Remember the Rainbow Redux: An Alternate Royal Canadian Navy

Battlecruisers, Corruption and Frenchmen
  • With the Great White Fleet setting out on its journey across the world, Laurier put Brodeur back in the hot seat to investigate the possibility of a Canadian naval militia. While this had been attempted many a time in the past, Brodeur had noticed Laurier’s intensely inflamed interest in naval matters as of late and quickly procured a report. As this was going on though, the opposition within Parliament was on the attack. The Conservatives pushed the Liberals regarding the money being spent on the upkeep of Halifax and Esquimalt, how it was being used and future purposes for these bases. Questions about Canadian contributions to imperial defense, its relation to the Fisheries Protection Force and the potential for naval instruction of militiamen in Canada. Coming off the recent Colonial Conference and his newly minted report, Brodeur was fresh on the topic and successfully held the Conservatives at bay for the moment however, their recent uptick in interest pointed towards the need to do something substantial sooner rather than later.

    Conveniently enough, Brodeur would be approached soon after this parliamentary scuffle by a Frederick Hamilton. Hamilton was a member of the Toronto Navy League executive committee and a member of the press gallery within the House of Commons. Providing a newspaper snippet regarding an address he had given to a local club on “Canadian Coastal Defense”, the potential for a Canadian Navy was heavily covered. This snippet was a compact yet well worded summary of Canada’s maritime lifelines and their vulnerability to disruption or attack without guaranteed coverage by Royal Navy assets. The conclusion of the paper reads as such, “the establishment of a naval militia, whereby our sailors and fishermen could be trained to handle naval artillery, torpedoes, etc. This militia should be under our own control, as is our land militia. This should lead up to the establishment of flotillas of torpedo boats, destroyers, or submarines at suitable points on our coastline. These should be manned by our own people, and under our own control.” This was somewhat radical but even so, Brodeur was impressed enough to grant an interview to Hamilton to discuss his and the governments proposal. Brodeur would say to Hamilton, “our ideas are not dissimilar, and I believe that we are quite in accord upon the principle of the establishment of a naval reserve in Canada” however, he also made sure to remind him that “we are not, perhaps, going as fast as certain persons would like, in the spending of millions of dollars for the establishment of a naval militia of which no immediate pressing need seems to exist.”

    While Brodeur was originally planning to take any naval development slow as per usual, the public, House and Prime Ministers increased interest in naval developments caused him to expedite his efforts. During the department's yearly estimates to Parliament, Brodeur brought up the possibility of a naval militia. Due to the fact that he only requested enough funding to pay for the wages of Canada’s crew, Conservative members of Parliament questioned the sincerity of this motion, wanting specific details regarding the force type, size, and equipment they would need. Brodeur resorted to his tired and played out response of “this force will merely be the nucleus of a naval militia.” His main goal was to not rush and slowly create a force fitting Canada’s increasing autonomy in their own defense. Brodeur would state “the naval militia is based upon the fisheries protection service. Some day, instead of only having special boats for the fisheries protection service, I hope to have the naval militia take part in that work. At the time when the Canada was built, there was no organization except some boats like the Curlew and the Vigilant to patrol the coast. But it was thought we should have a boat on which a certain number of young men would be trained under the rules of the British Admiralty. This has been done for the last few years with satisfactory results. I should like our organization to be made in such a way.”

    Digital reproduction of one of the many flags all branches of the Navy League used in their campaigning in the 1900's.

    As was customary with anything regarding Canadians and naval matters, a large wrench was promptly thrown directly into this good progress at the worst possible time. The Department of Marine and Fisheries had been under heavily scrutiny over the last few years with the sudden death of Prefontaine. The previous minister while hard working and head strong was also somewhat of a messy figure. There had been excessive spending on frivolous things, stacking of incompetent figures throughout the echelons of the department and a multitude of corrupt actions over his tenure as Minister. Brodeur had been working very hard to fix these issues however, the timing of the recent Colonial Conference and his large swaths of time spent outside of the country had angered the public and parliament alike. Governor General Grey had directly intervened multiple times on this issue within the previous years, warning Laurier and Brodeur of the oncoming situation they were about to endure. Various officials could not be easily fired due to the fact that they were politically connected and 'knew too much' about previous sensitive department endeavors. One of the main issues was that Commander Spain while seen as fairly competent, him leaving the Royal Navy at the rank of Lieutenant made him rather unsuited to the role of nationwide leadership required with policy creation and such, his alcoholic tendencies and sour departure from the Royal Navy also tainted his record. While Grey wanted to keep Spain in a subordinate position however, it was desired to have an actual naval officer with significant experience to fill the position especially if a naval militia or navy itself is desired in the future.

    Brodeur brushed off the advice of Grey until his department was embroiled in an investigation by the Civil Service Commission, largely for misuse of funds and general inefficiency. This overall investigation covered every single major government department however, most of the departments only received minor critiques, Brodeur’s department was comparatively hammered. A drawn out and scathing report was published labeling the department as undertaking “near constant blundering and confusion with no sign of an intelligent purpose, unless it be that of spending as much money as possible.” A cloud of criticism and calls for Brodeur’s removal hung over the department like a wet blanket and with Governor Grey looking on with contempt that Laurier had not heeded his warnings, he queried Laurier that he should consider completely dissolving the department itself from the ground up. Laurier was confident that administration could comfortably take the damage and keep sailing however, the prospect of losing one of the most senior and arguably most important departments in the government itself was untenable. To control some of the damage, Laurier formed a royal commission to look into the “very grave statements”, this was quickly followed by suspensions and retirements of several officers within the department and the deputy minister himself. George J. Desbarats was put into the Deputy Minister position and almost immediately went to work attempting to put the administration back on track. With the removal of Commander Spain from his position, the newly promoted Rear-Admiral Kingsmill took over his position as leader of the Enforcement section of the department. Even with his previous rocky patch with the Admiralty, Kingsmill was recommended wholeheartedly by the Royal Navy as a leader for the Fisheries department and potentially a future naval militia.

    Rear Admiral Kingsmill poses for his official government photograph, sometime before WWI.

    The placing of a Canadian born and relatively high ranked Royal Navy trained officer at the head of the Fisheries Service did quite a bit to smooth down the previous issues, signifying a substantial increase in prestige, capability and likely the future plans for the department. Kingsmill’s new position was somewhat of a downgrade though in the grand scheme of things. With the nearest equivalent to his new position being the Commander of a station with the Royal Navy, her annual salary of $3,000 was nowhere near the $8,000 plus allowances given to him by the Royal Navy. The difference was clearly buffered by the fact that his realistic prospects within the Royal Navy were effectively over and returning to his home nation was rather appealing overall. The Toronto Globe perhaps went a bit too far with it’s announcement of Kingsmill’s promotion with “CANADA TO HAVE NAVAL MILITIA – A CANADIAN ADMIRAL HAS ALREADY BEEN APPOINTED”. The contents of the paper was rather muted in comparison to it’s eye catching title, “it is understood that his appointment presages an advance in the movement towards the development of the naval militia. This was begun some years ago under Commander Spain, and there are now seamen in training along British naval lines on the cruiser Canada and on some other vessels of the fleet of protective cruisers. However, the development of the naval militia will be gradual, and will keep pace with the advance of public opinion in respect to assuming a large share in imperial defense.”

    This wait for public opinion would soon be put to the test in July 1908 at the Quebec City tercentenary where the Royal Navy Channel Squadron would be joined by various elements of the American and French navies for a display, allowing tours and spreading goodwill during the event. USS New Hampshire, HMS Russel, HMS Venus, HMS Minotaur, HMS Exmouth alongside the French cruisers Amiral Aube and Léon Gambetta. The main attraction of the event though was HMS Indomitable, the first battlecruiser ever built which had brought the Prince of Wales across the Atlantic to Canada. Alongside the powerful new warship, CGS Canada was proudly displayed in a full ceremonial dress of flags. The Toronto Globe would feature her prominently on their front pages with the title of “CANADA’S ARMY AND NAVY AT QUEBEC.” Canada’s captain and one of her cadets were both showcased as well, labeled as “Canada’s naval commander and her first cadet.” Rear-Admiral Kingsmill was well and truly present for the events and festivities, trying his best to convey Canada’s good will to her allies in this time of celebration. Although the Admiralty had embarked Julian Corbett at the request of the new director of naval intelligence for the Admiralty. Fisher had a keen interest in Kingsmill and the development of a Canadian naval militia or navy, largely due to his recent run in with Kingsmill and his previous posting as the North American station commander. Fisher went on record with his new director, confiding that “I know the Canadian people and that they are an unpatriotic grasping people who only stick us for the good that they can get out of us, and we ought to do nothing whatsoever for them.” Fisher was obviously not particularly confident that Canada would develop much of a force by itself.

