The newest and most advanced aircraft carrier in the U.S. navy’s fleet arrived in Halifax harbour last month. The nuclear-powered USS Gerald R. Ford is on its first deployment, having left its home port in Norfolk, Va., on Oct. 4. The warship has been described as the world’s largest aircraft carrier. It can carry more than 75 aircraft and its crew can include up to 4,500 sailors. Little do most Canadian’s know that we once had our own aircraft carrier, the HMCS Bonaventure, more affectionately known as the “Bonnie.” By contrast the Bonaventure had a compliment of 1200 sailors and carried 34 aircraft.
HMCS BONAVENTURE was originally the HMS Powerful, ordered by the British Navy, in November 1943, and built by the Belfast shipbuilding firm of Harland and Wolff and launched there on February 25, 1946. After WWII, The Royal Canadian Navy needed a replacement for HMCS MAGNIFICENT and obtained approval from the Cabinet to purchase the still-unfinished ship. Work was then resumed on her, and she was commissioned finally in the Royal Canadian Navy on January 21, 1957. The name of the carrier was taken from a small island off the Gaspé Peninsula in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, known as Ile Bonaventure.
It was while crossing the Atlantic with the First Canadian Escort Squadron to take part in a NATO exercise that, on September 23, 1962, the Bonnie and HMCS ATHABASKAN were ordered to proceed to a point 500 miles off the Irish coast. There, due to engine failure, a Super-Constellation aircraft, belonging to the American Flying Tiger Airlines, had been forced down with 76 persons aboard.
The scene of the disaster was 320 miles away. From first light on the 24th, BONAVENTURE kept her aircraft in the air, combing the surface of the ocean for signs of survivors. At noon, they intercepted the Swiss SS Celerina. At about 3:30 am, she had picked up forty-eight survivors from a raft. Four of them were severely injured and were transferred by helicopter to BONAVENTURE where they could receive medical attention.
In October 1962, at the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bonaventure and the 1st Canadian Escort Squadron took part in the crisis and were sailing through United Kingdom territorial waters in the region, as the crisis deepened.
Of a different nature was BONAVENTURE’s chief operation of 1964. In Cyprus that year, the ancient conflict between Greek and Turkish residents reached a crisis. To ensure that it did not develop into open warfare, the United Nations formed a peacekeeping force inviting Canada to contribute troops and supplies. BONAVENTURE was ordered home from Gibraltar on March 7th where she was taking part in NATO exercises. This was on March 7th, by March 30th the Bonnie was in Famagusta, Cyprus, where she proudly helped with this conflict.
HMCS BONAVENTURE remained an active and useful member of the fleet until her retirement on July 3, 1970. She was put up for sale and a broker bought her and resold her to the firm of Mitsui of Japan.