Friday, November 21, 2008

HMCS Cornwallis

One of the things that I really like about the Annapolis Royal region is that history tends to stack up in layers. Our story begins with the Mi'Kmaq who have inhabited this area for thousands of years. Next, came the French ancestors of the Acadians who started arriving about 403 years ago. The Scots arrive in 1629 with a British Royal Charter and name the area Nova Scotia. Over the next 200 years, this region became a chip in the European struggle to control eastern North America. The New England Planters, the Loyalists and the Black Loyalists have all brought their stories to this area. Hey, we even had a big influx of hippies in the 1960s. Some times, it is a bounty of history that can make your head spin.

Despite all of this 17th and 18th century history, it is something more recent that caught my eye today. I was participating in a workshop at the Annapolis Digby Economic Development Agency (ADEDA) offices in Cornwallis Park today. Cornwallis Park is on the remains of the HMCS Cornwallis Naval Base. During the Second World War, this was the largest Commonwealth naval training base. Most Canadian sailors recieved a portion of their training at this site.

It is also worth noting that Canada had the world's fourth largest navy at the end of WWII. Much of the naval war effort for Canada was conducted from HMCS Cornwallis. Many of the trans-Atlantic convoys of goods to supply England started from this site on a peaceful basin off of the Bay of Fundy. Joe Casey, a former MLA for Annapolis and Digby, tells an excellent story of having to safely pilot five munitions ships into the Annapolis Basin and anchor them off HMCS Cornwallis. He relates that he was never told what the ships were carrying but that one of the captains told him that an accident could make the 1917 Halifax explosion look like a loud pop.

HMCS Cornwallis was closed in the 1980s. The site is now home to the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre, the ADEDA offices and an industrial park.

At the end of today's workshop, we had the opportunity to step outside to take some photographs for a project our groups were working on. Standing in the parking lot, I saw the former base chapel with a seagull resting on the top of the steeple's cross. I quickly snapped a couple of photographs.

All for now,
RGS

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