    Warships illuminated outside of Quebec City at night, CGS Canada can be seen fully illuminated as the second last ship on the right.
    Corbett’s mission was to “discover whether there was any Canadian disposition to take the defense of her frontier in hand and towards starting a naval militia.” In the opinion of the Admiralty, “Anything in relation to pushing Canada towards naval development must be done very carefully and slowly without ostentation and parade, but if it is effectively carried out, Canada will add enormously to the strength of the Empire as a whole and assist the navy quite as much or more than if she went in for battleships or cruisers.” When Corbett finally met with Kingsmill himself for a discussion, he found that Kingsmill had turned relatively melancholy and frustrated in the face of what he saw in Canada, his inability to help correct the misgivings of his predecessors weighed heavily on his conscience. Corbett would report that:

    “Kingsmill’s pessimism was derived from two opinions. One was that the reservoir of, and facilities for, turning out competent officers were limited, and unhappily they were only available from the lower deck. There was a total absence of any sense of discipline and he supposed this impossible in inoculate without a fixed service system. The other discouraging feature was the prevalence of political patronage that was bound to frustrate the sound building of an officer corps. Concretely, he proposed introducing some permanence to the service, employing personnel for at least a three year period, and taking the climate into consideration by employing the hands in the dockyard in the winter. He was clearly not hopeful and seemed to feel all of this was only a poor substitute for monetary contributions to the Royal Navy at this point.”

    After Corbett interviewed Governor General Grey and received the box standard 'we’re working on it' reply the Admiralty had been privy to for quite sometime, he stumbled upon Major General Percy Lake. Lake was the Chief of the General Staff of the Canadian Militia and was considered the generally the most well-versed figure in the Canadian defense circle. He described to Corbett in a rather candid assessment of the politics surrounding the issue and stated that the idea of a local navy or militia was not nearly as much of a waste as Kingsmill or the Grey had thought however, large sections of the department ministers and party members were corrupt. A naval militia bill had existed in draft form for over three years however, it was being delayed until after the next election. Although Lake was generally positive and very helpful, he made sure to stress to Corbett that this was all on shaky ground and could fall apart rather quickly if rushed. Therefore, Corbett returned to Britain with a somewhat more positive view than they expected. Lake himself would go onto shake the boat somewhat later in 1908, proposing multiple new powers to the department of Marine and Fisheries. These included restriction of trade with enemy nations, examination of vessels in and around defended ports to sniff out disguised raiders and blockade runners, censorship of overseas communications and the gathering of intelligence on American interest on the lakes. The Militia Minister Sir Frederick Borden supported this however, Brodeur was against the rapid militarization of the force.

    Even so however, the Canadian government was not standing completely idle on these issues. Aboard CGS Canada, a new intake of naval cadets had been issued. These cadets were specifically taken in for seamanship and navigational training in preparation for some kind of future service, militia or naval. Although as Kingsmill had predicted though, the political patronage was completely at play here. All of the cadets had major political connections, the most jarring being Victor Brodeur, the son of Minister Brodeur himself. None of these cadets wrote entrance exams and their method of selection was more on a whim than anything else. Even so however, this handful of cadets would prove invaluable to the future of the Royal Canadian Navy. The tenders for the much-anticipated West Coast sister-ship to CGS Canada were issued in June of 1908 and the aging fisheries cruiser Constance was transferred to the Canadian Customs service, freeing up crew and resources for the expected new ship. Kingsmill and Desbarats went to work trying to raise discipline levels within the service and squash corruption wherever it was found, yet the decades it had been festering made it rather difficult to remove. Brodeur was also cleared of any misconduct in the earlier departmental investigation, leaving the entire organization in a fairly good position.

    The original group of cadets present on CGS Canada, some of these men would prove instrumental in the formation of the future Canadian Navy.

    Back row from left to right contains Charles T. Beard, P. Barry German, Victor G. Brodeur, Wright. Center row from left to right is Fisheries officers Fortier, Stewart, Woods and finally in the front row from left to right is Henry T. Bate, Percy W. Nelles, John A. Barron.

    Kingsmill would leave Ottawa in August of 1908 to inspect the west coast of Canada and in more broad terms, help develop a comprehensive naval requirement plan for Canada. His journey itself was interrupted though in September when the Admiralty announced they had finally been able to come to an agreement to Australia for a naval defense plan. The Australians had beat the Canadians to the punch.
    We Finally Did It?
  • As the Canadian Annual Review reported on the supposed Australian naval scheme, the issue itself was thrust front and center in Canadian politics once again. The proposal for the Australians read as such:

    “This scheme calls for responsibility for local naval defense and the provision of 6 torpedo-boat destroyers, 9 submarines and 2 depot ships, at a cost of $6,387,500 together with the maintenance of 79 officers and 1,125 men provided by the imperial government with as many as possible taken from among Australians. The administrative control of the flotilla was to rest with the Commonwealth government, but the officers and men would form part of the Imperial Navy and would be subject to the King’s regulations. While in Australian waters, they would be under Commonwealth authority, but in other waters they would pass under the control of the senior imperial naval officer. The annual expense and maintenance would amount to $930,000 and the repairs be effected in local shipbuilding yards.”

    This Australian plan rather neatly aligned with what Canada had been proposing, a force for defense of the dominion that was also autonomous. While some of the detailing and the exact plan itself would need to be different, it was proof that there was indeed precedent to what Canada desired to do. The goodwill from the Quebec celebrations were still fresh in the minds of local residents and surprisingly, the calls for direct financial aid to the Royal Navy and the typical French contrarian attitudes were drying up somewhat. It was becoming clear to everybody involved that the time to strike regarding implementation of something was nearly upon them. The French Canadians were generally busy regarding an ongoing dispute about language rights and religion in Quebec and were currently ignorant of the defense issues in the government. Surprisingly though, a disagreement came from the Canadian Military Gazette, the mouthpiece of the Militia. Concerns were voiced that “much study should be made before any large expenditure will be sanctioned in this country for naval purposes, especially if such would come at the cost of a reduction of the militia vote. A strong land force is better for imperial interests as a whole than a baby fleet would be.” While the Militia itself seemed to be somewhat ignorant about the value of a naval force, it is rather understandable for them to see a Canadian navy as a threat especially if it detracts from their already thin budget.

    Regardless, the upcoming election held all sides firm on the issue. Hauling up a relatively large issue into Parliament was a death sentence and therefore even though the Conservatives and Liberals generally agreed on the issue, it was left until after the election. The Conservative party lost the election yet again and therefore had to spend some time rebuilding the party structure, allowing the Liberal party a small lead to potentially jump start the required legislation. In fact, it was the Conservative party who made the first major move. George Foster, the previous Minister of Marine and Fisheries in 1885 and the man who had overseen the founding of the Fisheries Protection Service, presented the House of Commons with a notice of motion. It read as such:

    “In view of her great and varied resources, of her geographical position and national environment, and of that spirit of self-help and self-respect which alone befits a strong and growing people, Canada should no longer delay in assuming her proper share of the responsibility and financial burden incident to the suitable protection of her exposed coastline and great seaports.”

    In the wake of the Foster resolution, Kingsmill put together a rough draft of a report for Minister Brodeur regarding “how we should commence our work of assisting in the defense of our coasts.” While very much a preliminary document, Kingsmill’s experience allowed him to deliver a “methodical yet realistic” plan to supplement existing government policy, IE the Fisheries Protection Service in the future. Originally, this report envisioned doing little more than improving existing establishments. Improvements listed things such as a military dockyard in Quebec, a signal service connecting all important lighthouses in Canada and the start of a training regime at the Halifax dockyard. From this training system, it was hoped to have enough men ready after the first year to crew either a destroyer or scout cruiser. Kingsmill was of the opinion that under this scheme, Canada would largely be relegated to destroyers and small cruisers for the foreseeable future. Kingsmill was careful to cater his reports to the tepid Brodeur, methodically informing the Minister of every cost for construction or upkeep of various platforms. Forming his words carefully, Kingsmill would tell Brodeur, “the government should focus for the time being, on the countries development as in that is our only hope of some day being in a position to defend our coasts as they should be. If we embrace a project of too much ambition too quickly, our young and partially developed country may if not wreck itself, at any rate seriously injure its internal economy. On the other hand, though, to spend money on partial defense or rather inadequate defense is to waste it.”

    While these events were ongoing in Canada, it was obviously time for Europe to throw another wrench into their plans. This would become quickly known as the "Dreadnought Crisis” when Reginald McKeena (First Lord of the Admiralty) introduced the estimates for the Royal Navy in March of 1909, during which he had a shocking revelation. To the surprise of the British public, the Admiralty anticipated a massive upturn in the German shipbuilding, so much so that the Royal Navy would be outnumbered in dreadnoughts by 1912. McKenna would suggest that an additional 2 dreadnoughts be added to the 1909-1910 estimates which after the frenzy the British press, public and government fell into, was rather easy to push through. This was hoisted by the Admiralty as the only way to retain their grasp on worldwide sea power, effectively tying the governments hands in the matter. The pandemonium in the press quickly crossed the Atlantic and took hold in Canada to a point, drawing even more attention to the Foster motion. Even with that hold though, Canadian policy on the issue was rather detached and very critical of the seemingly manufactured panic over the issue. The Canadian Annual Review very accurately summarized the general Canadian response to this crisis:

    “Distance from the scene and non-appreciation of what naval power and supremacy really meant to the individual as well as the Empire, was responsible to a certain extent for the somewhat critical attitude assumed by the Canadian press in regard to the British ‘panic’ and for the tendency to ‘go slow’ in speech and action.”

