HALIFAX — An elderly orange tabby cat slept calmly on a table in the chart room of the CSS Acadia on Sunday as dozens of people dropped by to stroke his head and give him kisses in honour of his retirement.
Erik The Red, named after the famed Viking, has been the rodent control officer aboard the ship on the Halifax waterfront for more than 15 years.
He took up the role in 1999, when the malnourished stray kitten followed Acadia shipkeeper Stephen Read back to the vessel.
“I was walking through the streets of Halifax one night with a friend, and this cat started following us, street after street after street, and he wouldn’t go away,” said Read on the deck of the Acadia.
Read joked that Erik must have heard about the position through the “kitty cat grapevine,” as the former Acadia mouser Clara was not doing a very good job at the time of catching and killing rodents.
“He really had to hit the ground running when he came onboard… but he more than proved his mettle,” said Read, adding that Erik would catch rodents far beyond the ship’s limits, patrolling the entire waterfront from Purdy’s Wharf to Pier 21.
“He’s my buddy, and a valued co-worker. I’ve known three of the four rodent control officers who have been onboard this ship since 1981, and he’s been the best that I’ve seen. He was the most efficient and the most consistent.”
The pair spent a decade and a half living together on the ship, with Erik sometimes leaving dead rodent surprises for Read.
“I woke up one morning to find the bits of a small rat, its head and tail, in the bottom of my shoe when I put my shoe on,” said Read, sporting a long ponytail and an ascot cap. “I understood that it was a symbolic gift, and I was grateful for it, after the initial shock.”
But the harshness of Halifax winters combined with Erik’s age, which is somewhere between 17 and 20, meant it was time for him to swallow the anchor. He’s been semi-retired for a few years and now lives at a home in Halifax’s north end.
The friendly feline, who recently had one of his eyes removed because of melanoma, has become a fixture on the Halifax waterfront, often dropping into gift shops and napping on the boardwalk. Read said tourists from across the globe would send in their photos of Erik.
His popularity was clear at his retirement party on Sunday, where dozens dropped by to wish him well.
A guest book in the Acadia’s chart room was filled with memories. One Halifax resident described how Erik brightened her walks to and from work, while another lamented they will never be able to look at another orange cat without thinking of him.
Erik was unfazed by the crowds of people congregated around him in the small space. He spent most of the party sleeping on a grey sweater, occasionally opening his one eye to catch of glimpse of whoever was patting his back.
Acadia staff are considering finding a replacement for Erik, but Read worries it may be difficult for another cat to bond with the ship, since he no longer lives onboard.
The Acadia, a Canadian Scientific Ship, was retired in 1969 after 56 years of service and is now a permanent floating museum on the Halifax harbour.
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Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press