HMCS Unicorn members are more commonly at the helm of a small boat during an evacuation than on the deck of a Canadian warship — thanks to the sacrifices of others.
During the Second World War, the Saskatoon naval base provided training for roughly 3,600 sailors.
In recent decades, there has been a shift in focus to “taking care of Canadians at home, making sure that families are protected, making sure that communities are actually secure,” said Cmdr. Gary Gregor, head of HMCS Unicorn.
Due in part to proximity, Unicorn reservists are valuable during flooding in Manitoba. In 1997, members assisted with the Flood of the Century along the Red River. Reservists helped again in 2011 and in other areas over several years.
Significant rainfall in southern Manitoba this fall prompted officials to open the Red River Floodway. The unusual move occurred along with a flood warning for some communities south of Winnipeg.
As naval reservists, Gregor said Unicorn members will likely be providing aid to the area again.
“We’ve been led to believe that there is almost certainly going to be some degree of flooding next spring,” Gregor said.
Usual activities during floods include sandbagging, evacuating people and delivering aid and resources to remote areas. In cases like British Columbia’s wildfires, members can assist in mopping up remnants of blazes.
Unicorn’s members still train for opportunities to augment the Royal Canadian Navy, but not all reservists are deployed abroad.
On Remembrance Day, HMCS Unicorn organized SaskTel Centre’s ceremony — one of the largest indoor remembrance events in Canada. The ceremony incorporated the theme past, present and future.
Sixty-five of the 3,600 sailors trained at HMCS Unicorn never returned from the Second World War.
Cmdr. Matthew Dalzell, chief of staff for the Naval Reserve Western Region, uses HMCS Shawinigan as an example of the real-life implications of war.
On. Nov. 24, 1944, the Flower-class corvette was off the coast of Port aux Basques, N.L., when the warship was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
All hands perished, including three men from Saskatchewan.
“We’re not just dealing with statistics. We’re not just dealing with historical facts,” Dalzell said.
“We have to remember that each of those numbers represents a person, and that they had a story. They had a family.”
Nine Canadian warships were lost in home waters during the Second World War. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic’s conclusion.
-With files from Adam Brilz