By Cecilia Nasmith
Members of Port Hope's 116 Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Skeena hope the community will get on board with their big project of sending 30 cadets and five escort officers to Iceland in October 2019.
At a recent launch event, Lt. (N) Clive Barker (the unit's training officer) outlined the long-standing relationship the corps has with Iceland, where their namesake Royal Canadian Navy ship the HMCS Skeena went down.
Lt. (N) Dianne Kukavica (the unit's executive officer) announced the launch of their big Catch The Ace lotto fundraiser that – along with other cadet fundraisers – should get them to their $160,000 goal.
Catch The Ace is a similar initiative to the Chase The Ace fundraisers that have literally raised millions of dollars for important projects in Nova Scotia. As Kukavica explained the rules, there will be weekly draws at their headquarters at 17 Mill St. S. At that time, the winner gets 20% of that week's take, the cadets get 50%, and the other 30% is left to accumulate into quite a jackpot as the weeks go by.
A key feature is that each week's winner also gets a card at random from an ordinary deck of playing cards. The player who gets the ace of spades gets the entire accumulated jackpot. If the ace is drawn early on, she said, the jackpot will obviously be smaller but perhaps there may be time to start a new Catch The Ace.
Barker's story began with the River Class destroyer after which the Port Hope squadron is named. It represented the Royal Canadian Navy well in action at the Battle of the Atlantic, Bay of Biscay and Normandy.
Weather was vicious and seas were high Oct. 24, 1944, when she dragged her anchor and foundered off Videy Island, Iceland. Fifteen of its crew members became casualties when they failed to negotiate the waves and swim to shore. The 14 who were found are buried in the Commonwealth War Graves section of the Fossvogur Cemetery in Reykjavik.
Next October marks the 75th anniversary of this tragedy, and Barker wants his cadets to be able to participate in commemorations, hear the tributes, walk the paths that are part of this event that is part of their own history.
The Royal Canadian Sea Cadets are celebrating their centennial this year, and the Port Hope squadron was founded in 1941 with the sponsorship of the Northumberland branch of the Navy League of Canada and the Department of National Defence. This partnership makes it possible to offer the program free to any young person, an opportunity to learn and experience orienteering, sailing, power-boat operation, biathlon, drill, first aid, music and marksmanship.
“We offer a truly well-rounded program that develops good community citizens,” Barker said.
Some people may not have noticed these disciplined, uniform youth beyond seeing them in Remembrance Day parades and ceremonies, but in fact they have represented the community well in events around the world – Barker listed Iceland, England, France, Bermuda, Korean, Japan, Russia and Greenland as examples.
Two of the cadets also represented the squadron as part of a 2004 contingent that visited Iceland to place a plaque, Barker said.
“We met with the Icelandic Coast Guard, who instituted a dive to find wreckage,” he said.
They managed to salvage a propeller, which was put on the beach at Videy Island as a memorial. A Port Hope contingent returned to Iceland in 2006 for its unveiling at the spot where the crew members died.
The relationship of the squadron with Skeena veterans can be seen in artifacts, banners and memorabilia they have provided, including the RCN flag the ship was flying the day it went down. All are displayed proudly at the squadron hall.
“I have walked the beach with veterans where their colleagues froze and died,” Barker said.
“The unique experience I have had with the Skeena survivors puts into perspective the deeds our veterans did. The stories are endless.
“It is my goal, my wish to be able to escort the kids from this building to Iceland to be part of the 75th anniversary and commemoration services,” Barker said.
Toward this end, the squadron is soliciting sponsorships, partnerships and donations to make it happen. The launch event, in fact, got them off to a running start when Cobourg Councillor Forrest Rowden became the first person to buy a $5 Catch The Ace ticket, followed closely by Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson.
Two members of the Royal Canadian Legion also stood up to make presentations on behalf of their branches.
John Ton of Colborne Branch 187 – a major supporter of the Brighton Army Cadets – has a long personal association with the Port Hope squadron. On behalf of his membership, Ton presented a $1,000 cheque.
“Now you only have to raise $159,000,” he said.
That figure went down another $1,500 when Don Ramsay of Cobourg Branch 133 presented his own membership's cheque.
Also a member of the Northumberland Navy League, Ramsay has a long personal association of his own with the squadron.
“I first came through the door in 1955,” he said.
“At that time, it was mandatory that every male student join cadets – army, air or sea cadets.”
Further Catch The Ace details will soon be announced, such as where the tickets can be purchased. Draws will be made at the squadron each Sunday, the first to take place Oct. 14.
Meanwhile, service clubs and other organizations looking to support the cadets in this effort are invited to contact Kukavica at 905-449-6230, Barker at 905-372-3942 or Northumberland Navy League president Heather Grundy at 905-317-5767.