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The HMCS William Hall unveiled in Halifax on Friday is the first Canadian military ship to be named after a black Canadian. Photo: Twitter/Anita Anand.

HMCS William Hall becomes first Canadian military ship named after a black Canadian

By Evan Taylor May 1, 2023 | 3:11 PM

The Irving Shipyard in Halifax was the site of a momentous occasion on Friday as a naming ceremony was held for Canada’s newest Arctic patrol vessel, the HMCS William Hall. The ship is the first Royal Canadian Navy vessel to be named after a Black Canadian and honours Petty Officer William Hall, who was the first Black Canadian, the first Canadian sailor, and the first Nova Scotian to earn the Victoria Cross.

At the ceremony, Defence Minister Anita Anand spoke to the gathered crowd about Hall’s bravery, perseverance, and duty. She noted that Hall was born in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in 1827, the son of former American slaves. He worked at the shipyard in Hantsport building wooden ships before joining the crew of a trading vessel at the age of 18, travelling to ports all over the world.

Petty Officer William Hall VC. Photo: Royal Canadian Navy.

Hall earned the Victoria Cross over 160 years ago while serving in the Royal Navy during the Siege of Lucknow in India. Anand praised Hall for his dedication and said the ship’s naming is a testament to his legacy.

 Relief of Lucknow, India on November 16, 1857 during the Indian Rebellion.

Then-Able Seaman Hall was serving in the frigate His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Shannon, when the ship was ordered to Calcutta, British India, as the rebellion broke out in 1857. A group of gunners, sailors and marines from HMS Shannon were formed together (the Shannon Brigade) and took part in the Relief of Lucknow.

On November 16, 1857, naval guns were brought up close to the mutineers’ fortification. Gun crews kept up a steady fire in an attempt to breach and clear the walls, while a hail of musket balls and grenades from the mutineers caused heavy casualties. Then-Able Seaman Hall and Lieutenant Thomas James Young were eventually the only survivors of the Shannon Brigade, all the rest having been killed or wounded. Between them they loaded and served the last gun, which was fired at less than 20 yards from the fortification’s wall, until it was breached.

On October 28, 1859, then-Able Seaman Hall was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallant conduct under fire during the Relief of Lucknow.

-Royal Canadian Navy Archives Exerpt on Petty Officer William Hall

The HMCS William Hall is one of six ships being used to enhance the Canadian Armed Forces’ capability and presence in the Arctic. It is capable of operating in ice 100 centimetres thick, providing the navy with unescorted access to areas of the Arctic previously inaccessible to Royal Canadian Navy ships.

The naming ceremony of the HMCS William Hall marks a significant moment in Canadian history, honouring the first Black Victoria Cross recipient and celebrating the legacy of Petty Officer William Hall.


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