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lives lived

Donald Hope: Naval officer. Diver. Bomb expert. Father. Born Nov. 6. 1927, in Victoria, BC.; died Sept. 30, 2021, in Victoria, of cancer; aged 94.

Donald Hope.Courtesy of family

Don grew up in Victoria and his taste for exploration started young with his cousins playing along the river in Sooke, B.C. In his teens, Don found an old army gas mask. He built a raft, attached a hose to the mask and jumped into a lake while grasping a large rock. During the descent, water pressure broke the glass on his face. Don released the rock and shot to the surface where he smashed his head against the raft. Don survived this experiment and his curiosity about diving continued to grow.

Don attended University School in Victoria, he graduated in 1943 and joined the Merchant Navy. Later, following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy. Don was one of the early members of the Fleet Diving Unit and trained in bomb disposal and demolition. Don once told a story of disarming an underwater mine where an inner fuse was linked to a timing mechanism. The only way to demobilize it was to hit the mine with a hammer, activate the timer then hit it again to reset it. This was repeated until the timer’s battery ran out. Don and another diver took turns, surfacing to change air tanks before returning to continue hammering the mine.

Don approached the mine like many of life’s concerns, with patience and persistence. Disarming bombs, he once said, was “safe as long as you thought it was dangerous and dangerous when you thought it was safe.” He applied this philosophy to a lot of things. While talking on the phone once, a wasp flew into his pant leg. “Please excuse me for a moment,” he said calmly, “a wasp has flown up my pants.”

He survived both bombs and wasps over the years. In February, 1970, the S.S. Arrow, an oil tanker, ran aground spilling oil and threatening the shoreline of Cape Breton Island. Don helped lead the recovery to pump millions of litres of oil from the submerged ship. The oil slick divers were called “the Dirty Dozen,” and Don was awarded the Order of Military Merit.

While stationed in Halifax, Don met Laura Black, a young navy nurse. They married in 1967 and lived in Dartmouth, across the bridge from the naval base. They had two children, Janice and David.

In the winter, Don built snow forts for the children so they could play in their own winter wonderland. The family moved West when Don was stationed in Victoria. Gerbils followed by hamsters joined the household. One day, David brought home a stray dog named Cookie. Don took it all in stride, especially when he found out Cookie was expecting puppies and the household grew again.

After 41 years of naval service, Don retired and became an active member of Victoria’s Thermopylae Club at the Maritime Museum. In his mid-70s, he welcomed two grandchildren, Matthew and Jocelyn. Granddad’s grilled-cheese sandwiches were their favourite. He enjoyed their visits, often retreating to the basement to return with an old book or family artifact to share. In his early 80s he bought a bicycle to pedal alongside Matthew, who had just learned to ride.

Over the past few years Don suffered a series of small strokes while also being diagnosed with cancer. He was eventually moved to Veteran’s Memorial Lodge where Laura, his wife of 54 years, joined him a few months later.

This kind, thoughtful and patient man will be missed by his family and all who knew him. Even the birds: Don enjoyed morning walks in Uplands Park and would pick an apple from the back garden to eat on the way. A seagull often followed him, eagerly waiting to receive the core. One day on his walk, Don noticed a windstorm had dislodged a nest of hummingbirds. He replaced the nest and returned often to check on their wellbeing.

Michael Wale is Don’s son-in-law.

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