    A rather iconic colorized photo of the power of the Royal Navy in the past and in the present as HMS Dreadnought, namesake of the adeptly named crisis, passes HMS Victory.

    Canadian historians generally attribute this lack of a knee jerk reaction by Canada as a whole to a belief in the fact that the Royal Navy by itself was able to keep the Germans in check on their own. Alongside the fact that Canada seemed to be quickly approaching a point where she wanted to be responsible for her own defense, New Zealand’s ‘call to action’ of confirming the nation would sponsor a dreadnought in the face of the crisis was rather worrying for some parties in Canada. This issue brought out every member of each party and how they fell around this issue. Various parties requested a single or pair of dreadnoughts to defend the Canadian coasts in the “one for the Pacific and one for the Atlantic” layout, although due to the overall costs this was never really a serious proposition. The Montreal based paper La Presse was largely concerned with the fact that Canada should retain its ability to participate or abstain from any unrelated British war against another faction, Canada should not merely be yet another pawn for Britain to throw freely onto the board. The Ottawa Citizen had the opinion that direct financial contributions were the only valuable option able to be put forward by Canada and in their words, “it must be apparent that the place of the colonies to defend their coasts is in the line of the British dreadnought fleet. The fate of that fleet will decide the fate of our colonies. If that fleet met with disaster, any trifling squadron, or warlike revenue cutters, or cheap warships, would only be so much more loot to the conquerors.” Out of all of the news outlets that spoke though, the two that caught the eyes and ears of the Liberals was the Montreal Herald and the Toronto Globe.

    The Herald stated that “the importance of the action taken by cabinet in definitely preparing for a Canadian navy development has been evident for years that such steps would be taken. Canadian development in the past has came at times the British were no longer able to bear the burden alone, as in their departure in 1905 from various bases in Halifax and Esquimalt. Now the hint is given of the possible inability of the British Navy alone to keep the ocean free for shipping, Canada again avows her readiness to step in and take her share.” As regards to the Globe, their statement was that “the position laid down at the colonial conferences should now be accepted as the settled naval policy. What is done by Canada must be done deliberately along the lines of Canadian policy, and in the light of consultation with the imperial government. The details must be settled, not by passing or panicky popular opinion but, as Mr Asquith says, by the responsible authorities on the advice of experts. Whether it be dreadnoughts or fast cruisers or torpedo boats, and where and when and how many, are questions not for the man in the street, but for the government.”

    George Foster would return to parliament to further discuss his previous motion. In doing so, Foster leveled that there was simply two options spread before the nation as a whole. A monetary or purely ship based contribution or the fact that Canada would assume the defense of her own ports and commerce in cooperation with the Admiralty. Foster personally accepted the fact that monetary contribution would be very acceptable to the Admiralty itself, he did not view it as a largely popular option within Canada itself. Foster was almost certain that Canada would have a naval force of its own in the future and decreed that “the time is ripe to see something grafted on the soil of Canada’s nationhood.” In the eyes of Foster, the ships of the Fishery Protection Service were nothing more than “simple children’s toys” when put up against an actual hostile naval force and therefore, an expansion of the Fisheries Service would not be enough to ensure Canada’s defense. Foster would personally advocate in the end for Canada to contribute a dreadnought to Britain’s plight. Prime Minister Laurier would rebuke Foster with the statement of “we are not to be carried away, we are not to be stampeded from what has been the settled policy and deliberate course which we have laid down, by any hasty, feverish action, however spectacular such action may be.”

    George Eulas Foster and his wife G.E. Foster pose for a photograph, date unknown.

    Laurier closed with the fact that the Canadian naval development had been ongoing since 1902 and the fact that what the Conservatives were proposing as nothing new and something he generally agreed upon. Lord Tweedmouth’s remarks at the previous conference were distributed, hoping to give the needed legitimacy to Laurier’s statements. Robert Borden, the conservative opposition leader spoke next and echoed Laurier’s general statements. He was opposed to contributions to the Royal Navy unless it was an absolute emergency, pointing out that Canada had been undertaking a ‘long gestation period for naval development’ in the past. In one of his speeches he said, “I do not think I am making any statement in breach of confidence when I say that I am thoroughly aware that the late Raymond Prefontaine thoroughly intended to establish a Canadian naval militia or naval force of some kind. He told me so about a year before his death. Mr. Prefontaine was a man of large views and of great courage, and it may be that policy which would have been carried out otherwise has not been carried out owning to the present head of that department finding it necessary to devote his attention to other matters.” Borden closed with his opinion that he recommends making contributions in an emergency however, Parliament must decide if this is an emergency or not.

    While the rest of the debate generally consisted of hollow patriotic and imperialistic speeches and jargon, parliament seemed to eventually favor the formation of a Canadian Naval policy and a Navy itself, it seemed there was no immediate serious work to push dreadnoughts or contributions. During this political signalling, Borden and Laurier retreated from the stands to have a private discussion and while that conversation was never recorded, Laurier and Borden emerged from their discussion seemingly united in the issue. As such, Laurier put forward a resolution that would cement the organization of the future Canadian Navy.

    “This house fully recognizes the duty of the people of Canada, as they increase in numbers and wealth to assume in larger measure the responsibilities in national defense. The house is of opinion that under the present constitutional relations between mother country and the self-governing dominions, the payment of regular and periodical contributions to the imperial treasury for naval and military purposes would not, so far as Canada is concerned, be the most satisfactory solution of the question of defense. The house will cordially approve of any necessary expenditure to promote the speedy organization of a Canadian naval service in cooperation with and in close relation to the imperial navy, along the lines suggested by the Admiralty at the last imperial conference, and in full sympathy of commerce, the safety of the empire and the peace of the world. The house expresses firm conviction that whenever the need arises the Canadian people will be found ready and willing to make any sacrifice that is required to give to the imperial authorities the most loyal and hearty cooperation in every movement for the maintenance of integrity and honor of the empire.”

    The resolution being passed unanimously by all present parties was proof that at least some small victory was finally seized by Laurier. His commitment to patiently establish some kind of naval framework along the lines acceptable to all parties seem to have paid off as the goals of Laurier, Borden, Brodeur and even Prefontaine before them had finally started to come true. Now that the house was somewhat behind all future development and Laurier already had some of his tools required such as Kingsmill, they went to work grasping their power. The main upcoming challenge was for Laurier and his party to keep the naval development within the acceptable bounds of the previous established policy and stop it from ballooning out into a garbled mess. In response to George Foster requesting additional information on the interpretation of his previous resolution, Laurier responded with “the government has decided that, as shortly as possible after prorogation, the Minister of Marine and Fisheries alongside the Minister of Militia shall proceed to London for the purpose of conferring with the Admiralty as to the best means to be adopted to give effect to our previous resolution.” Laurier’s sudden flip from caution to decisive action was surprising to parliament however, Laurier desired to settle the issue of a naval force as quickly as possible (correctly) deducing that allowing such a bill to drag along would do nothing but expose the divides within the house.

    Prime Minister Laurier depicted in a 1909 Toronto Globe political cartoon leading a hypothetical Canadian Navy, somewhat fitting and ironic given the ultimate fate of his naval plans/

    Dissent would come from a strange position though, from none other but the Governor General of Canada, Earl Grey. To a point, it seems Grey had overstepped his authority in his recommendations which read as such:

    “I have serious concerns that this proposed policy will not be regarded either in Canada or in England as a very effective contribution to the solution of the defense problem, unless it is followed up by a display of vigor in formulating a plan and in carrying that plan into effect such as past experience does not encourage us to hope from Mr. Brodeur. The necessity of taking prompt business action in this matter makes it desirable that the change of minister at the head of the marine and fisheries department which you have more than once informed me was impending, should be hurried up. I know you will have to face a little criticism in Quebec, but you are quite big enough and strong enough to disregard that criticism. If you share my view that the duty which Canada owes to the empire is to put the best businessman she has got at the head of the marine department, Mr. Sifton is the best man possible.”

    Clifford Sifton was a member of the Liberal cabinet until 1905 when he departed to protest government issues regarding western located schools. He had previous voiced the opinion of being completely against any kind of a Canadian Navy and although he was still a member of the Liberal party, his attitude towards Quebec was rather shaky at best. Laurier was in no position to throw out one of his closest allies and an asset in Quebec over the whim of the governor general, especially not with what was about to happen. Laurier expressed to Grey that Brodeur was in the middle of preparing his plans to reorganize the department and would have them in front of him soon.

