By; Steven Bull, Host – Water Ways TV
The HMCS Oriole just outside her home port in Toronto / Photo- WaterWays TV
Rich people buying yachts is not unusual. Rich people giving away yachts is!
The Gooderham family launched their 102-foot sailing yacht named Oriole IV in 1921. If you’ve visited Toronto’s Distillery District you’re walking on the grounds of where Gooderham and Worts distilled alcohol for years. Suffice it to say they did alright financially!
Members of the history Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Oriole IV sailed the waters of Lake Ontario and was enjoyed by the family for decades.
When World War II broke out, the Royal Canadian Navy acquired her. She was returned to the family afterwards, but they ended up selling it to the Navy for good in the 1950s for the price of $1 and on June 19, 1952 she was officially commissioned as HMCS Oriole.
Acting Sub-Lieutenant Scott Ferris, Public Affairs Officer with Oriole, told me there were conditions to that sale before taking me aboard for a full tour. Namely, the Navy had to maintain the ship and use it for training.
It is still used today as a sail training vessel and holds the honour of being both the oldest commissioned ship and the longest serving vessel in the Canadian Navy.
Shortly after becoming HMCS Oriole she was sailed through the Panama Canal to the west coast of the country where she remained for many years. The original plan was to return to Lake Ontario and RCYC for her 100th anniversary in 2021 but Covid got in the way and it was pushed back to 2022.
I would never recommend racing up to a naval vessel in any waters under circumstances, but I got in contact with AS/Lt Ferris as the Oriole sailed from Hamilton to Toronto on a beautiful June day and shot out into Lake Ontario on my 13-foot RIB to get shots of her under sail.
I own powerboats and my sailing abilities tap out with what I learned at Harbourfront Sailing day camps in Toronto in the early 1990s, but I have love of history and all things boating so seeing a century-old ship with her 94-foot-tall mast approaching her original port was an incredible experience.
Toronto has changed a lot since the Oriole sailed away, but the ship has remained largely the same.
There are some modern upgrades like a fire door down below, fire suppression equipment on the deck and modern sailing and navigation equipment but those are there for redundancy essentially. Wherever possible, the original systems are used. It takes six people to hoist the 500-pound mainsail and three to launch the 250-pound anchor by hand, for example.
Setting foot on a 100-foot vessel is something very few people get to do. Setting foot on a 100-year old vessel is something rarer still. Combining them, along with her naval history, makes the HMCS Oriole truly special. She’s done her public appearances and tours for 2022 but keep an eye out in 2023. She’s open to the public when in port and whether you’re a history buff, an avid sailor, or just curious as to what a big boat looks like, you won’t be disappointed if you take a tour.