The ocean has been a big part of Yvon Lehoux’s life. He spent 30 years in the Royal Canadian Navy. After he retired, he couldn’t shake his love for the seven seas.
“The sea is in my blood,” Lehoux said. “It became part of my identity.”
But after retiring to Cloverdale several years ago, Lehoux became restless. He had several different hobbies over the years, but nothing touched his heart. Then one day, he walked into a hobby shop and saw a shipbuilding kit. The connection to the sea and his former career was there, so he was intrigued. It wasn’t your average kit though; it was a massive replica of the famous HMS Victory—the flagship of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar.
“It took me about 1,500 hours to build this guy,” recalled Lehoux as he looked at the Victory in a display case. “As you can see, the rigging is quite intricate. All of the ropes have to be placed one-by-one. It was a lot of fun building it and once I completed it, I thought, ‘Wow! I couldn’t believe I did that.’”
It was a terrific challenge for Lehoux, but after some initial hurdles, and a lengthy break after the first 750 hours of work, he was hooked. He went on the Internet to search for another big ship to build. After going down a few cyber rabbit holes, Lehoux was gobsmacked to come across the name of an obscure Second World War Canadian frigate.
“I found a picture of a ship called the Thetford Mines,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was in total shock that there was an actual ship called the Thetford Mines.”
Lehoux was in shock because he was born and raised in Thetford Mines, Que., and fancies himself a bit of a naval history buff, but he’d never heard of the HMCS Thetford Mines before.
The ship was a river-class frigate that saw action for the Royal Canadian Navy in WWII from November 1944 until the end of the war.
So Lehoux called all of his aunts and uncles and all his siblings that still live in Thetford Mines, but not one of them had heard of the river-class frigate. He even called a local politician.
“Nobody knew. No one had a clue about it. Even the mayor didn’t know.”
Lehoux had found his next project. He wouldn’t find a kit for the ship on the Internet, of course, so he decided to build it himself. But he wasn’t just going to make a simple replica, he wanted to build it exactly like it was built, from the hull up.
So, he contacted the Naval Museum of Halifax and requested the ship’s blueprints, which are not classified, he said, although you do not get details on guns and armaments for ships still in service. Then he set to work cutting all the little pieces he needed to build the wooden replica—each intricate detail brought to life from the blueprints and reproduced to scale—from the hull and decks, right down to bells, benches, railings, lights, and depth charges.
His only goal was to gift the 1:70 scale HMCS Thetford Mines (K459) to the city of Thetford Mines. Completed in July, 2022, it took Lehoux about 700 hours to craft.
“I wanted to raise awareness about the ship that was named for my hometown,” he said.
After finishing the river-class frigate, Lehoux contacted the current mayor of the Thetford Mines to gift the ship to the city. The mayor then offered to display it in the foyer at city hall for two years, after which it will go on permanent display at the local museum.
“Once the ship is on display, it will educate not only the current generation of people about the ship, but also generations to come.”
Lehoux plans to drive the Thetford Mines out to Quebec this summer.
“I kid you not, I impressed the hell out of myself when I completed it,” Lehoux said with a laugh. “It was very difficult to build, and I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I’ve always worked with my hands, so I thought, ‘why not try?’”
After finishing the Thetford Mines, Lehoux went to work on a model of the HMCS Skeena (DDH 207), the first ship he served on in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1975. He got the plans from the museum again and built the Skeena in about 650 hours.
Next up, Lehoux plans to build two ships at once: two versions of the Algonquin, the HMCS Algonquin (R17) and the HMCS Algonquin (DDG 283)—the “DDG 283” being the last ship he served on before retiring from the navy. After that, he plans to build the HMCS Yukon (DDE 263), another ship he served on.
“When I’m building these ships, it takes me back to my time in the navy,” he said. “It brings back so many memories.”
He said he knows the ships so well, it’s like stepping back in time.
“For me, the most interesting part is that you take a blueprint and you bring it to life,” he said. “There is exhilaration in that and a sense of accomplishment. I’ve discovered some talents I never knew I had.”
Lehoux said he’s open to building any ships and will take any orders.
“Some people appreciate the artistic quality of models like these and some appreciate the sentimental value, as loved ones may have served in the navy on different ships and the models become family heirlooms,” Lehoux explained.
Lehoux said if anyone wants to commission a ship, he can be contacted through the Cloverdale Legion, Branch 6.