By Karla Kelly FOR THE DIGBY COURIER NovaNewsNow.com
Although Weymouth was an ocean away from the conflict in Europe during the Second World War, Nova Scotia was on the front lines of the Battle of the Atlantic and the village played its part building Fairmiles to patrol the coastline.
A dedication ceremony was held at Sissiboo Landing on Monday to honor the role of these ‘little ships’ or submarine chasers that were built in Weymouth during the war.
Rod LeFort, chairman of the Weymouth Waterfront Development Committee, welcomed the nearly 30 guests on hand for the ceremony. Among those attending the ceremony were Clare Digby MLA Gordon Wilson, municipal warden Linda Gregory, and municipal councillor George Manzer.
LeFort said one of the roles of the Waterfront Development Committee was to develop and maintain the cultural and heritage aspects of the village of Weymouth and surrounding area and recognizing this historical aspect is part of the mandate.
“The Fairmiles interpretive panel recognizes the importance this wartime project had on the village,” LeFort said. “Over 100 men worked to build the wooden Fairmiles at John H. LeBlanc Shipbuilding during this time and it was a boom to the local economy.”
Guest speaker for the evening was Gary Gaudet, an historian and secretary of the Wartime Heritage Association.
Gaudet said Weymouth was the only Atlantic Canadian community to be chosen for this project with seven boats being constructed here for the Royal Canadian Navy and eight for the Royal Navy. The latter eight were transferred to Boston for use by the U.S. Navy.
“These boats played an important role on the Atlantic side during the war,” said Gaudet. “Among their duties these boats served as convoy escorts, minesweepers and patrol boats up and down the Atlantic coastal waters of Canada and the United States as well as the Gulf of St. Lawrence.”
Gaudet said German submarines were a real threat along the Atlantic coast, penetrating the Bay of Fundy and St. Mary’s Bay.
“A flotilla consisting of six Fairmiles was based in Shelburne and these boats were on daily patrol and convoy duty,” he said. “These boats did come in contact with U-boats, two Weymouth built boats being involved in the surrender of German U-Boats and completed minesweeping activities.”
Although constructing the Fairmiles and having them in service during the war was vital to the cause, Gaudet emphasized the men who built the ships and those who sailed them.
“It’s about the men who went out in these small warships everyday not knowing what would happen by the end of the day,” he said. “These sailors and the 100 men who were hired to build the ships in Weymouth made a huge contribution and definitely served their country in this manner.”
The 15 Weymouth-built Fairmiles along with the other Canadian submarine chasers were sold after the war ended, with a few remaining in use today.
Reference was made to the Fairmile model on display at the Sissiboo Landing built by and donated to the Cultural Center by Second World War air force veteran and model boat builder Ronald Gaudet of Westport.
Due to inclement weather the ceremony was held inside at the Landing but the interpretive panel is in place facing the area across the Sissiboo River where LeBlanc’s Shipbuilding once stood.