Royal Canadian Navy ship named after Saskatchewan war hero

HMCS Margaret Brooke is expected to launch in July 2019.
HMCS Margaret Brooke is expected to launch in July 2019. Royal Canadian Navy / Supplied

One of the Royal Canadian Navy‘s newest offshore patrol ships will bear the name of a Saskatoon war hero, Dr. Margaret Brooke.

Brooke was born in Ardath, Sask.  She studied at the University of Saskatchewan, becoming a dietitian before enrolling in the navy. She began her service during the Second World War with HMCS Unicorn.

Brooke was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire after the Second World War.
Brooke was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire after the Second World War. Submitted

“I guess you could call her a shipmate of all the members of Saskatoon’s naval reserve division,” Lt.-Cmdr. Matthew Dalzell, commanding officer of HMCS Unicorn, said. “She then went to sea to serve.”

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On Oct. 14, 1942 she was aboard the SS Caribou off the coast of Newfoundland when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The ship immediately began to sink.

During the scramble, Brooke tried to save her friend, Nursing Sister Sub-Lt. Agnes Wilkie. Brooke held on to a capsized lifeboat, hanging on to Wilkie’s arm throughout the night.  Unfortunately, Wilkie died in the frigid waters.

“For that heroism, she was decorated and made a member of the Order of the British Empire,” Dalzell, said.

“She was the only Canadian female during the war given that honor.”

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Brooke eventually returned to Saskatchewan, completing her university studies in paleontology at the University of Saskatchewan, where she achieved her doctorate.

In 2015, it was announced the Royal Canadian Navy’s second Harry DeWolf-Class Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel would be named after Brooke. It would be the first time a ship was named after a living Canadian woman. Brooke passed away shortly after receiving the news on Jan. 9, 2016 at the age of 100.

“That connection with the family is going to run pretty deep,” Cmdr. Michele Tessier said. “Because the ship’s sponsor is also Margaret Brooke, which is the niece of Dr Margaret Brooke, and she’ll be there for the naming ceremony.”

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Tessier was offered the captain’s chair aboard HMCS Margaret Brooke, her second command at sea.

“To have command at sea once is a tremendous privileged, and to get it a second time is unbelievable,” Tessier said.

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The ship is currently under construction at Irving Ship Yards in Halifax.

Equipped with ice-breaking capabilities for ice up to a metre thick, HMCS Margaret Brooke will be used for offshore patrols all over the world, with priority in the Arctic.

“One of our main priorities is getting into the Arctic and exercising our sovereignty, visiting Canadian communities in the Arctic which have not been easily accessible in the past,” Tessier said. “Outside of that, we’ll be doing all sorts of missions that you see other Canadian warships do.”

Tessier will be travelling to Halifax this summer to develop a crew, and begin training involved in taking the new vessel.

She finds herself in Saskatoon this week with members of Brooke’s family, as the University of Saskatchewan is recognizing Brooke as an Alumni of Influence at the 2018 College of Arts and Science Alumni of Influence Dean’s Gala and Award Ceremony on Friday at TCU Place.

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HMCS Margaret Brooke is expected to launch in July 2019.

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