    Around this same time, Kingsmill finished finalizing his previous report on what he in his professional opinion thought Canada would require for a naval force. Kingsmill recommended that both Halifax and Esquimalt would need to have their defenses and general equipment put into ‘good order and modernized’ alongside the fact that training should begin immediately on each coast. As the fishery on British Columbia was extremely important and basically unprotected, Kingsmill advocated for immediate purchase of two small cruisers able to train 200 men be acquired for the West Coast. The Atlantic approach was rather similar with a cruiser of the Apollo class being loaned alongside 2 torpedo boat destroyers in order to train roughly 300 men. Kingsmill desired these loaned ships to be either returned eventually or purchased and completely under the command of Canada, although with Royal Navy officers and partial personnel until they could be replaced. Alongside this, Kingsmill advocated for Canadian industry to immediately start construction of 2 ocean going destroyers and 2 coastal destroyers for the Atlantic while having 4 coastal destroyers for the Pacific, small enough to be able to be transported whole or in parts to BC by rail to avoid having to go around Cape Horn to reach the West Coast. These recommendations were completely reasonable in comparison to the scope of the navy the government had seemed to have envisioned, mainly that of coastal protection and fisheries enforcement. Kingsmill himself would state:

    “It is with a strong feeling of diffidence that I submit, single-handed, a scheme of naval defense for Canada and wish to say that my views are given after due consideration of the fact that monetary contribution alone is out of the question. We must develop our naval assistance to the empire with this end always in view, that the Canadian Navy is to be under the control of the dominion government, the question of its disposition in the event of war being a matter for this in authority at the time; also that at an early date we must use the newly started naval service for the protection of our fisheries, in fact, that fisheries protection and training go hand in hand, thus using the appropriation for the former in carrying out the latter, which of course, will be a considerable assistance and in the end a better use will have been made of the money.”

    Apollo class cruiser HMS Retribution in drydock, likely in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the many sister ships to the eventually infamous HMCS Rainbow.

    While the scheme itself was generally acceptable and well thought-out, the Canadian government was very hesitant to adopt anything physical without explicit Admiralty approval, even if this scheme seemed itself to fit the plan Lord Tweedmouth had put forward in the 1907 conference. Needs and opinions change in the Admiralty especially with constantly coming and going appointees. Therefore, Canada would need to wait until their Minister met with the Admiralty to decide about the fate of the stillborn Canadian Navy. Before the trip commenced though, Militia Minister Frederick Borden had significant issues with the potential for naval development in Canada. Being asked the previous year to attempt to cut his departments estimates by around $1,000,000, he had only cut a little over half of that to less than desirable results. Some factions were voicing the opinion that a navy might be more important to national defense than a Militia and the land-based force was largely for peacekeeping purposes at home, such a large budget was not needed. Robert Borden had alluded to the fact that the naval budget might be half that given to the militia, therefore coming out to $3,000,000. This was reasonable as Kingsmill would later point out however, the Militia Minister was rather afraid this money would come at the cost to his own department. He would press Laurier repeatedly about some kind of a commitment that the Militia would not suffer and as Laurier needed Sir Borden’s assistance in Europe on the naval matter, no ill feelings could be afforded. Laurier assured Borden that the Militia would not suffer as both services were viewed as necessary to the security of the nation.

    The plan for the upcoming meeting with the Admiralty was put before Governor Grey by Laurier, “Brodeur and Borden have their general instructions which seem to me to be sufficiently precise. The first object of the conference is to lay down a plan of action, and towards that plan we will gravitate fast or slow, big or small, according to the development of our financial resources. The reasonable goal seems to me that we should do as much for the navy as for the militia, as this is well understood by Borden and Brodeur. It is also well understood by them that we will not be able to reach that goal the first year.”

    As the pair of Ministers departed to Britain, the debate did not cease. The competing parties pushed for their own interests, even within a common goal. One party wished to deliver prompt implementation of their plans while the other worked to keep moderation and Admiralty approval at the forefront of any choices.
    Into The Lions Den
  • Although Prime Minister Laurier was invited to participate in the summer of 1909 ‘Imperial Conference for the Naval and Military Defense of the Empire’, he considered it unwise to send all of the pro-naval contingent across the pond in case of some local political incident. Due to this and his somewhat tiring nature of the subject matter, Laurier dispatched the familiar duo of the Ministers of Marine and Militia, Brodeur and Borden, accompanied by their advising staff, Rear Admiral Kingsmill, and Major General Lake. The original purpose of this meeting was to solidify the small flotilla strategy of home defense being looked into by both Australia and Canada but following a recent report from the China squadron, that soon changed. The Admiral in commanded had sent an assessment to the Admiralty outlining how the coastal defenses in the area of Hong Kong had degraded heavily in the past few years. Fisher quickly denounced the legitimacy of these claims, stating that Britain could sent a squadron of powerful dreadnoughts and armored cruisers to defend the area at a moments notice. This opened up a particularly troublesome can of worms as while the renegotiation of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance meant they had powerful allies in the sector, shifting large Royal Navy resources to the East would potential antagonize both Japan and Germany into a response.

    This alongside the fact that Fisher had yet to replace the ships on foreign stations he had pulled out and scrapped years earlier, pushed the Admiralty to suggest a new idea. The naval defense discussion started with its familiar conciliatory remarks, making sure to include all of the financial or otherwise contributions of the dominions to the Empire. The Admiralty fully explained that any help, financial, or otherwise was appreciated however, it had a new stipulation. If Dominions wanted to build their own local naval forces, the Admiralty wished to have a homogeneous and sound foundation on which a national navy could be built, essentially a commitment to future actions. This would minimize logistical strain on the dominions and allow them to integrate into each others’ formations if found to be necessary. As the Admiralty would state:

    “A dominion government desirous of creating a navy should aim at forming a distinct fleet unit; and the smallest unit is one which, while manageable in time of peace, is capable of being used in it’s component parts in time of war. The advantage of a unit of this kind if that it is capable of rapid combination with other similar fleet units. We have now, as you know, in the far east, the eastern fleet. There are three divisions, the Australian division, the China division, and the East Indies division. In the case of Canada also we think that the fleet unit might in the future form an acceptable system, particularly with regards to the Pacific. If we had another fleet unit of this kind on the Pacific coast of Canada we should have, under circumstances under which they could be easily united, no less than four of these divisions, and they would together constitute a very powerful fleet.”

    In somewhat of a rapid departure (although not completely out of left field given the Canadian delegations previous run in with attempts at home for capital ships), the Admiralty was now advocating for a miniature fleet to be purchased, largely to help act as a future counter to Japanese ambitions in the future and act as a sort of capital ship reserve. In the eyes of the Admiralty, local defensive units would be useless against the Japanese as they lack seagoing capacity and the rapidly growing Imperial Japanese Navy could simply sweep these vessels from the sea. The fleet units themselves were to consist of a 1 Invincible class battlecruiser, 3 Town class cruisers, 6 destroyers, 3 submarine and the necessary auxiliary support ships. It was projected this unit would require upwards of 2,300 personnel and would require an initial overall cost of £3,700,000 plus another £600,000 for annual operations. As Laurier and like minded planners had specifically avoided any ships of this size, let alone a full-on fleet unit, the Canadian delegation had to act quickly to show the impossibility of this plan. Minister Broduer pointed out that McKenna had indeed covered the advantages of having a fleet unit for the Pacific but had not mentioned anything in regard to the Atlantic. McKeena replied with,

    “I only referred to the Pacific squadron in it’s relation to the other squadrons we should have on the further side of the Pacific Ocean and the possible combination of them all into one fleet. With regards to the Atlantic side, it is so very much nearer to our own home waters, and we are so much freer consequently to send vessels of our own, that I do not think that there is quite the same urgency on the Atlantic side as on the Pacific side. While both oceans alike are open to you, the Atlantic coast is very much nearer to our own scene of operations. Please Minister, tell us the lines upon which you would like to proceed, and then ask us whether we can offer any suggestions upon that. We do not want to appear to be pressing you.”

    Indefatigable-class battlecruiser HMS New Zealand at Lyttleton, New Zealand during Fall 1919. This is the improved design Australia and New Zealand would both choose in their eventual purchases.

    It was obvious that the Admiralty and the Canadian delegation had ulterior motives and ever the cautious man, Brodeur declined to comment, retreating for the moment to gather a response. When the conference resumed days later, the Canadian delegation lead the opening discussion. Minister Borden took the helm at this point and read to record the Foster resolution of Mark 1909. The three main principals behind the formation of a Canadian Navy was as such, Canada wished to act on it’s own authority but with council and direction from the Admiralty. Canada wanted to act upon Lord Tweedmouth’s policy lines laid in the 1907 Conference and the fact that Canada wanted to go beyond simple financial donations to Britain in times of need. Borden also stipulated that he would like clarification regarding Canadian control over it’s forces in wartime, best means of allowing interchangeability within the naval services of the Dominion and plans for the period of transition if this fleet unit concept was to be taken to heart. Borden was quick to clarify one thing though, Canada required a two-ocean fleet, politically and militarily. While it was indeed true that Britain was in a position to readily send assistance to the Atlantic coast, the coasts themselves spanned well over 4,000 miles apart. The majority of Canada’s population lived closer to the Atlantic and to station a very expensive naval unit far away from the majority of the nation would be politically disastrous.

