by Jerry Proc


HAIDA's motor cutter played a role in saving eight sailors on April 29, 1944, when HMCS ATHABASKAN was sunk off the coast of France. After rescuing as many ATHABASKAN's as his ship could, HAIDA's captain, Harry DeWolf, then ordered unmanned boats to be lowered into the water. He could no longer remain on the scene and risk the safety of his ship with daylight approaching quickly . Three HAIDA seamen took matters into their own hands and jumped into the motor-cutter, started the cold engine and pulled away.  After rescuing six sailors, the engine began to vibrate and sputter. It backfired a few times, sputtered, then suddenly quit altogether. While drifting helplessly and trying to restart the engine, the motor cutter picked up two more survivors.

The cantankerous engine was coaxed back to life with the assistance of a well placed hammer blow. All this, while minesweepers of the German navy were fast approaching the scene. The cutter got away but then the faced a 100 mile trip to England with a still cranky engine. Eventually the balky engine had settled down to a steady rhythm and the sound of it became sweet music to the 11 men aboard. With assistance from RAF aircraft which were searching for them,  the motor-cutter made it to England safely. In recognition of his determination in keeping the engine running, Seaman William Cummings was awarded a Mention in Despatches.

(L-R ) Able Seaman Jack Hannam, Leading Seaman William Maclure and  Stoker William Cummings arrive safely in Penzance, England (Land's End) after the exhausting trip through the English Channel. (Photo courtesy Unlucky Lady) 

When HMCS HAIDA was berthed at Ontario Place in Toronto, her  motor cutter had been restored around 1990 by a firm of shipwrights in Ajax Ontario who specialize  in the restoration of classic wooden boats. Costs were around $35,000 for the work.  This exact cutter type was not original to HAIDA but a later variant.

It was made watertight but not intended to be exhibited on the water for there was concern that further deterioration would set in. Plans were in motion to display the motor cutter  in a climate-controlled display case so that it would remain in pristine condition and also feature a story about the cross-channel voyage including interviews with the participants. Funding for the showcase failed to materialize so the boat was exhibited as an outdoor static display under a protective canopy.  At the end of each season, Ontario Place maintenance personnel erected a plastic barrier around the artifact to protect it from the elements during the winter months. This was insufficient protection so dry rot gradually set in over the next 12 years until Parks Canada took over stewardship of HAIDA.

After HAIDA was moved to Hamilton, the cutter was placed into covered storage until some way could be found to properly exhibit the craft. Enter the Hamilton Port Authority. As a result of their generosity and the direction of  Keith Robson, the motor cutter was restored to a seaworthy condition and launched into Hamilton Harbour.  It will be displayed on the water below Haida's starboard davits during the summer months. What a fitting way to exhibit the craft - in its native habitat. In the navy, the motor cutter was also referred to as a workboat. Workboats  ferried goods and people when at a ship was at anchor.

Port Authority staff spent seven months restoring the 1945-built cutter. The bulk of the work consisted of replacing the keel and eight hull planks which had rotted over the years, rebuilding the top end of the ancient Red Wing Thorobred marine engine and applying seven gallons of battleship-gray paint on the finished job.

The Hamilton Spectator reported that the direct costs of the restoration were around $50,000 but if one factors in "soft" contributions, the figure would be closer to $89,000. A round of congratulations is extended to the Hamilton Port Authority for their generosity in making this restoration a complete success.

On Tuesday, August 14th 2007, Parks Canada in conjunction with the Hamilton Port Authority  had a dedication ceremony at 13:00 hours to celebrate the completion of this restoration project and to acknowledge the dedication and determination  of the people involved. After being launched at Pier 8 Hamilton Harbour, the restored boat puttered up to the jetty in front of HAIDA where one of the destroyer's forward guns fired three blank rounds in salute.

Here, the cutter is alongside the boat floats at HMCS STAR. HAIDA's Shipkeeper, Jim Brewer looks on while Stoker Marg Mathers (partially in view) makes some final engine checks.   (Photo by Gail Bell)
Looking aft over top the fuel tank and engine casing. Although the 4 cylinder engine has a casing, it's still somewhat loud and probably made louder because of the wooden canopies.   (Photo by Neil Bell)
Engine instrument and control panel. The original bilge pump is still functional but is supplemented by an electric unit which has two intakes. To avoid an extra hole in the hull, the electric unit exhausts the water near the original egress point using a 'T' connector. (Photo by Neil Bell)
Lighting control panel. (Photo by Jerry Proc)
The White Ensign flies proudly.   (Photo by Neil Bell)
Aug 29/2007:  Looking east on Hamilton Bay with Jim Brewer at the tiller. In the background, at the top of the flag, is the largest of Heddle Marine's floating drydocks. (Photo by Jerry Proc)
This was the normal berth for the cutter at night and during high winds until it was moved to its permanent home in the Gift Shop Museum . (Photo by Jerry Proc)


Construction: Clinker built - a method of ship building in which the side planks overlap along their edges.
Length: 25 feet as noted on the transom below . 27 feet per BRCN 3029)
Engine: Red Wing Thorobred, 4 cylinder diesel
Top Speed: 5-6 knots
Vintage: The above example was built in 1945.

