The longstanding link between Burlington’s navy vets and the Battle of the Atlantic is about to be enhanced.
During the Second World War, the Allies fought the famous battle in cold, choppy waters connected to Lake Ontario by the St. Lawrence River.
Starting in May the promenade running parallel to the lake in Spencer Smith Park will be called the Naval Veterans Promenade.
The Royal Canadian Naval Ships Memorial Monument, which faces Lake Ontario at Spencer Smith Park, honours the memory of the Canadian ships and sailors that served during the Second World War.
The monument lists the names of all the ships involved in the six-year battle from September, 1939 to May, 1945, including both the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Merchant Navy.
During the war the Royal Canadian Navy was the third largest in the world with 577 ships. Canada lost 2,024 naval personnel and 21 warships during the conflict, as well as 1,466 merchant seamen and 75 ships of the Canadian Merchant Navy.
Rose Trevina, president of the Royal Canadian Naval Association, is thrilled about the naming of the promenade.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” she said. “I’m very proud and looking forward to seeing it opened.”
Jim Holmes, secretary of the Burl- Oak Naval Veterans Association, ranks the move right up their in importance with the naming of Hwy. 25, which runs from Bronte north through Acton, the Veterans Highway.
“It’s important to get the message out about what these guys did, and also those who served during peacekeeping time,” he said.
The promenade will be officially opened by Mayor Rick Goldring at the May 5 ceremony, marking the 70th anniversity of the battle. The eastern section of the promenade actually will be closed until May 31 to allow workers to complete the Brant Street Pier, which is scheduled to be ready in time for the Sound of Music Festival in June.
Rear Admiral Jennifer Bennett, Chief of Naval Reserve and Cadets at Naval Headquarters in Ottawa, will toss a single flower from a mum into Lake Ontario in the traditional ceremony in memory of those who gave their lives for their country. Bennett is a resident of Burlington.
Hal Wilkinson, who died in March after serving as second vice-president of the RCNA, was chiefly responsible for convincing the City to give the promenade a name.
“Hal was always the one dealing with the City,” said Mike Vencel, vice-chairman and parade commander of the Burl-Oak Naval Veterans Association. “Unfortunately, he won’t be there to see it but we owe a lot to him.”
The Naval Ships Monument is the only Canadian memorial that remembers all of the ships that served in the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Merchant Navy during the Second World War.
Alex Bramson, a native of England who came to Canada in 1942 and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy, designed the monument and local members raised $140,000 to build it.
Ottawa artist Andre Gauthier sculpted a seaman standing at salute to his lost comrades in bronze. A member of the Burlington Sea Cadets was used as a model the uniform was patterned after the one Vencel wore when he was in the navy.
Lieutenant-Governor Hal Jackman presided over the dedication ceremony in May of 1995. The Burlington branch of the RCNA transferred ownership to the City in 2009, although Burl-Oak Naval Veterans still clean the monument regularly.
Naval personnel also participate in the HMCS Athabaska Memorial Service in late April, annual D-Day Parade in June, Canada Day Ceremonies on July 1, Dieppe and VJ Day Parade in August, Warriors Day Parade at the CNE the same month and Remembrance Day Services in November
Burlington was just a town when the HMCS Burlington, a Bangor class minesweeper, was commissioned into the navy in 1941.
Citizens of Burlington adopted the vessel and its crew was presented with a ship’s bell, inscribed with its name, and a silk White Ensign when it docked there after its initial voyage from Toronto.
After leaving Toronto on Sept. 10, HMCS Burlington was met just off Oakville by the training ship Haida and escorted to its anchor place in front of what is now Spencer Smith Park. On board were Minister of the Navy Angus MacDonald and Burlington school children, who had been selected to make presentations later.
Led by the Burlington Band, their classmates paraded down Brant Street to the waterfront, where a host of local dignitaries including Mayor Gordon Blair and Councillor John Wilkinson, who organized the day’s events, took a motor launch out to the ship to meet Lieutenant- Commander W.J. Fricker and bring him into shore.
While 1,500 children sang O Canada, Norm Marshall reported from the waterfront for listeners of radio station CHML.
The Burlington Gazette devoted its entire front page, including pictures of the corvette, to the dedication and reported that Spencer Smith and his crew had the park in tip-top shape. Years later the park was named for him.
In the evening the Minister was guest speaker at a dinner held at the famous Estaminet Restaurant, where he told the audience that “Hitler has already failed”, because the ruthless bombing of the British Isles he carried out had united the rest of the world against him.
A silver cigarette box was presented to Fricker by the mayor.
Afterwards, sailors and townspeople enjoyed a night of dancing and bingo on Brant Street.
While veterans age and die, Burlington maintains its strong connection to the navy through the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Iron Duke, which offers a program for youths from its base at the corner of Elizabeth and James Streets downtown.
The corps, named after Her Majesty’s Ship Iron Duke the British Royal Navy Dreadnaught and fleet flagship in the First World War, first paraded in February of 1943.
The first Duke of Wellington, of Battle of Waterloo fame, was nicknamed ‘Iron Duke’. By coincidence, Burlington was once called Wellington Square.