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That time a minesweeper was almost named 'The Soo'

The HMCS Sault Ste. Marie served as a minesweeper in WWII but was almost call 'The Soo'. City Council under Mayor W. J. McMeeken convinced the powers that be to go with Sault Ste. Marie instead

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library: 

To have something named after you is a great honour and the city of Sault Ste. Marie was bestowed a namesake during the Second World War in the form of a naval ship. It was originally to be named “The Soo” but was re-named the HMCS Sault Ste. Marie after displeasure was expressed by the city.

The HMCS Sault Ste. Marie served as a minesweeper during the Second World War and escorted Allied supply ships on the North Atlantic. The ship played an important role in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Commissioned at Port Arthur on June 24 1943, this was the first of twelve Algerine class ships. With a crew of 107 and a top speed of 16 knots, the vessel was also equipped for battle with one 4-inch gun, eight 20 mm guns, one Hedgehog mortar and depth charges.

Mayor W. J. McMeeken and his wife made the journey to Port Arthur for the christening of the ship to break the ceremonial bottle of champagne over the bow, and it was a huge community event when the boat arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, on its way to begin its duties. Thousands showed up to greet the ship on June 28 1943 and schoolchildren were given time off from school to attend.

The public was even offered the opportunity to tour the ship once the official ceremonies were complete. The stopover did not go off without a hitch however - there was a thick fog to navigate from Port Arthur and wind made it difficult to dock. Morley Torgov, in an article in the Sault Star, noted that “the minutes leading up to the final mooring of the vessel found the impatient spectators complaining about the cold wind, or women trying to keep their hair in place, or would-be navigators suggesting ways for the ship to enter the harbour. If some of the ideas had been used, the ship would probably not be afloat today.”

Mr. Torgov also reported that the majority of the men on the ship agreed that the Soo was “well stocked with les belles filles.” The showering of gifts that were received – everything from electric washing machines, an Edison Victrola and records, boxing gloves, and leather jackets for the crew also undoubtedly impressed the seamen.

After the stopover in its namesake city, the HMCS Sault Ste. Marie proceeded to Halifax and then Bermuda for training to prepare for deployment. The boat then returned and joined Escort Group W – 9 of Western Escort Force as the senior officer’s ship until mid-April of 1945. The vessel was then changed to Senior Officer of W-7 until June when the group was demobilized.

After the war, the ship was used for many things, one of which was as a reserve training ship and spent the summers of 1956 through 1958 on the Great Lakes conducting training. During this time, the Sault Star reported that the ship had to relinquish their mascot “Susie” – a six-week old lion cub. The cub had been a gift from the Chamber of Commerce in Michigan City, Indiana. She was now headed to the Riverdale Zoo in Toronto, as she was too “unsociable” on the ship. According to the Sault Star, at “about twice the size of a house cat, Susie played no favourites. She hated everybody.”

On Friday August 3 1956, the HMCS Sault Ste. Marie visited the Sault for the first time since the war. The visit was cut short however when they were called into service to search for a missing CF-100 jet missing over Lake Huron.

In February of 1974, there was interest in the city bringing the warship home for its retirement. It had been noticed that the vessel had been de-commissioned and was up for disposal. Mayor Irwin and Alderman Marsh Barsanti had brought forth the idea of having the ship moored at Bellevue Park near Topsail Island and the Marine Museum to attract tourists. These hopes were dashed in July of 1974 when representatives from the city travelled to Nova Scotia to view the ship in person. The plan was not to be as the “Sweet Sue” had already been stripped. According to one of the delegates, “there’s nothing left of her hardly. Her propellers are gone and her power. She’s headed for the scrapyard.”

Although not the most dignified end for our city’s namesake, the HMCS Sault Ste. Marie lives on in historical memory for its contribution to the war effort.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provide SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more "Remember This?" columns here.

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