Ottawa, Ontario, October 19, 2016 — The Canadian War Museum has acquired one of the few surviving artifacts from one of Canada’s first two warships, HMCS Niobe — the historic ship’s wheel. HMCS Niobe saw active service in the First World War and its crew members played a significant role in responding to the 1917 Halifax Explosion.
“HMCS Niobe represents the beginning of Canada’s navy, and it played a crucial role in its development,” said Stephen Quick, Director General of the Canadian War Museum. “In addition to being a rare and visually striking artifact, the wheel is a tangible reminder of Niobe’s place in Canadian naval history.”
Launched in 1897, Niobe served with the Royal Navy until 1910. That year, it was purchased by the newly formed Naval Service of Canada, which became the Royal Canadian Navy in 1911. Niobe arrived in Halifax on October 21, 1910, making it the first Canadian warship to enter Canada’s territorial waters. Niobe was the main sovereignty patrol and training vessel on the East Coast before seeing active service early in the First World War. By 1915, requiring extensive repairs, it became a depot ship in Halifax.
On December 6, 1917, the Mont Blanc, carrying a cargo of explosives, collided with the Imo in the Halifax Harbour. When a fire broke out on the Mont Blanc, Niobe’s Acting Boatswain Albert Charles Mattison led a rescue attempt of six men in the ship’s pinnace, a small steamboat. As the men approached the Mont Blanc, it exploded, killing them instantly, destroying the pinnace, damaging the Niobe and devastating much of Halifax. For their rescue efforts during the explosion, Mattison and Stoker Petty Officer Ernest Edmund Beard were posthumously awarded Albert Medals, both of which are also part of the War Museum collection.
Following repairs, Niobe resumed its duties as a depot ship but was sold as surplus after the war and scrapped in the United States in 1920. The wheel was displayed at the Merchantville Country Club before being donated to the Camden Shipyard & Maritime Museum.