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An Idea Worth Considering!

  • A proposal by Tim Fletcher of Grimsby in the 17 August 2019 edition of The Hamilton Spectator

Time to resurrect the Hamilton

A replica of the warship could help promote the true story of the War of 1812

A cannon on the deck of the sunken U.S. warship, the Hamilton, which sank during the War of 1812. Tim Fletcher argues someone should build a replica tall ship.

I enjoyed Cathy Coward’s image of Bob Williamson in period uniform visiting the graves of sailors from the Hamilton and Scourge. It was a most evocative image — in more ways than one. When Hamilton acquired ownership of the Hamilton and Scourge, I was excited at the possibilities. Sadly, none of them have been realized, forcing me to wonder what the point of acquiring their ownership was. The ships are in deep water, unseen by anyone except a few divers.

I was recently watching an episode of the TV drama, “Madam Secretary,” where the lead actor told the Canadian ambassador that the U.S. had won the War of 1812. In real life, I heard an American interpreter on Mackinac Island in Michigan say the same thing, despite the plain fact of Canada being an independent nation.

Hamilton has a major opportunity to help promote the true version of the War of 1812, as well as contribute economically to the city, through their ownership of the two sunken warships. It is time to consider building a replica of the Hamilton and joining the Tall Ships community. The Hamilton is a relatively small schooner and a replica could easily be constructed. Of course, it would cost money — I estimate about $3 million — but I think it would be offset, at least in major part, through tourism offshoots. The vessel could be housed in a special dock in winter, inside a boathouse built for the ship, allowing tours, including school tours, to continue all year. It could host harbour and lakefront cruises. Imagine a night on the water under full sail! The tall ship Empire Sandy out of Port Colborne offers an example of the possibilities.

It would be a living tribute to the sailors who died aboard the original vessel and its companion, the Scourge. It would be a memorial to all who died in that pointless conflict. It would be a reminder to American visitors that they did not win the War of 1812. Perhaps more importantly, it would be a major ambassador for Hamilton by cruising the Great Lakes alone or as part of any tall ship parade. Imagine a replicated Hamilton leading a dozen tall ships into Hamilton Harbour. These vessels are immensely popular, as evidenced by the crowds any time the Tall Ships Parade comes to town.

I am not sure if Hamilton has the facilities to have this replica constructed, but perhaps Mohawk College could be a partner, or other trade schools. Otherwise, there are capable shops in the Maritimes. As Hamilton moves toward construction of a real City of Hamilton Museum, it is time to consider all aspects of the past. Hamilton’s major maritime history has so far been mostly neglected and any commemoration takes place on land, not afloat. The Haida is now in Hamilton, but actually has no connection with the city. Although the Hamilton and Scourge also have little connection beyond a name, they are least in municipal ownership and do relate to actual events in and around the city, including Lake Ontario.

Burlington D-Day veteran dies at 96

COMMUNITY Aug 10, 2019 Burlington Post


D-Day veteran Bill McConnell, who passed away July 31 at the age of 96, receives his Legion of Honour medal, France’s highest ranking decoration, in 2016. – Karine Dunstan photo

Burlington resident and D-Day veteran, William B. McConnell, has died at the age of 96.

Flags at city hall were lowered August 14 in his honour.

“On behalf of the city of Burlington and council, I offer his family and friends our deepest condolences and thank Mr. McConnell for serving his country and fighting for the freedoms we have today,” said Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed-Ward.

McConnell served aboard HMS Ramillies from 1943 through to the end of hostilities. On D-Day, the ship provided bombardment support for two hours prior to the landings at Sword beach, and for the following 12 days. McConnell suffered permanent hearing loss as a result, said friend, Nigel Davey.

“In the course of her Normandy engagement, she fired 1,002 15-inch shells, thought to be the greatest bombardment by any single ship up to that time, and since,” said McConnell in a past interview, who remained with Ramillies until the ship was withdrawn from service in 1945.

“The paint had burnt off the guns, and the rifling was extending several inches beyond the end of the gun barrels. Back in Portsmouth an experienced team replaced the 15-inch barrels in a very short time, and the Ramillies proceeded to the Mediterranean to provide the only big gun support for Operation Dragoon — the landings in south France in August.

After the landings, the ship remained in Algiers — available for use as needed — before returning to Portsmouth and the end of its illustrious career.

In 2016, McConnell was awarded the National Order of Legion d’Honneur (Legion of Honour) medal, France’s highest-ranking decoration. He was also the last former Ramillies sailor to ring the Ramillies ship’s bell that is at the HMCS Star in Hamilton, said Davey.

“He served on five other ships based in Hong Kong and the Mediterranean, attended the Japanese war crimes trials, visited the ruins of Hiroshima, got stabbed in Shanghai, and …. with the rank of Chief Electrical Artificer, he retired from the Navy in 1953,” added Davey.

He then moved into the defence industry, working on radar targeting and control systems, said Davey.

He moved to Canada with contractor company, Raytheon, to work on satellite broadcast and phone systems in the high Arctic. McConnell has lived and worked across Canada, from Goose Bay to Victoria, and Tuktoyaktuk to southern Ontario.

“When he retired in ’88 he travelled the world and explored Canada, going to New Zealand several times, maintaining contact with the Maori group that had presented a “lucky” grass skirt to the Captain of HMS Ramillies in 1940. He attended the 60th D-Day celebration in Portsmouth (where he was born), and the opening of the Juno Beach Memorial, and many reunions of the Ramillies Association,” said Davey.

McConnell passed away peacefully at Hampton Terrace Care Centre on July 31.

Bill with the RAMILLES bell at HMCS STAR