By Norman Galimski, Prince Rupert Northern View, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Editor’s note: Coast Guard 509 Cortes Island, in Cortes Bay, has been in operation close to 50 years and is one of four B.C. stations opened for summer duty. The other three are Coast Guard 508 Sointula; Coast Guard 501 Victoria; and Coast Guard 507 Nootka.
Today, Jan. 26, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) has sailed from coast to coast to coast for 60 years.
“To me, working for the coast guard is about helping people save lives, protecting the environment [and] making a difference for Canadians,” Ashley Wilson, officer in charge at the Prince Rupert Coast Guard base, said.
“Many of my colleagues share in the pride in what they do everyday to help people and protect our waters,” Wilson said.
Though what we know now as the Canadian Coast Guard was created in 1962, its history goes much further back all the way to 1868, one year after Confederation, when the Department of Marine and Fisheries was founded, Derek Moss, Canadian Coast Guard assistant commissioner for the western region, told The Northern View.
It was responsible for all marine affairs including search and rescue, aiding navigation, buoys, lighthouses and more, Moss said. It was only when the Ministry of Transportation took over jurisdiction of the coast guard in 1962 that the current service with the iconic red ships and white stripe, came into existence.
In Prince Rupert, the first buildings of the CCG Seal Cove Base were established in 1965 then in 1981 the coast guard radio station moved to Seal Cove where it presently operates as a Marine Traffic Control Station. However, the coast guard radio’s (today’s Marine Communications and Traffic Services) first began operations on Digby Island in 1910, Michelle Imbeau, CCG communications advisor, said.
At the Prince Rupert Coast Guard base, more than 75 staff work in an array of functions from officers, to riggers, engineers, electricians, technicians, pilots and more, Wilson said.
Jeffery MacDonald, captain of the search and rescue vessel McIntyre Bay, which patrols the waters in and around Prince Rupert, has been in the coast guard for more than 20 years.
“What 60 means for me is the coast guard is well established. It’s not going anywhere, and it has been the best career I could ever choose,” MacDonald said. “We’re proud Canadians doing the best we can to serve the general public the best way we can.”
The coast guard has no cookie cutter approach to who joins its ranks, Moss said.
“We take a whole bunch of different people and a whole bunch of different skill sets,” he said.
There are those who join through the Coast Guard College in Sydney, Nova Scotia, others are former mariners and many staff are based on land supporting vessels as engineers or working to protect the natural state of waterways in environment response teams. The organization employs more than 6,100 staff nation-wide.
“They’re your next door neighbour,” MacDonald said. “We come from all different walks of life.”
Those who join the coast guard are driven, dedicated and mission-focused individuals, Wilson said.
“The coast guard is really good at getting the job done and overcoming some incredible obstacles to get there. We’re not going out to help people, typically, when it’s nice and calm outside. Sometimes, it’s the worst storms that we have to go out in and attempt to help people,” Wilson said.
“It takes a lot of courage for those people to put their lives in danger , just like any other emergency services, in order to help those in need,” the officer in charge said.
Though the coast guard is the lead department on the water, it’s not alone.
It focuses on building more and better bridges with First Nations communities to better serve people, Moss said.
“The partnership across First Nations communities with the coast guard is increasing. We train together, we build our skills together — we learn a lot from our First Nations friends,” he said.
The CCG also works alongside other search and rescue operations, law enforcement and different levels of government to complete their various missions whether it be rescue, environmental, fisheries or border services.
The service currently has 123 ships, 23 helicopters and manages 183 marine communications towers as well as 17,000 floating or fixed navigational aids.
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