HMCS Ottawa visits namesake

Commander Sylvain Belair with Ottawa Senators mascot Spartacat.

Commander Sylvain Belair with Ottawa Senators mascot Spartacat.

Lt(N) Ellie Aminaie, HMCS Ottawa ~

In late November four sailors from HMCS Ottawa spent a week in Ottawa, Ontario, for a Namesake City Visit. Their eventful program included visiting youth groups, seniors and navy veterans; volunteering at charities; and making official visits. Ottawa’s 20th anniversary was highlighted throughout the visit.

Upon their arrival in Ottawa, the sailors – Commander (Cdr) Sylvain Belair, Captain of Ottawa; Chief Petty Officer First Class (CPO1) Alden Darragh, Coxswain; Lieutenant (Navy) (Lt(N)) Ellie Aminaie, Information Warfare Officer; and Able Seaman (AB) Tyler Gallant, Hull Technician – had to hurry to their first engagement with the 3rd Orleans Scout Troop, which the ship sponsors. They spent an evening with the scout troop participating in a team-building activity and doing a question and answer session with the scouts.

With little opportunity to recover from jet lag, the next morning was an early one spent at Elgin Street Public School where the Ottawa team gave a presentation to children in Grades 3 to 6 in the school gym. The students had plenty of questions, ranging from the hardest decision the ship’s captain had to make to whether we have muffins onboard ships.

The follow-on engagement was a visit to the ship’s official charity, The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre, where they enjoyed afternoon tea with the navy veterans at the centre. They listened to wartime stories and made a large charitable donation collected through fundraising by the ship’s crew.

“The residents thoroughly enjoy it when the HMCS Ottawa crew pay a visit to the centre each year,” said the centre’s director.

“The PRVHC greatly appreciates the fundraising efforts made by the ship’s crew as the funds go toward caring for our deserving military veterans.”

Next up was an evening with Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Falkland at HMCS Carleton. There were more than 100 cadets on parade and it was impressive to see their skill and professionalism at such a young age. Cdr Belair had the opportunity to swear in new cadets and reward deserving cadets with a ship’s coin and ball cap.

The following morning, the Ottawa team had the privilege of a private tour of the Canadian War Museum. One of the curators at the museum even took the team into spaces not open to the general public to see several rare items. Among them was a life preserver worn by a crew member during the sinking of the first HMCS Ottawa in the 1942 torpedo attack that claimed 137 lives. It was a touching moment to view the life preserver, which was signed by 40 of the 65 survivors, while reflecting on the history of the ship on the 20th Anniversary of the fourth ship to carry the Ottawa name.

The team then spent the afternoon volunteering at the Salvation Army’s Grace Manor where they mingled with residents and helped set up the 100th birthday celebration of one of the residents. The highlight of the visit was meeting with a woman who had been a Communicator in the Royal Navy in the Second World War. She was elated to have visitors from the Royal Canadian Navy. She eagerly shared her story and showed the team memorabilia from her service. It was satisfying to know the visit had helped brighten the day of one of the residents who felt personally connected with the team.

That evening, the team was fortunate to have been invited to an Ottawa Senators home game against the Boston Bruins. The Ottawa sailors cheered on the Sens who crushed their divisional rival 3-1 in front of 17,191 spectators. The Senators have been very supportive of the ship and its crew. The Ottawa team was even acknowledged during the game on the Jumbotron and had an opportunity to take pictures with the team mascot, Spartacat.

The whirlwind tour continued the following morning with a meeting with the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson. He was briefed on HMCS Ottawa’s activities in the past year and its upcoming deployment. Mayor Watson presented Cdr Belair with an official certificate acknowledging the ship’s 20th anniversary.

Shortly thereafter, the team visited with Deputy Commander Royal Canadian Navy, Rear-Admiral Gilles Couturier and received a tour of National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ).

Then it was on to Parliament for Question Period and a private tour of Parliament Hill. The tour  included the Memorial Chamber containing up-to-date notations of Canadians who have died in battle, the ornate Library of Parliament containing over 600,000 items, and a ride up the Peace Tower elevator with spectacular views of the city.

In the afternoon, the team volunteered at the Ottawa Mission Homeless Shelter, sorting through donations and decorating the building for the holiday season.

The Namesake City Visit concluded with a trip to the ship’s sister unit, HMCS Carleton, where the team received a tour and briefed members of Carleton about the ship’s activities.

The three-day visit was a worthwhile experience for the entire Ottawa team, including AB Gallant. “I was fortunate to be able to speak to many different groups about our ship and life in the navy in general. We also volunteered at a few different organizations, which was very rewarding for me.”

HMCS Ottawa’s Namesake City Visit is conducted annually to maintain the strong connection between the ship and the city and provides an opportunity for the ship’s company to give back to the city through volunteer work and charitable donations.

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