The Fairmile Bs of the Royal Canadian Navy

Royal Canadian Navy

8 May 1945: VE-Day

Hostilities ceased with the capitulation of Germany.

The Royal Canadian Navy, which had a fleet of about ten ships when the conflict began, found itself in 1945 with over 400 ships in service which were now useless. The War Assets Corporation was mandated in 1944 to manage the whole process of disposal of war surplus, including the fleet of ships. Shortly after VE-Day, Sydney, Nova Scotia was selected as the port for disarming the larger ships (such as destroyers and frigates), while the Fairmiles were disarmed at the Bassin Louise in Québec. After this operation, the Fairmiles were sent to Sorel, where they were moored in a designated place and transferred to the War Assets Corporation with all the equipment remaining on board. Thus on 8 June 1945, eight flotillas comprising 59 Fairmiles were successively withdrawn from service and, accompanied by their commanders, sent to Sorel, to remain there until they were sold. At the end of 1945, only four Fairmiles were still in service: three on the East Coast (Q 106, Q 116 and Q 121) and one on the West Coast (Q 124), but only for two more years at the outside.

Q 055, Q 056 and Q 053 being towed to Sorel.
Origin unknown

The Fairmiles, because of their robust wooden construction (mahogany and teak) and elegant hull lines, were by far the most popular of all warships among future purchasers. Many of them were sold in Canada and United States for use as private yachts, cruise vessels or coastal cargo ships.

An order was established to the effect that federal and provincial departments and agencies and public organisms would have priority in obtaining the vessels.

Accordingly, on 15 September 1945, three Fairmiles (Q 104, Q 105 and Q 107) were towed by the ships Glencove and Glenora to Rimouski for the Arts and Trades School.

Four more were transferred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for use as coastal patrol craft in the Gulf and St. Lawrence River, namely the Fort Walsh (ex Q 112), Fort Selkirk (ex Q 114), Fort Steele (ex Q 117) and Fort Pitt (ex Q 119).

Seven other Fairmiles remained in service as power training craft (PTCs): six on the Great Lakes and one at Esquimalt, British Columbia:

  • HMCS Cougar, ex PTC 704, ex Q 104, Ontario
  • HMCS Beaver, ex PTC 706, ex Q 106, Ontario
  • HMCS Moose, ex PTC 711, ex Q 111, Ontario
  • HMCS Reindeer, ex PTC 716, ex Q 116, Ontario
  • HMCS Wolf, ex PTC 762, ex Q 062, Ontario
  • HMCS Racoon, ex PTC 779, ex Q 079, Ontario
  • HMCS Elk, ex PTC 724, ex Q 124, British Columbia

Many other sales were made to private purchasers over the months and years, e.g.:

NUMBER

PURCHASER

USE

Q 051 National Research Council, Ottawa, Ontario Radar vessel
(RADEL II)
Q 056, Q 061, Q 078, Q 081 Creole Petroleum, Caracas, Venezuela Shuttles: Esso Ayacucho, Esso Concordia,
Esso Cardonal and
Esso Taparita
Q 088 Peter Lepage Ltd., Ontario Cruise vessel
(Penetang 88)
Q 098 Marine School, Rimouski, Quebec Training vessel
(St-Barnabé)
Q 105 J.S Langlois, Québec Cruise vessel
(MV Duc D’Orléans)
Q 113 CTMA, Magdalen Islands, Quebec Coastal trading vessel
(Lavernière)

Q 105, commissioned in September 1943
Photo: Department of National Defence

Closer to home, in Québec itself, many will remember the MV Duc D’Orléans, which sailed the St. Lawrence as a cruise vessel for 30 years (1948-1978).

On 12 January 1948, Mr J. Séverin Langlois, a St. Lawrence pilot residing in Québec, acquired the former Fairmile Q 105 from the Rimouski School of Arts and Trades. The idea was to convert the vessel for cruising on the St. Lawrence River. The plans were approved in the spring of 1948, and the conversion work was done at the shipyard in Saint-Laurent, on the Île d’Orléans.

The vessel, when acquired, had its original wartime appearance, with a low pilotage cabin on the main deck, surmounted by an exterior cabin. Major changes were made: one involved replacing the two original gasoline engines (Hall-Scott Defender type, V12, 630 HP) with two 160-HP Detroit diesels. The whole deck was rearranged in order to accommodate passengers safely both inside and outside. The interior of the stern of the vessel, originally used as officers’ quarters, was converted into a restaurant.

Duc d’Orléans passing in front of Montmorency Falls
Marc-André Morin Collection

In 1952, Mr Jean-Claude Morin, of Sillery, took over the business and operated it successfully until 1972. The loading dock was in a prominent location near the Québec-Lévis ferries, just below the Château Frontenac. Because of the quality of the cruises offered, the MV Duc D’Orléans became a well-known and greatly appreciated tourist attraction among visitors and the people of the Québec region.

In 1978, the vessel made its last cruise, from Québec to Sarnia, Ontario, where it had been built by Mac-Craft Ltd. in 1943. It is still operating in Corunna, Ontario, as an excursion vessel on the St. Clair River between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

After all these years, Noel Macklin, the Fairmile’s designer, would be very proud of the longevity of his creation.