    Borden would close with “If there is anything at all in the idea, as I believe there is, of allowing the people to see for themselves what they are doing in these matters of defense, I am inclined to think that we should start on both coasts at once, that would be the only thing that would satisfy our people thoroughly.”

    Minister Brodeur took the stand next, hoping to drive home Canada’s position on the issue. Beginning with an expression of gratitude towards the Admiralty for validating the principal of dominion autonomy within the issue of naval defense. Following this, Brodeur presented the fact that Canada’s wishes had evolved past merely a small coastal defense force and the existing Fisheries Protection service was not a suitable baseline to expand in order to make up such a force. He explained that while Canada did need more effective local based defense, Ottawa was worried about creating a fleet able to be used in Imperial conflicts, effectively reigniting some of the issues found during the Boer War. That being said though, Canada was willing to establish potentially a cruiser force although, not of the caliber requested in the fleet unit. At this point though, it seemed as both delegations had reached a stalemate. While the Australians had accepted the fleet unit concept, the Canadians wished to have a local naval force of a smaller type and within manageable limits. This did not bode well for the Admiralty, partially pushed along by Admiral Fisher and his personal quest to implement the battlecruiser concept, which he had already been somewhat unable to accomplish. In the end however, the Admiralty was a multi-faceted organization and their political and military leaders often had very differing opinions. When push came to shove, it seemed the British government overrode the authority of the Admiralty, viewing the forcing of the naval issue as undermining the political harmony of the dominions and their cooperative nature.

    Birmingham class cruiser at speed, 1917. The cruisers considered by Australia and Canada were the Weymouth class, being large improvements over the original Bristol class cruisers due to the fact that they carried a full 6" battery instead of a 6" and 4" split.

    After one of the daily conferences, Brodeur and McKeena convened for dinner in the evening. During this event, Brodeur seemed to have successfully explained the political landmine of a Canadian Navy at home alongside the various other matters at hand. In a latter to Laurier, Brodeur would state:

    “It was pretty late when we parted, and on the way out he said to me I understand the whole situation you find yourself in. We are going to get along just fine. I am going to prepare another document for you that I’ll sign once you’ve seen it and confirmed you’re happy with it, and I’ll make sure it’s done in a way that will support the principals of your House resolution.”

    The events of the next day would solidify this fact as McKeena addressed the value of any kind of Dominion naval force, even if it is substantially weaker than the proposed fleet units. More so, McKeena proposed creating a subcommittee between the Canadian delegates and Admiralty staff to better discuss their own specific naval matters in a private setting. With these discussions soon approaching, Brodeur asked Minister Borden to have a dinner meeting with Admiral Fisher, as Borden was already familiar with him and hopefully to smooth out any issues alongside convincing the old salt. This tactic did not end up working on Fisher, ending with both parties departing out from under a cloud of negativity. As per usual, Fisher was steadfast in his position. Canada would not have a navy period unless they started with a capital ship and it would have to be positioned on the Pacific coast, this was nonnegotiable. When they reconvened, Fisher stood by his fleet unit concept and it was not until McKeena planted his foot and explained promptly to Fisher that the fleet unit plan was not feasible to Canada. With more force behind the opposition, Fisher acquiesced and requested a financial number the Canadians would consider reasonable, largely in order to help the Admiralty to tailor a package for their needs. Brodeur was not particularly ready to answer that question however, he presented two figures of $3,000,000 and $2,000,000 as yearly estimates. This number was extrapolated as being a fairly safe number as Robert Borden had previously stated the naval budget should be half that of the militia, bringing it to the above largest number.

    Brodeur seemed to also have anticipated some bargaining, leaving himself some room to move if needed. The lower number was never truly looked at realistically by the Canadian delegation however, it effectively served to pull Admiralty attention away from larger schemes while concentrating their thinking on ensuring the larger of the two plans would be accepted, as was already basically agreed upon internally by the Canadians. Soon after, the Admiralty would prove true to their world and produced the two schemes. The first scheme was rated at £600,000 and while it did not cover the miscellaneous fisheries service and hydrographic work, it covered the upkeep of Halifax and Esquimalt plus the fleet in question. That fleet would consist of 1 Boadicea class cruiser, 4 improved Bristol sub class cruisers and 6 destroyers of the improved River class. Submarines were not considered as they required heavily specialized personnel. The cheaper £400,000 plan cut the Boadicea class cruiser alongside 1 Bristol and 2 destroyers. The more expensive plan very much reflected a fleet unit with the battlecruiser replaced by two other cruisers. While the personnel required to man the ships was somewhat high, their slow roll out over a period of time would allow recruitment and Royal Navy supplements to mitigate this issue. It was planned to have the Boadicea and the destroyers present on the Atlantic and the Bristol’s split between both coasts, giving both coasts a very effective modicum of protection and capacity.

    HMS Boadicea alongside the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron in Russia, June of 1914. Boadicea was designed to be a flotilla leader for destroyers although her speed made her rather questionable in that role. Her eventual deletion from the Canadian warship plan would highlight this.

    In the end, the specific fleet unit concept pitched to Canada was a compromise and definitely did wound the pride of some Admiralty members, although the result of a completely ocean-going unit even simply made of cruisers was definitely valuable. Even Fisher who had the most personally invested into the battlecruiser concept remarked about his optimism, “This means eventually Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India running a complete navy. We manage the job in Europe, and they’ll manage it against the Yankees, Japs and Chinese as occasion requires it out there.” This scheme was definitely realistic and plausible however, it had heavily outgrown the original purpose of the trip, setting up a dominion defense force of largely coastal vessels grown out of an extended fisheries protection service. The change to an ocean going fleet able to actively participate in imperial wars drastically altered the purpose behind any naval discussions from here on, especially within French speaking areas of Canada. Laurier, Brodeur and Borden seemed all rather contempt with the plan proposed to them however, the ripple effect of this would affect the navy for years to come.

    McKeena was a private supporter of the Canadian Naval ambitions and while he could not publicly go against the statement of the Admiralty regarding fleet units only, he was willing to assist Canada completely if Laurier personally took responsibility in his stand against the Admiralty. If Laurier publicly disagreed with financial contributions to the Admiralty, McKenna would assist him in the alternatives. Laurier was feeling relatively confident with moving forward with the issue, obviously his previous ideas of simply expanding the Fisheries service as the base of the navy was insufficient and the people would likely accept such a rationale. Laurier was riding high and the time to strike an act into parliament was soon upon them. As a closing statement, Minister Borden addressed the Admiralty committee.

    “The previous resolution passed unanimously by the Canadian government referred to a certain specific statement made by the first sea lord of the Admiralty in 1907, from which it might, and I think it does, appear that it might be possible, at any rate it led us to believe it would be possible to begin the establishment of a navy in a smaller way than that indicated in the proposed Admiralty memorandum. This is to say, I inferred, from the first lords previous 1907 statement, that we could begin with smaller ships and build the larger ones later on. But the ideal of Canada is the construction of a navy as complete as possible, first for local defense, and secondly to cooperate with the imperial navy.”

    Brodeur himself felt rather optimistic as well regarding the results of the conference, stating the following to Laurier in a letter,

    “The fact that the government and the Admiralty in particular, has been persuaded of the uselessness of claiming a contribution so far as Canada is concerned is, I feel, a big step forward. We also note that your idea at the 1902 conference has won some acceptance. You were alone at that time in seeking endorsement of our independence in the area of naval defense. Today, Australia is supporting your views and has even taken some effective measures towards this goal.”

    Both the Australians and Canadians would leave the conference with much larger naval ambitions than they arrived with, although only one would fulfill said ambitions for the immediate future. Laurier confidently pushed this scheme forward regardless, believing in his powerful grasp on Parliament and the support of the people. Immediate measures were taken and Brodeur spoke with McKeena, who was very helpful in the fact that he recommended Canada take on two cruisers immediately for training purposes. Brodeur was especially pushing for even a single ship to fill the fisheries protection gap on the Pacific coast as no modern vessel was there for any period of time. Although while the government made internal moves to ensure success, the lack of transparency within the public soon turned into wild and unfounded speculation, a rather destructive and troublesome effect.

