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Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-père


Canada requires the building of three submarines on account of the Cold War : HMCS Onondaga, Ojibwa and Okanagan. The career of the Onondaga is mainly devoted to carrying out missions of surveillance, training and anti-submarine combat with other NATO member countries. It becomes integrated in the Maritime Forces Atlantic and its home port is Halifax. After its active career, it becomes a submarine museum accessible to the public.



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Origin of the name
Onondaga is the name of an Iroquois nation meaning « people of the hills». That nation lives in the southern part of Ontario in Canada and in the State of New York in the USA. The two other Canadian submarines, the Ojibwa and the Okanaga, also bear names of indigenous nations.

HMCS is an acronym for Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship. This prefix comes before the name of any ship belonging to the Canadian Navy.

The inscription 73 on the tower of the submarine refers to the number of the hull allocated by the Canadian Navy when it was launched. Accordingly, the Ojibwa and the Okanagan submarines bear the numbers 72 and 74 respectively.

Coat of arms
blason onondagaThese coats of arms represent the wampum of the Iroquois nation. A wampum is a highly valued ceremony bracelet among the indigenous cultures. The head of the stick represents the one that was used when the First Assembly of the Upper House of the Parliament was inaugurated in 1792 when lieutenant governor John Graves Simcoe sailed all the way to the Parliament on board a schooner named Onondaga.


The Onondaga is an Oberon class submarine. It has a diesel-electric type of propulsion which makes it particularly silent. Ships of this class are known for being the non-nuclear most efficient submarines of that era. In all 27 Oberon submarines were built for various countries, including Great-Britain, Australia, Brazil, Chile.

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Buoyancy depends on the content of the ballasts. These are the large tanks surrounding the pressure hull of the submarine that can be filled with water or air in order to affect its weight. The heavier the submarine, the lesser its buoyancy.

For the submarine to stay on the surface, the ballasts are filled with air.

In order to dive, the valves located on the top of the ballasts are opened. The air comes out at the top and the water comes in through the openings at the bottom.

When the ballasts are full of water the submarine has a neutral buoyancy. The propellers and the diving rudders are used either to go up or dive down below the surface.

To go back up to the surface compressed air is used to push out the water from the ballasts and the submarine regains positive buoyancy.

The SCHNORKEL enables the air needed for the operation of the DIESEL ENGINE to come in whereas the exhaust emissions are evacuated through the EXHAUST TUBE. These tubes cannot be used unless they go above the waterline.

The DIESEL ENGINES power the generators. They suck the fuel from the FUEL TANKS located in the ballasts.

The GENERATORS are used to recharge the BATTERIES.

The BATTERIES provide power to the ELECTRIC MOTORS.

The ELECTRIC MOTORS handle the propulsion of the submarine.


The crew of the Onondaga is made up of 70 men who need to collaborate with each other and coordinate their actions to ensure the ship’s smooth operation. Proper training and organization are needed to reach that goal. Moreover, the crew have to share a cramped environment in which intimacy is nonexistent. Keeping the spirits up and maintaining the cohesion among the crew become aspects of the utmost importance for the tasks to be completed.

Crew members








The trainees take an 8-week theoretical training that is followed by a 7-month practical training in a submarine. Those who have completed their training and passed the exam are granted their dolphin badge which confirms their qualification. In order to do so, they have to know, among other things, all the systems, all the valves and all the pipes on board the submarine.

DOLPHINS dauphin
Many countries have been using the dolphin on a badge for the qualified submariners. This tradition comes from the HMS Dolphin, a ship that was converted in a training school for British submariners from 1904 through 1999.

As of the year 2000 women have been admitted on board the submarines of the Canadian Navy. Radar Master sailor Colleen Beattie became the first woman to qualify for the post in 2005. Hence the fact that not a single woman was part of the crew of the Onondaga since its career ended in 2000.

  • Hygiene

There are but three showers on board and they are at times used for storage. As water is being rationed one uses a simple face cloth to wash up.

  • Sleep

Each submariner had his own bunk bed and all of them were spread throughout the submarine. Yet as these cramped spaces were being used by many men some submariners installed makeshift beds in the torpedo room which turns out to be the largest place on board.

  • Food

Food is good and abundant. Even though the kitchen is very small meals and snacks are cooked to meet the submariners’ appetite whatever the time of day during their shift. Meal service turns out to be the time marker in a submarine.

  • Leisure

During their free time the submariners can read, play cards listen to music, or watch movies in the rearranged front torpedo room according to the needs. The trainees also use this spare time to study to get ready for the exams.

  • Shifts

The shifts change constantly. The main goal behind this is to make sure routine doesn’t take hold which in turn might bring alertness down, needed at all times.