTCALM and Naval Reserve Headquarters are now located.

The eighty boats in the RCN were ML (Motor Launch) 050 to ML 129, carrying their numbers on the hull prefixed by “Q”, which led to them being referred to as Q Boats.

Following the war most were quickly disposed of but seven were assigned to the Naval Reserve and served until between 1955 and 1957.  In that service, they were converted from gasoline to diesel engines in Sorel, Quebec and exchanged their wartime “Q” numbers for the designation PTC (Patrol Motor Boat Submarine Chaser) and then in 1954 received animal names inherited from previous armed yachts.  Although they were referred to as “HMCS”, they were not actually commissioned vessels but attached as tenders to another ship.

Eight Fairmiles have a particular connection to Hamilton although others of the Naval Reserve group were here from time to time.

ML106            BEAVER

STAR’s own Fairmile was built at Grew Boats, Penetanguishene and delivered 28 August 1943.  Like COUGAR, she served with the 70th Flotilla in Bermuda.  On 28 June 1948, she was assigned to STAR but suffered a serious fire in July of 1949 that required costly repairs.  In May of 1956, she was transferred to YORK but declared surplus in November of 1957 as a result of dry rot.  She was laid up at the Hamilton Harbour Commission and by 1961 was reported to be in ruins.

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ML104            COUGAR                  

CATARAQUI’s Fairmile was built at Mac Craft Boats, Sarnia and delivered 4 August 1943.  Served with the 70th Flotilla in Bermuda.  After the war it was loaned the Quebec government for the Rimouski Arts & Trades School and then in 1951 was assigned to HMCS CATARAQUI as PCT-704.  It came to STAR in January 1956, was paid off on 4 November of the same year and the next year became a training facility for the Dundas Sea Cadets on Cootes Drive near Olympic Drive alongside the Desjardins Canal.  It deteriorated and was eventually scrapped in the 1970s.

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104 in Dundas in 1963

ML116            REINDEER  

YORK’s Fairmile was built by Hunter Boats in Orillia and delivered 12 July 1944.  While building, however, it suffered an explosion and fire on 13 October 1943 which killed one person and seriously injured others.  Petty Officer (later Warrant Electrician) Ernest Alfred Wooding, RCNVR, was awarded the Albert Medal for saving the lives of two in the engine room.  The Albert Medal retired for George Cross in 1971.  116 served with the 82nd Flotilla, Shelburne, NS and was assigned to HMCS YORK in 1952.  When paid off in June 1955, it came to Hamilton and was burnt in Desjardin’s Canal.  I have been unable to discover if the fire was accidental or intentional.

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116 on fire in 1955

ML100, 102 109 & 118

These four Fairmiles were all bought by Francis Farwell, Administrator/owner of Canada Coach Lines/Hamilton Street Railway for $3,000 each.  He planned to convert one to his private yacht and the others were eventually sold under various names.  It is assumed that the two Fairmiles expended as breakwaters in the north-east corner of the bay were from this group.

ML121

She was intended to be assigned to HMCS CATARQUI but was sold to Inshore Frozen Fish Ltd, Hamilton, ON, with the intention of transporting frozen fish from the east coast to markets on the Great Lakes.  Her registration was transferred to Saint John, NB and then to Magdelen Islands.