Commanding Training, Leadership & Teamwork

June 2017

HMCS Griffon, established in 1937, is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2017.

HMCS Griffon began as the Port Arthur Division of the Royal Canadian Naval Voluntary Reserve (RCNVR) in June of 1937. The Lake Superior Regiment, then housed in the Port Arthur Armoury allocated 3 rooms to the RCNVR and the Division operated out of these three rooms until April 1940, when they moved to 232 Cooke Street. In 1944 they moved to their current location at 125 N. Algoma Street, with the official opening taking place on August 14, 1944. Two new buildings were erected on the property at an estimated cost of $150,000 at the time. To build those buildings today would be over two million dollars. 

The current location at 125 Algoma Street North had originally belonged to the Whalen family, who then sold it in 1938 to the sisters of St. Joseph until being acquired by the Canadian government as the new home of HMCS Griffon. HMCS Griffon recruited and trained over 2400 members of the RCN during the Second World War. The original Whalen house still stands on the property. While a few changes have been made to keep up with the times, such as updating heating and wiring, the house has purposely been kept as it was in 1944, and now serves as administration offices for the ship’s company.

When first established in 1937, the Port Arthur Division was one of a group of reserve divisions referred to as ‘stone frigates’, a term assigned to naval shore establishments. In November 1941, the Port Arthur Division, along with other stone frigates across Canada was commissioned as a land-based ship and since then has been known as Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Griffon. Naval tradition dictates that only commissioned ships can use the ‘HMCS’ designation. 

HMCS Griffon was named for the first large ship to sail the upper Great Lakes. Vessel Le Griffon was built on the Niagara River by French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Sadly, her maiden voyage was also her last. Le Griffon sank on Lake Erie while returning from what is now known as Green Bay, Michigan.

The ship’s badge depicts a griffin (a Greek mythological creature), to honour her namesake, and the colours of the badge, a blue background with gold fleurs-de-lis scattered in the field pays homage to La Salle’s French heritage.

Today, HMCS Griffon is one of 24 naval reserve units in Canada, dedicated to training personnel to answer the call to serve if needed. Upon taking over command in October 2016, Lt. Cdr. Robert Cooke made it his goal to increase recruitment locally. At that time, the unit had 55 members, and Lt.Cdr. Cooke would like to double that number during his command. Currently there are 60 active members serving in the unit.

“The goals for Griffon going forward can be summed up with the three R’s-Readiness, Retention and Recruiting. Griffon has lots of room to grow in many of our occupations which focus on Seamanship, Navigation, Communications, Operations, Intelligence, Maritime Engineering, Food Services, Logistics, Administration and Finance, says Cooke. HMCS Griffon is open for recruiting year round. 

Lt. Cdr Cooke is especially enthusiastic about partnering with the Lakehead and Catholic school boards to offer a co-operative education program to high school students. “The Naval Co-Op exposes students to what the Naval Reserve has to offer, and is the first step to a secondary career that can complement their primary civilian careers”, explains Cooke.

Ordinary Seaman Vincent Oskineegish, a participant in the Co-Op program echoes Cooke’s sentiments. “At a young age, the Naval Reserve Co-Op provides many opportunities for me to grow and explore. It has opened a new door for a possible career with the Canadian Armed Forces and if not it has expanded my knowledge to assist me in my civilian life.”

Students who participate and successfully complete their Co-Op are awarded a bursary from Confederation College, as well as being eligible for a tuition support program for a post-secondary student in the Naval Reserve (up to $2000 a year for up to four years). In addition, students receive trade and technical training, and acquire leadership and teamwork skills that provide them with a firm foundation for future success. “Co-Ops also provide opportunities to make friends, go to sea, travel and serve Canada at home and abroad”, adds Cooke.

As with any milestone, Griffon does not plan to let this occasion go by without celebrating. Festivities are planned for the weekend of October 20th, with most of the events taking place on Saturday,

Oct 21, 2017. Since 2017 is also the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Anchorage at Prince Arthur’s Landing, one of the featured events will be a special commemorative service at the Anchorage. A cocktail reception will take place that evening on the drill deck at Griffon.

Organizers will be using social media to draw as many former members of the Griffon’s Ship’s Company to attend.

Check their Facebook page (HMCS NCSM Griffon) or contact HMCS Griffon at 343-5200 for more information and updates as the plans are finalized.

Kathy Shilliday is a regular contributor and a hawk eye for stories to share. She can be reached at

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