Museum exhibit rings the bell for Beacon Hill

Deborah Cotton and Commodore (Retired) Doug Mclean cut the HMCS Beacon Hill exhibit ribbon. Photo by LS Gibson, MARPAC Imaging

Deborah Cotton and Commodore (Retired) Doug Mclean cut the HMCS Beacon Hill exhibit ribbon. Photo by LS Gibson, MARPAC Imaging

Peter Mallett Staff Writer ~

A new exhibit celebrating the legacy of HMCS Beacon Hill and its legendary commander Ted Simmons has launched at the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum.

The grand opening ceremony for Hero Warship: HMCS Beacon Hill and Her Daring Commander took place at the base museum on the morning of May 17. Its unveiling came one day after the 75th anniversary of the commissioning of the former River Class Frigate that became the namesake ship for the City of Victoria and served the Royal Canadian Navy until September 1967.

Simmons’ 75-year-old daughter Deborah Cotton was joined by the ship’s final navigation officer, Commodore (Retired) Doug McClean, for a ribbon cutting ceremony that officially opened the exhibit.

McLean, with Cotton at his side, cut the ribbon with an authentic Second World War naval sword loaned by museum volunteer Paul Seguna.

“I am absolutely overwhelmed by how beautiful the exhibit is and the magnificent job the museum staff have done,” said Cotton. “I think if my father saw this, he would be very impressed.”

McLean also feels a strong personal connection to the new exhibit and the ship itself.

“Ships are living things, and sailors say if you serve in a ship you own a plank of the ship. Well I certainly own one of Beacon Hill’s planks; she is a great old ship.”

McLean shared several anecdotes of being a young sailor in Beacon Hill. One was the frightful moment just prior to the ship’s payoff ceremony in Esquimalt. The old ship was on a final sail-past of Beacon Hill Park when it tendered so severely McLean and the rest of the crew thought it was going to tip.

Created by the museum’s Exhibit Designer Clare Sharpe, Hero Warship features hard-backed descriptive banners that showcase the ship’s history and the naval career of Simmons.

The exhibit occupies a 350-square-foot room and part of an adjoining corridor. Artifacts include the ship’s name board and badge, the commander’s commissioning pennant, and replicas of two of Simmons medals, the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Service Cross.

There is also a video of the National Film Board film “Corvette Port Arthur” inspired by the naval career Ted Simmons.

Simmons was an interior decorator by trade who joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Service shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. He later went on to become a legendary war hero for thwarting a German U-Boat attack and the boarding of the sinking sub to acquire its code books.

Cotton was the first baby christened in HMCS Beacon Hill, with her confirmation coming one month following VE-Day, and her name was engraved on the ship’s bell. Many years later, Cotton discovered that the whereabouts of the ship’s first bell are unknown, and that several of her father’ war medals were sold by an auction house in England.

Two christening bells from the ship, one from the museum’s collection and another on loan from the City of Victoria, form part of the new display, along with Cotton’s christening cup.

For more information about HMCS Beacon Hill visit the museum’s website:

Museum hours are 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Mon-Friday (closed on statutory holidays).

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