    HMS Eden (top) and HMAS Torrens, both River-class destroyers. These destroyers marked a major advance in Royal Navy destroyer design as they sacrificed top speed for seakeeping, allowing them to remain effective in higher sea states and at higher speeds.
    Birth of a Navy
  • With the Canadian government keeping tight lipped while negotiations were being brought to a close, this left a vacuum of information waiting to be filled. The Canadian Military Gazette was one of the first more official channels to comment on the likely upcoming announcement of a naval procurement plan. They would comment, “unless we have badly misread public opinion, the creation of an independent Canadian maritime force that works together with the British Navy will meet with very general acceptance. We do not believe the route of financial contributions is the best course as a dominion navy managed by the dominion government alone sufficiently meets Canadian needs.” Shortly after, the Government announced that within the period stretching to the next year, they would be rapidly undergoing steps to create a Canadian Navy and procuring warships to inhabit it. Arrangements were currently being made to procure older warships as fisheries enforcement vessels and training platforms alongside the announcement that Canada would domestically produce its own warships. A $15,000,000 program was announced to build Canadian shipbuilding and repair industries however, the situation quickly soured.

    Instead of coalescing support, these announcements drew controversy. The pro-contribution opposition had been fully expected, rallying around the soon to be famous derogatory title of Laurier’s planned force, the “Tin Pot Navy”. The newest threat came from the Quebec nationalists through Frederick Debartzch Monk, leader of the Quebec branch conservatives. While he had been present for the initial parliamentary naval debates, more pressing matters within Quebec had kept him from heavily commentating, that would quickly change. With the upcoming procurement and general change in naval thinking all being based off the recent Imperial Conference, Monk was heavily skeptical of the fact that the full transcript of the conference was withheld by the colonial office. The office themselves maintained that the discussions were private and contained relatively sensitive material alongside the fact that Laurier and Brodeur needed to keep their agreement with McKeena secretive, the eventually heavily edited and redacted transcript satisfied nobody. Monk struck hard and fast, accusing Laurier of “imperial drunkenness to a point of being fatal to the principal of a self-governing nation.”

    Monk accused Laurier relentlessly of “intending to build a war navy for active participation in the defense of the empire”, completely ignoring Lauriers repeated pleas clarifying that this Canadian fleet would not participate in Imperial actions without the consent of the Canadian people. Monk and his fellow Quebec elite would have none of this “imperial rabblerousing”, being promptly joined by fellow Frenchmen Henri Bourassa, a long-time critic of Laurier. Bourassa would utilize his powerful political connections to publish the French paper Le Devior in January of 1910, using the platform as a powerful means of opposing Laurier and his naval bill. It was rather obvious to the people of Quebec that regardless of what they desired, Canada as a whole would go to war with the empire regardless, making any kind of logical appeal rather moot on Laurier’s part. Fate seems to be playing a cruel game with Laurier as one of his most trusted and knowledgeable partners in the naval race, Minister Brodeur, was struck with a serious illness and could not oversee the implementation of the bill itself. Laurier was not as familiar with naval affairs as his minister however, it was time for him to take the reigns so to speak and bring this affair to it’s proper conclusion.

    Wilfred Laurier speaking to the House of Commons, 1916.

    On January 12, 1910, Wilfred Laurier personally introduced Bill 95 into Parliament or more well known as the Naval Service Act. The stress weighed heavily on his mind as he prepared to give the address, he was about to finally forge the arm which would protect his nation for centuries to come or conversely, was about to go down in recorded history as a optimistic fool. It was worrisome, Laurier had familiarized himself to a point to the specific naval matters of the Conferences and such however, he was nowhere near knowledgeable enough to hold up to specific scrutiny. This gamble would need to pay off, the time for caution had concluded.

    “Mr. Speaker, it was understood when the House adjourned for the Christmas recess that, upon resuming our sittings, my Hon. friend the Minister of Marine and Fisheries (Mr. Brodeur) would introduce the Naval Bill which was foreshadowed in the speech from the Throne and expose the policy of the government in regard to it. Unfortunately, my Hon. friend the Minister of Marine and Fisheries is to-day in such a condition of health that he cannot be present, but with a view of not disappointing the House and of expediting its business, my Hon. friend has asked me to introduce the measure for him. He hopes, and still more I hope, that when the Bill is brought up for second reading early next week he will be able to be in his place to move the second reading and then go fully into the whole question and all the details of policy and administration connected with it. My object, therefore, to-day will be simply to introduce the Bill and give to the House its salient features, reserving for the second reading the more general discussion of the measure. The Bill which will be laid upon the table is entitled ‘An Act respecting the Naval Service of Canada.’

    This bill provides for the creation of a naval force to be composed of a permanent corps, a reserve force, and a volunteer force on the same pattern 'absolutely as the present organization of the militia force. Unlike the Militia force however, no man in this country, under the Naval Service Act or any other, will be liable to military service on the sea. In this matter the present Bill departs altogether from the Militia Act; every man who will be enrolled for naval service in Canada will be enrolled by voluntary engagement, there is no compulsion of any kind, no conscription, no enrollment and no balloting. The Bill provides that the naval force shall be under the control of the Department of Marine and Fisheries. It further provides that there shall be a director of naval service who must be of the rank of Rear Admiral or at least of Captain, as we currently have. The Department shall be assisted by a naval board who will advise the department. Commissions in the Naval Militia will issue in the name of His Majesty. Another important feature of the Bill is that it provides for the establishment of a naval college on the pattern of the military college now in existence at Kingston. It also declares that the naval discipline shall be in the form of the King's regulations. These, Mr. Speaker, are the leading features of the Bill. Of course, the matter can be very largely elaborated, but I do not think that any elaboration is necessary to an understanding of the matter. In conclusion, it provides for the creation of a naval force; in this there are to be three classes as in the militia, the permanent force, the reserve unit and volunteer force. The naval service may be placed at the disposal of His Majesty in case of war. When Britain is at war, Canada is at war; there is no distinction. If Great Britain, to which we are subject, is at war with any nation, Canada becomes liable to invasion, and so Canada is at war. The Canadian representatives explained in what respect they desired the advice of the Admiralty in regard to the measures of naval defense, which might be considered consistent with the resolution adopted by the Canadian parliament on the 29th March, 1909. While, on naval strategical considerations, it was thought that a fleet unit on the Pacific, as outlined by the Admiralty, might in future form an acceptable system of naval defense, it was recognized that Canada's double seaboard rendered the provisions of such a fleet unsuitable for the present. Relating to the proceedings given by Mr. Askwith after the Conference had taken place, is the following:

    Separate meetings took place at the Admiralty with the representatives of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and general statements were agreed to in each case for further consideration by their respective governments. As regards Australia, the suggested arrangement is that with some temporary assistance from the imperial funds, the Commonwealth government should provide and maintain the Australian unit of the Pacific fleet. The contribution of the New Zealand government would be applied towards the maintenance of the China unit, of which some of the smaller vessels would have New Zealand waters as their headquarters. The New Zealand battlecruiser would be stationed in Chinese waters. As regards Canada, it was considered that her double seaboard rendered the provision of a fleet unit of the same kind unsuitable for the present. It was proposed, according to the amount of money that might be available that Canada should make a start with cruisers of the Boadicea class, Bristol class and destroyers of an improved River class, a part to be stationed on the Atlantic seaboard and a part on the Pacific. These warships will be built in Canadian docks with money spent by the Canadian taxpayer, thus will create the industrial base for further growth within the nation for all types of vessel, even excluding warships.”

    Caricature of the Bourassa and Monk at one of their rallies against the Canadian Naval Service, in the Conservative Herald newspaper.

    There was obvious dissent within the Liberal party itself however as with many topics involving politics, Lauriers supported fell in behind him, letting loose with a thunderous applause as he returned to his seat. Laurier had hoped that this compromise between an effective force, a largely dominion-controlled force and the infrastructure investments would win over all parties but for a veteran politician, he was far off the mark. Taking some time to regroup, the Conservatives bit back at the Laurier as party member Clarence Jameson took the stand.

    “As the battlecruiser is the essential part of the fleet unit, it is important that an Indomitable class warship of the battlecruiser type should be the first vessel to be built in commencing the formation of a hypothetical Canadian fleet. Here we find the large battlecruiser spoken of as a necessity, the first essential in the creation of a fleet unit. Australia and New Zealand have adopted the plan of the naval experts, yet the government of Canada deliberately ignore it and propose placing in the water ships, which in the stern test of modern naval warfare, would he as helpless as a family of small children dumped down in a vacant tenement and told to live for themselves. Again, the class of ships proposed to be built by the government would, in the event of war, compel Canada to take a position inferior to Australia and New Zealand, who are each preparing to provide ships capable of taking their place in the battle line.

    It was the boast of the people of Canada, irrespective of race or creed, that when the Canadian volunteers went to South Africa, they took their place on the firing line, they fought shoulder to shoulder with the best troops which Great Britain or any of the colonies sent to the front, they won honor for themselves and reflected honor on their country. To-day Australia and New Zealand are each preparing to provide cruisers of the Dreadnought type. These vessels will not only be a deterrent to our common enemy, but in time of war would take their place in the battle line in defense as well of Canada as of every other part of the empire. Where would the proposed Canadian ships be if they are built, or obsolete craft such as the government are considering the purchase of? Too light to withstand the fire of a powerful enemy and only from such would an attack come; if they went to war at all, they would be forced into a position inferior to that of the ships of the other self-governing dominions, and would actually have to accept the protection of the larger ships of the younger and smaller colonies. The self-respect of the people of Canada, including, I believe, the descendants of the veterans of Montcalm and Wolfe, would cry out against the indignity to which the government proposes to subject this country.”

