A small brass bell with great historical significance is making its way to the Waskesiu Heritage Museum this weekend.
The bell is from the HMCS Waskesiu — the talk of the town during World War II, when the frigate played an important role in the battle against the axis powers.
The frigate was built in Victoria, and made its way across the Panama Canal and back up north, where it was based in Halifax.
The Prince Albert community adopted the ship during the war, with citizens raising money for its various needs. With the name Prince Albert already chosen for a ship in the British Royal Navy, the name Waskesiu was adopted, after the town site in Prince Albert National Park.
“They were all 19-year-olds in those days, joined the ship. They had no clue where Waskesiu was,” Waskesiu Heritage Museum president Don Ravis said. “Some were from Saskatchewan, but that didn’t matter.”
The frigate’s crowning achievement was its sinking of a German submarine in the North Atlantic in February of 1944.
According to a letter from Prime Minister Mackenzie King to Prince Albert Mayor George Brock, the U-boat “was attempting to attack a valuable convoy.”
The U-boat’s 19 survivors became prisoners of war — though, according to a Prince Albert Daily Herald article at the time, they got along well with the Canadian crew.
That is, except for one prisoner, described as a “rabid Nazi” who kept repeating “England kaput.”
“When the war was over, the ship was decommissioned and they went to all their respective homes around the country,” Ravis said of the heroic crew.
“Fortunately, the bell was salvaged. The ship was sent to India … Chances are, it’s into razorblades now, but we haven’t been able to track that down.”
I’m really excited to share with them the fact that the bell is coming to Waskesiu for the summer months. - Waskesiu Heritage Museum president Don Ravis
All that remains now is the ship’s bell — one of its most sacred items, Ravis noted.
“Way back in the days of sail, nobody had a watch,” he explained.
“When they went on a four-hour watch, they’d ring one bell for the first half-hour, two bells for the next half hour, and so on, so that at eight bells you’d know your four-hour watch is over.
“The bell is still used onboard on ships for ceremonial purposes, like raising the flag in the morning.”
The Prince Albert Historical Society has had the bell on display at their Historical Museum since 2000. It’s being loaned to the Waskesiu Heritage Museum for the summer months, during which time the tourist town balloons in population.
“I’m really excited to share with them the fact that the bell is coming to Waskesiu for the summer months,” Ravis said.
This partnership between museums is new for the Prince Albert Historical Society, curator Michelle Taylor said, and is one they hope to strengthen in the future.
“It promotes good relationships within the museum community,” she said.
“The wider community can hear these stories and experience the ringing of the bell,” Prince Albert Historical Society president Deb Honch said.
“It’s important to us and we’re just really excited about this first venture and we expect that we’ll be working together far more in the future.”