My Memories of HMCS Winnipeg

Commodore Topshee as FixO (Fixing Officer – assistant to the NavO) during a day sail to Vancouver in 1998.

Commodore Topshee as FixO (Fixing Officer – assistant to the NavO) during a day sail to Vancouver in 1998.

Commodore Angus Topshee,
Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific ~

The celebration of HMCS Winnipeg’s 25 years of commissioned service has brought back many fond memories. I was not a part of the commissioning crew in 1995, but many of that crew were still aboard when I joined Winnipeg as my first ship right after completing MARS IV in February 1997.

Though I was a brand new subbie (one of only three aboard at the time), I was immediately made welcome in a true spirit of “One with the Strength of Many.”

Within days of joining, we were off on a (nearly) round the world adventure to join NATO’s Standing Naval Force Atlantic or SNFL (naturally, this was pronounced ‘sniffle’) for six months. It was the best possible start to a career as the transit around to Europe gave me the opportunity to learn the ship and the basics of frigate watchkeeping before becoming immersed in high intensity NATO exercises in the English Channel, and off the coasts of Spain and Portugal.

We also had the opportunity to visit St. John’s, Newfoundland, for the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Cabot aboard the tall ship Matthew. It was a replica of the original ship Cabot. It sailed across and the NATO fleet was in St. John’s Harbour to greet it when it arrived. It was pretty cool as they came in at dusk to a harbour symphony and fireworks show.

From there, we took part in a MARCOT on the East Coast and made a visit to Halifax with the NATO fleet.

Having expressed an interest in becoming a Navigator, I was given the opportunity to try navigating Winnipeg out of harbour and I vividly recall learning just how quickly fog can roll into Halifax in June as I watched all my carefully planned lead marks disappear just as we were about to slip.

It was such an actioned packed deployment that the time flew by and suddenly it was late-July and I was flying home from Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, to get married (and then stand duty watches when the ship returned home a few weeks later).

In total, I spent two years aboard Winnipeg, earning my OOD and NOPQ, learning to manage seasickness, and deploying twice (the second was to South America for UNITAS in 1998, also an amazing early career experience but just too much to add here).

In retrospect, it is clear how much my time aboard Winnipeg has shaped my career. My impression of what a Commanding Officer should be is based on the incredible leadership of Dave Hudock – his enthusiasm and energy left no doubt in any of us that he believed he had the best job in the Navy, and the joy he took in our success empowered all of us to do our very best for him.

The quirky leadership of our Executive Officer, Dan Mackeigan, taught me that some very unique characters could thrive in the Navy. There are many others who shaped me by their examples aboard Winnipeg – too many to name, especially as I am bound to unfairly leave some of them out. Suffice to say that my belief in the tremendous dedication and professionalism of Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) sailors stems from the patience of the amazing junior Winnipeg sailors in teaching me to become a mariner, warrior, and leader.

I can’t imagine a better first experience of the RCN after completing my MARS training, and Winnipeg will therefore always have a special place in my heart.

Happy 25th Anniversary and best wishes for many more!


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