    This appeal to contributionists and imperialists alike resonated with the members of the conservative party and while they were obviously not as well versed in the particulars and practicality of certain naval plans, their issues rang true. Similar to their Liberal counterparts, the Conservatives burst out in agreement. In the end, Laurier’s compromise tried to accommodate everybody but ended up satisfying nobody. The Quebec nationalists complained that the long reaching cruisers and aggressive torpedo boats being ordered demonstrated a want to interfere in other nations affairs alongside their fellow imperial bullies. The contributionists lamented the lack of a concrete large gun contribution or similarly impressive cash donation to the Royal Navy while the imperialists baulked at the specific exclusion of a clause compelling naval service, being an all voluntary force. This was originally placed to satisfy the French Canadians lack of drive to fight overseas conflicts however, it rightly backfired rather quickly. The nationalists were the only party to be readily pleased as a Canadian navy built in Canadian yards was exactly what they had requested. Debate raged back and forth between the Conservatives and Liberals for months, finally coming to a bitter conclusion in May of 1910.

    Robert Borden would personally take the stand and while he agreed that it was desirable for Canada to have it's own naval force, he preferred to speak of a Canadian naval force as simply a Canadian unit of the Royal Navy. His party had previously argued that Canada should not take part in the naval defense of the Empire without having a voice as to the wars which Great Britain might undertake however at the same time, Borden did not believe that Britain would bring them into any major conflicts without having first consulted the Dominions. He would put forward that like the Militia, the Navy would corrode the nature of cooperation between the Dominion and the Empire.
    Borden went on to state a financial or material contribution for the purpose of meeting an emergency such as what was currently happening would be fully justified and desirable. To meet the German challenge he proposed, the Laurier government's proposal were completely inadequate. This was no longer an expansion of the Fisheries Protection Service and would stick them to the path of having their own naval force permanently while also in his eyes, being too little and too late to help Britain. Even in the best case scenario and with all due haste, a Canadian Service could not be effectively built in less than 10 years. He argued that 15 to 20 years is more realistic especially if Laurier went for all domestic construction. To that end, the crisis was here and now, such future actions would be too late. Borden's view was perhaps somewhat slanted due to the fact that he had visited Britain the previous summer, where he was privy to observing the grand British fleet organized for the King's review. Borden would go on to describe the scene itself,

    "It was not a proud thought for a Canadian surveying: that mighty fleet to remember that all the protecting power which it embodied was paid for without the contribution of a single dollar by the Canadian people, although Canada and every Canadian throughout the world had the right to invoke and the just expectation to receive the protection afforded by that great armament. Hereby, the obscenely rapid growth of German naval forces, in my opinion, is nothing but a most serious threat to the naval supremacy of Britain and by extension, being absolutely essential to the integrity of the empire. No one pretends that the British navy is not supreme to-day, but the continuance of that supremacy will cease within the next two or three years at least, unless extraordinary efforts are made by the mother country and all the great dominions."

    Sir Robert Borden leading a passionate speech sometime during his political career.

    Borden ended his attacks by advocating the old provision of a fleet unit or at minimum, 1 Dreadnought or, as he described, "the equivalent in cash at the disposal of the Admiralty to be used for naval defense under such conditions as we may prescribe." Even with the applied effort of Robert Borden and Monk/Bourassa from Quebec, all of these things were largely formalities as the Liberal party’s healthy parliamentary majority allowed them to pass the bill with little issue. With a vote of 111 to 70, the Naval Service Bill was put to paper and provided royal assent by King George V.

    As of May 4, 1910, the Canadian Naval Service had been born.
    110th Anniversary of the Royal Canadian Navy Gallery
  • Post retrieved from the Facebook page of the Royal Canadian Navy, May 4, 2020 at 12:05pm

    110 years ago to this day, Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier passed the Naval Service Act in Parliament and your Royal Canadian Navy was established. Although did you know that the Royal Canadian Navy was originally refereed to as the Canadian Naval Service? The prefix of 'Royal' was awarded to the Canadian Naval Service on August 29, 1911 by King George V. As we mark 110 years of service, we honor the courage, resiliency, selflessness and sacrifices of the men and women who served, and continue to serve, our nation in times of peace and war. In order to help honor this historic occasion, various artists have been commissioned to create paintings of the Royal Canadian Navy throughout it's early history. These gorgeous illustrations will make their way across the country in a traveling exposé, please stay tuned for the planned schedule and visit these at a location near you!

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    Can we afford Champagne?
  • While Laurier and his supporters had struck the first major victory with the founding of the navy itself, the messy affair of parliamentary debates had highlighted what would turn out to be Laurier's eventual downfall. Ever the people pleaser, Laurier attempted to always find what the general public wanted and follow that for policy. This might have worked generally but in the case of naval development, there was so many smaller parties working with completely different goals that it was impossible to find an agreed upon solution. The compromise eventually made pleased few however, it was passed and would have to be the foundation of the navy going forward. Laurier’s main concerns as of late would be shaping the navy into something respectable and solid before the coming election and after which, the public would decide his fate with their votes. With all of this said though, the organization of the navy had to be performed relatively quickly to help retain momentum. To further this end, Rear-Admiral Kingsmill had stayed behind in Britain after the most recent conference in order to help drum up support and attain the proper resources required for the navy itself. As he was the obvious choice for the director of the service, the responsibility fell to him to bring the service itself into a suitable state.

    One of the first recruitment posters for the Royal Canadian Navy.

    In order to do so under Laurier’s planned procurement of domestically built ships, the navy would have to have interim training platforms. The Admiralty would recommend ships of the Apollo class, a recommendation that Admiral Kingsmill would fully support. Kingsmill had personally commanded one of the ships of the class previously and while the protected cruisers were somewhat old, their traits well suited the operational environment of British Columbia. These cruisers were rather small, but they featured a fairly robust and reliable machinery system while also possessing rather impressive cruising radius for such a small ship, a necessity for long fisheries patrols around British Columbia’s expansive coastline. The small size of the ship worked as an advantage as it did not require a large crew, leaving more manpower potentially open for the Atlantic coast. On the other hand though, Kingsmill felt rather strongly that an Apollo class cruiser would be insufficient for the Atlantic coast given their seafaring population and generally more populated areas, the smaller cruiser might be seen as simply too small and without any impressive outward features. In order to remedy this, Kingsmill managed to convince the Admiralty to sell Canada HMS Niobe, a much larger cruiser of the Diadem class. Similar in age to Rainbow, Niobe featured a much larger hull and therefore a bigger crew compliment, seen as more worthy of defending the east coast. Also, of note was the presence of submerged torpedo tubes, something that Kingsmill had specifically requested in order to maintain some kind of torpedo training.

    Due to the unexpected opposition to the naval bill and the urgent need for a ship on the west coast, Rainbow was purchased using $225,000 previously set aside by parliament from the 1907 Marine and Fisheries budget for a replacement fisheries cruiser. Niobe would be paid for after she formally commissioned into the Navy, largely so her acquisition could be included within the naval service vote. Kingsmill’s time in Britain was also spent on recruitment as this skeleton force of cruisers would need a backbone. Alongside a civilian compliment of 61 clerks and 4 messengers, the following staff were added to the Naval Service following Kingsmill’s trip to Britain:

    These Royal Navy officers were originally offered to Canada on a loan however, some of them would retire from the Royal Navy and recommission within the Canadian Navy later on, providing Canada with a workable professional officer force for many years. Pay was provided at higher Canadian rates and all service was to be counted as well on their records if they wished to return to the Royal Navy at anytime, as their loan was slated to last 4 years. While Kingsmill had personally chosen some of the men, some volunteered out of a want to potentially breath life into a stalling career or were convinced to join the Canadians with a promise of a promotion at the end of their loan, although this was somewhat rare. As can be seen below in the departments organizational chart, Kingsmill was the senior naval officer within the department however, he was still below the deputy minister Desbarats and the Minister of the Naval Service/Marine and Fisheries. George J. Desbarats utilized his financial and political connections to retain his position and successfully argue for a salary increase due to his vital financial and bureaucratic work within the department, essentially leapfrogging Kingsmill in the chain of command. This greatly annoyed Kingsmill and his subordinates as anything that needed to be done had to be approved by a bureaucrat with no military experience, Lieutenant R.M.T. Stephens was irritated to the point where he threatened Kingsmill with resignation. Desbarats himself seemed to have realized the situation he had caused and thankfully, he exclusively assigned himself to civilian and administrative matters, rubber stamping whatever material Kingsmill needed and making himself scarcely seen. This bit of political backstabbing aside, Desbarats was a rather skilled and efficient administrator and his oversight over the RCN was sizable, if faint, largely only being noticed by the stamp of “seen by Minister” within the margins of documentation. One historian labeled Desbarats as the “departments ghost” as besides his personal journal constantly complaining about the weather conditions in Ottawa, not a single document can be found even showing an inking of his opinions about Canada’s naval service.