These are the markings cut into the transom. At the top is the boat's length. Someone has put a bolt through it at some point in time. The arrow in the date is a Pusser's Arrow. The bottom number might be the boat's pattern number. 

Buster Brown explains the Pusser's Arrow engraved in the transom. "The "Pusser's Arrow" which was an indicator (and perhaps still is) that it was British Government issue. Along with a lot of RN pusser's stores, we even had an arrow sewn in by the manufacturer on the toes of steaming boots and shoes so as not to be substituted for parade boots and shoes. This would also make them easily identifiable as being scoffed from Pusser's Stores by those not entitled such as dockyard maties and civvies alike. On a wider scope, boxes, barrels, guns, torpedoes, general equipment and the like also sported "the Arrow".

Motor cutters were never attached to ship for much more than a year. On an annual basis, they were traded out and the old one would be sent to the boat shed for a check up and any repairs that might be required.


During the remainder of the 2007 season, the motor cutter was sailed in Hamilton Bay whenever the occassion arose and when not in use, the boat was moored alongside HAIDA or at HMCS Star docks. After pulling the boat out of the water for winter storage at the end of the season, it was noticed that the planking under the engine started to buckle and warp from the weight of the engine. Rather than risk the loss of this rare artifact by sinking,  it was decided to keep the boat in storage for the 2008 season until some other plan was devised for its destiny.

In June of 2009, it was decided to build an addition to the existing Gift Shop to house the motor cutter as a major exhibit. From start to finish, the project was undertaken and supervised by Friends of HAIDA with cooperation and support from Parks Canada.  In addition, Jim DeWolf  made a $15,000 contribution towards the project which came from a trust fund set up by his father Harry DeWolf (HAIDA's first captain) who wanted a contribution to be made to the ship. The entire donation was applied towards excavation, the foundation and painting. This resulted in a building which is the property of Friends of HAIDA but Parks paid for some of the materials.  The  joint project also resulted in a new office for Friends of HAIDA.

After the footings were poured by a commercial contractor, students from high schools administered by the Hamilton-Wentworth District school board started the framing on September 22 and the structure was completed on November 4, 2009. Framing of all floors, walls and roof, electrical wiring, insulation, roofing, drywall, trim, and exterior landings and ramps was performed by the student crew. All work was supervised by two teachers - Paul Cheesman and Mike Marino.

The beginnings of the boat house as seen on September 5, 2009. 
The completed 36' x 18' boat house as seen in April 2010. (Photo by Neil Bell)
Prince Charles and his entourage are just arriving on site. A short time later, he would dedicate the exhibit. (Photo by Dori Proc) 
Now the motor cutter will be protected from the elements.
Visitors admire the beautiful workmanship of the 2007 restoration.
In 2010, the boathouse was renamed to The DeWolf Pavillion. (Photo by Neil Bell) 
Dedication plaque
Unless otherwise noted, all photos in this table by Jerry Proc
“Building Careers From the Ground Up” is program  developed by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. It is offered to all 18 of the high schools through an application process. The program is based out of Saltfleet District High School in Stoney Creek, Ontario and the following students participated in the construction of the boat house.
Bramer, Wesley Westmount Haskins, Ryan Delta Samson, Brad Saltfleet
Carey, Tom Westmount Iarusso, Jeff Westmount Stewart, Brandon Hill Park
Clappison, Alex Hill Park Kelly, Ryan  Highland Tav, Sophal  Glendale
Duffin, Stephanie SJAM Maloney, Sadie Delta Vida-Moore, Charlie SJAM
Fountain, Ryan Saltfleet Maxwell, Dillon  Ancaster Wood, Scott  Saltfleet
Gibson, Chris  Westmount Pawluk, Mike Saltfleet    
Godin, Danielle O.P. Penton, Julian  Ancaster    
Green, Mackenzie Churchill Rattray, Dillon Churchill    
Harris, Mike Westmount Ross, Josh  Hill Park    
When Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited HMCS HAIDA on November 5, 2009 they dedicated the motor cutter exhibit. As the Prince walked up the ramp, HRH took the time to speak to each of the teachers and students and to offer congratulations. For both teachers and students, this was a very proud moment and one not soon forgotten.

Now that the boat is away from the elements, it will be preserved for future generations of Canadians to see.

The cover of the pamphlet which provides background material on the motor cutter and reissued for the November 5th event. (Courtesy Parks Canada)

Additional Credits and References:

1) Hamilton Spectator Article "Haida Shipshape Now That Cutter Is Back" by John Burman.  August 15, 2007
2) R. John Dolbec, Chief Executive Officer, Hamilton Chamber of Commerce
3) Jim Brewer <snack.235(at)>
4) Unlucky Lady - The Life and Death of HMCS Athabaskan. Len Burrow and Emile Beaudoin. Canada's Wings Inc. Stittsville, Ont. 1982.
5) Robert Willson <rawillson(at)>
6) Paul Cheeseman <paul.cheeseman(at)> Teacher- Specialist High Skills Major Programs-
Construction / Green Industries, Saltfleet District High School, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board
7) Michael Marino <michael.marino(at)
8) Dori Proc <doriproc(at)>
9) D.H. "Buster" Brown <retsubmarine(at)>
10) Neil S. Bell <rcnr(at)>

Original Aug 30/07
Last revised Apr 27/10

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