Cats have been taken on ships for centuries. One of the main reasons was so they could hunt mice and rats, which were responsible for damages, devouring food supplies and spreading diseases. Besides serving on ships as rodent control officers, they also offered companionship to sailors who were away from home for long periods of time.
This Canadian cat just retired and celebrated his retirement with a huge party, also served as rodent control officer but instead of being a companion to the sailors, he was working with the museum staff and visitors of the CSS Acadia, which is no longer in service.
READ MORE: CULTURAL CAT ICON TAMA MOURNED BY THOUSANDS
This ship, whose initials stand for Canadian Scientific (or Survey) Ship, was the first vessel built to survey Canada’s northern waters and the only surviving ship that served the Royal Canadian Navy for both world wars. It retired in 1969 and since 1982 it became part of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic’s collection. It has been parked in the wharf behind it.
According to the museum, “Throughout her new career, Acadia has continued one of the sea’s great shipboard traditions, that of keeping a faithful ship’s cat. Since 1982, Acadia has been home to four rodent control officers.” There was Nannie, the black tabby who gave birth to a litter of kittens aboard the ship; Bertram Q Bilgewater, who lost a fight to a sudden illness; Clara, the friendly black and white cat who served until 2010 as Senior Control Officer; and Erik who retired at the end of September.
One day, back in 2000, Erik followed Steve Read, the ship-keeper, and took the role of Junior Control Officer until Clara passed away. It is thought that back then he was around 3 years old. For 15 years he worked on the ship, until about a month ago. During all those years he made many friends from all over the world. He greeted visitors, walked with people to their work, sat on their lap on benches nearby and got many treats in return. He also frequented many businesses on the Halifax waterfront. Erik was truly all over the place.
That’s why his farewell party was so successful and popular. The museum created an event to commemorate Erik’s popularity— there was sidewalk art with the artist Ian Keith Murray, a reading by Ruth Wells who wrote a book years ago which featured a section that mentioned Erik, a guestbook to sign and a really cool cake. They even created a hotline for people to share their stories about Erik.
According to Ian Mullan, from Visitor Events and Services of the Maritime Museum, “rather than have some epic adventures, it was the simple moments that people appreciated the most. […] Although one thing that many people did say is that when they moved to Halifax for University and were away from home for the first time, they missed their cat at their parent’s place and Erik served them as a cat away from home.”
In a way, Erik was everybody’s cat. It was often that people thought he was lost or a stray cat since he wandered around so much. He even had a collar that said, “put me down, I know where I live,” to try to avoid that issue. Last year his collar fell off and they even had to paste some signs to find him, but it was thanks to Steve Read who recognized his meow over the phone that Erik was returned safely.
He’s now enjoying his last years in a warmer place, remembered and cherished by many who will keep him in their hearts even if they only enjoyed his company once.
“Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.”
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)