HMCS Ottawa recently rolled out a new morale patch rich with meaning to keep the crew’s pride and morale strong.

Sailor 1st Class (S1) Luke Wieler, the illustrator, explains the design is intentionally full of history and unique details.

“You can learn a lot with each detail. It tells a story of the ship and the crew, and encompasses characteristics such as Ottawa‘s hull number represented by three unique U-shapes on the top and four on the bottom, laid out to represent 341,” he says.

Wieler worked with David Eaglestick, an artist, to create the badge using Formline art, a traditional art form used by West Coast tribes, ranging from California to Alaska. Each tribe follows different styles while creating Formline art, but all follow a set of rules, he explains. For example, the artist has to make sure the head is one-third or half the size of the body. HMCS Ottawa’s patch follows the styles of three native tribes.

“Non-Indigenous people might think indigenous West Coast art is unplanned or simplistic. However, that is not the case. Everything in Formline is governed by a set of universal rules, and each shape or form has purpose within the art, from the object, thing or person down to the shapes to fill negative space,” S1 Wieler says.

The pair has been working on the design for over a year, drawing sketches with pencils and Paint 3D on board HMCS Ottawa.

While Wieler sketched with Eaglestick’s advice, the patch creation was a communal process as more than just the two of them were involved. They needed verbal consent from the Songhees Nation to use the art, with additional approvals from one of the chiefs at T’Sou-ke tribe. In return, Eaglestick gifted them the first of 10 prototypes of the patch.

Eaglestick says the patch even has some secret details.

“The U-shapes within the beaver’s stomach represent the four HMCS Ottawa ships, but they also represent something else. The way they are created, the four arches look very similar to hearts. These represent my four kids,” he says.

Wieler, who also has four children, agrees, saying it gives the patch “personality.”

Another interesting detail includes the two U-shapes at the top of the badge. Wieler says this detail honors the first captain of the first HMCS Ottawa, formally HMS Crusader, and 115 other sailors who died during a battle with German U-boat 91 during the Second World War.

Initially, the patch’s motto was to be in English, but was then changed to Ojibway. Eaglestick, who speaks Ojibway, explained the language is from the area where the ship’s namesake city is situated.

“Not all of us are English or French,” Eaglestick says. “We should have a truly Canadian language on the patch. Not all of us are Indigenous either, but we can all be united in this.”

The point of the patch, they both say, is uniting all people of different Indigenous nations and ethnic backgrounds across Canada.

“I personally wanted to work on it because the history and creation of this art form helps teach my kids about their culture,” Wieler said.

What’s on the patch

The Motto, “KEEWAYTINOOK OMAA”: written in the Anishinaabe Odawaa Nation language, translated from Eaglestick’s language of Ojibway as “The North Here”.

Beaver: symbol of Canada and the City of Ottawa. Among the Pacific Northwest Coastal Nations, the beaver represents creativity, creation, cooperation and harmony. Within the artist’s culture, the beaver represents wisdom because it utilizes its gifts in ways that promote wellness for itself and its family.

The Beaver’s Tail: the 15 squares within the tail represent the 15th day when the first HMCS Ottawa was commissioned on June 15, 1938.

Dogfish: the two dogfish are depicted devouring the enemy, represented through a submarine. Among the Pacific Northwest Coastal Nations, a dogfish is a symbol of persistence, strength and leadership.

The Submarine: modelled after U-91, it represents the enemy and is a stark reminder of the sailor’s duty.

The U-Shape: there are three instances of U-shapes: making up the beaver’s tail (representing the four HMCS Ottawa ships); pointing downwards (representing two feathers as physical achievement and worth); and three unique U-shapes on the top and four on the bottom (laid out to represent 341, HMCS Ottawa‘s hull number).

The Colors: white and red, the traditional West Coast Nations Formline colors and official colors of Canada. Usually, morale patches are made in gold and red, but HMCS Ottawa is named after Canada’s National Capital, and thus is given the honors of wearing the official colors of Canada.