Almost a century of history was commemorated at the Inuvik Legion Feb. 8 as a replica ship’s bell was baptized and rung out during a ceremony.
McInnes Branch 220 will be the home of the H.M.C.S. Inuvik Ship’s Bell as an acknowledgement for the rich military history in the region.
“It was mentioned at a meeting that we didn’t have a monument to either the base or to our local veterans, other than cenotaphs which are specifically there to commemorate those who have passed on active service,” said quartermaster Sean Whitcomb. “So it was suggested we should either find H.M.C.S. Inuvik’s original bell, if it still existed.”
Overall, from plan to finish the whole process took just under a year, with the bell arriving just before Remembrance Day. The new bell was forged in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the same foundry as such landmarks like London’s Big Ben and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and was commissioned after a thorough search for the original bell turned up nothing.
In spite of being a radio station, Naval Tradition holds that any warship and shore establishment has a bell cast bearing the ship’s name and year of commissioning. The vast majority of bells have found their way to Canadian Military museums, but to date the H.M.C.S. Inuvik bell is still at large.
“Apparently there was one on the quarter-deck — the entrance way to a shore establishment,” said Whitcomb. “We contacted the Esquimalt Naval Museum in B.C. and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax and they had no idea where it has gotten to.”
To consecrate the bell, chaplain Pastor David DeKwant blessed water poured into the bell by a group of dignitaries representing local first responders, battalions and government officials. Following the blessing, the bell was hung and rung out four for the two-o-clock afternoon watch and once for each of the military establishments it represented.
A tradition rich in history
While being hosted by the legion, the ship’s bell represents 97 years of military history in the region and counting, starting with Aklavik’s entry into the Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System in 1925, which brought the first wireless communication to a region previously dependent on dog sleds and ferries to communicate with the rest of the country. It was in continuous use by the Canadian Army before it was handed over to the CBC in 1959.
By that time, the Royal Canadian Navy had established a Naval Radio Station in Aklavik, which went online in 1949. It remained in service until 1961 until the facility was moved to Inuvik in March of that year.
Two years later, the Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (H.M.C.S) Inuvik Naval Base was officially commissioned on Sept. 10, 1963. It was renamed to Canadian Forces Station Inuvik in 1966 following the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces and remained in service until 1986 as the Soviet Union began to fall into decline.