EDITORIAL: Waiting to see the Unseen

Forgive us if we’re not waiting with bated breath for the re-launch of HMCS Victoria. Canada’s first operational submarine on the West Coast in more than a decade is expected to finally take to the waters this spring and begin active deployment sometime this year.

Even non-military buffs have to be impressed by the technological marvel represented by state-of-the-art submarines. The trouble is, we’re still not sure what to make of this vessel.

HMCS Victoria began life in Britain in the same year that Canadians were being introduced to the dollar coin that would come to be known as the loonie. When the submarine was laid down as the HMS Unseen in Birkenhead in 1987, Ronald Reagan was in office, the Unabomber was on the loose and The Simpsons were nothing more than a bumper between segments of The Tracy Ullman Show.

Britain gave up on this class of submarine shortly after the Cold War ended.

In 1998 Canada made a $750-million deal with the U.K. to lease-to-purchase four Upholder vessels, renaming them Victoria class. They were considered among the stealthiest submarines in the world. Powered by a diesel-electric engine and outfitted with anechoic tiles, Victoria is deserving of its motto “Expect no warning.”

Originally, HMCS Victoria was expected to be serving off the coast of Esquimalt relatively soon after arriving in Halifax in 2000.

Victoria did end up sailing to the West Coast in 2003, after undergoing repairs in Halifax to fix a dent in its hull and other systemic defects.

At the time, there was much written about how Victoria was the first submarine to patrol Canada’s West Coast since the HMCS Rainbow was decommissioned in 1974. The enthusiasm didn’t last long though as the submarine was hung up in dry dock and quickly faded from the public’s eye.

Now we’re hearing that the repairs and modernization will be completed within months. Once again, military buffs are anxious to take pride in a thoroughly rebuilt old boat.

We do hope they’re not disappointed but, based solely on the ever-expanding history of HMCS Victoria’s planned deployments, we’ll believe it when we see it.

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