    Departmental Organization chart for the Canadian Naval Service from The Seabound Coast.

    While CGS Canada had taken on a group of cadets which would later become some of the first domestic Canadian officers, a much more conventional and formal program was required. As the Naval Service Act allowed for the operation of a Naval College, this was the preferred route to train large numbers of officers in order to build up the Canadian presence within the upper ranks. The college itself would be largely based off it’s counterpart in Britain, requiring cadets to be between the ages of 14-16, achieve a passing mark on a rigorous exam, must be a British subject, must be able to pay for uniforms, tuition, miscellaneous supplies and most importantly, they must speak English. This worried Minister Brodeur as the navy was already in relatively poor standing with French Canadians, but he had expected English to be the major language of the navy but not allowing any French at the college was a step too far. Brodeur pushed for at minimum, hosting the entrance exam in both English and French to give equal opportunity to cadets and smooth over some of the tensions within Quebec regarding the Navy. The minister would address this in a memorandum to the naval staff,

    “It should not be forgotten that Canada is a bilingual country and that French and English are on the same footing. It follows that the instruction in national establishments should be conducted in both languages. The instructors who are appointed should be fairly conversant with French and English. If the rule suggested in the above memo were adopted, it would mean that French speaking young men would be unable to enter the service. I am sure this is not the end aimed at by the officers who prepared it. I fully realize that the use of two languages is creating inconvenience but that is not sufficient to prevent the true spirit of the constitution being carried out. I would request the Chief of Staff and Secretary to reconsider the matter with hope they will realize themselves the impossibility of carrying out their suggestion.”

    As Deputy Minister Desbrants delivered the memorandum to both staff members, Rear Admiral Kingsmill had been made aware of the situation and dug in his heels, supporting the opinions of his staff. Any entrance exams after November 1911 would be English only, this would allow French speakers to have their boys educated enough to take the test in the meantime. Brodeur expressed his regret at the stubborn nature of the former RN officers and fought with them throughout 1910 and 1911 however, the College would remain English only, further tarnishing the image of the Canadian Navy within Quebec. Pivoting away from the issue of language, the college itself though would be built more off the Royal Military College in Kingston, offering a 2-year program with required service in the navy after graduation. The college itself was located in the old naval hospital within the Halifax Dockyard, largely for the proximity to the sea and the Halifax dockyard alongside cheaper running costs compared to the Kingston, Ontario location. Instructors from the Royal Navy were mixed with Canadian civilian teachers and taught a litany of topics ranging from seamanship, navigation, mechanics, engineering, mathematics, physics, naval history, geography, and chemistry alongside English, German and ironically, French lessons. An extra year of at sea training on a warship was added to the curriculum before the cadets would take their lieutenants qualification. All seemed to be going well for the college with 21 of the original class of 34 applicants passing admission.

    Deputy Minister George J. Desbrants.

    On the naval side, the recruiting of sailors had been postponed until Niobe and Rainbow arrived in Canada. This was largely due to the fact that both Halifax and Esquimalt lacked a habitable building in which to house their sailors, therefore Niobe and Rainbow were modified in order to increase crew comfort, largely being done by modernizing the onboard cooking stations, enlarging of messes/training areas, new heating units and a Marconi wireless set. While the high traffic and important areas of both dockyards were maintained, large portions of them fell into disrepair. These would eventually be repaired to demolished and replaced over the coming decades. In July of 1910, Kingsmill would once again return to Britain, this time to oversee the refitting and sea trials of both Niobe and Rainbow. To this end, Rainbow was commissioned into the Canadian Navy on August 4, 1910 and on August 20, she departed Portsmouth for Esquimalt. Due to the Panama Canal being incomplete, Rainbow traveled the entire route around South America and up the west coast of North America to reach her destination. The voyage itself was uneventful barring meeting the German cruiser Bremen off Peru, which was undergoing gunnery practice drills. After 12 weeks and 15,000 nautical miles, Rainbow arrived at Esquimalt, on November 7, 1910. Niobe was somewhat behind her sister, commissioning in Devonport on September 6, 1910 and arriving in Halifax on October 21 of the same year. This was planned to line up with the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and as Kingsmill transferred his flag from CGS Canada to Niobe in the harbor mouth of Halifax, he became the first Canadian flag officer to raise his flag on a Canadian warship.

    It is relatively interesting to compare the local response to both ships’ arrival. Le Devoir responded with “the cruiser Niobe, heart of the Canadian fleet, Canadian in peacetime, imperial in wartime, arrived yesterday in Halifax.” The Conservative press in Toronto stated, “Niobe was on her way to the scrap heap” while the Halifax Herald would say, “Once more Halifax becomes a naval headquarters. The four letters planned (HMCS) looks strange but we may get accustomed to the change from the old-fashioned HMS, which Halifax once knew.” In comparison, Rainbow’s arrival was almost completely positive. Victoria Colonist added, “History was made at Esquimalt, Canada’s blue ensign flies for the first time on the dominions own fighting ship in the Pacific. The ocean of the future where some of the worlds greatest problems have been worked out. Esquimalt began its recrudescence, the revival of its former glories. The event of the Rainbows arrival was one calculated to awaken thought in the minds of all who endeavored to grasp its true significance. The Rainbow is not a fighting ship, but she is manned by fighting men, and her mission is to train men so as to make them fit to defend our country from invasion, protect our commerce on the seas and maintain the dignity of the Empire everywhere. Her coming is a proof that Canada has accepted a new responsibility in the discharge of which new burdens will have to be assumed. On this western frontier of Empire, it is all important that there shall be a naval establishment that will count for something in the hour of stress.” Most relevant and powerful of all though was from the Victoria Times. We are told in ancient literature that the first rainbow was set in the sky as a promise of things to come. So, it may be with his majesty’s ship. She is a training craft only, but she is the first fruits on this coast of the Canadian naval policy, the necessary forerunner of the larger vessels which will add dignity to our name and prestige to our actions.” Rainbow and her crew were not subject to the amounts of verbal abuse and political mud slinging that Niobe was enduring on the East Coast. British Columbia was squarely a pro-navy province and Rainbow was welcomed with open arms. As she entered Victoria in November, crowds lined the shores and provided a rousing welcome.

    As Niobe and Rainbow both arrived, the move to recruit sailors was finally undertaken. Seamen were required to be between the ages of 15-23, boys from 14-16 and stokers from 18-23. Service was mandatory for 7 years if they joined at 18 and after that, could reenlist for more 7-year periods after that. Many sailors flocked from the Royal Navy, largely due to the fact that promotions would likely be plentiful (and carry over to the Royal Navy) and mainly due to the fact that Canadian payment rates were more than double that of equivalent Royal Navy rates. The Admiralty and Canadian government also allowed pensioners and fleet reservists to reenlist or assist somehow in the Canadian Navy itself. While the start to the Canadian Navy was generally positive, the tiny Canadian Navy soon found itself wrapped in a seemingly endless sea of standard government issue red tape. HMS Niobe was the first of many thorny topics. The Conservative opposition, displeased with the sound defeat their own counter proposal received, pulled out every trick imaginable to delay the funds required for her. Rainbow made it under the political wire using funds from the Fisheries Department, the Conservatives had succeeded in tying up the money required for payment of the Niobe for over three weeks. The citizens of Halifax in particular had plenty of time to silently curse the slumbering vessel they had paid for out of their own taxes. Little did the staff know at the time though, this little scuffle would prove to be the least of their future worries.

    Niobe in the Halifax graveling Dock, sometime during her Canadian service. Niobe would be no stranger to this dock over her short career.
    Premium Price, Premium Ships?
  • As both Niobe and Rainbow had finally been successfully acquired, their replacements in the shape of a domestic shipbuilding program had to be started as quickly as possible. The choice for domestic construction came with risks and rewards. The cost of building warships at home was estimated to be at minimum, a 30% increase to the cost of any ships from experienced British yards. This alongside the fact that Canada had zero knowledge in building modern warships, worried Laurier that the entire program would see slow downs, delays, and eventual cancellation. The upsides though were also attractive, the building up of Canadian marine infrastructure would provide advantages for the civilian market while also potentially opening up Canada to foreign export orders in the future, it was also much more palatable for such large sums of money to be spent at home opposed to abroad. Regardless of where the ships themselves would be built however, it was clear that Canada would require the assistance of the Admiralty and as such, Kingsmill entered into talks with the Admiralty in March of 1910. The Canadian officer originally requested help with vetting a list of reputable shipbuilding firms alongside the inevitable handling of secretive and valuable Admiralty design documents. In response to this request, the Admiralty effectively threw open the doors eagerly to Canada. Alongside meeting Kingsmill’s requests, the Admiralty offered to assist any native Canadian firms looking to apply and to provide qualified Royal Navy staff to oversee production and act as quality control staff.

    A very interesting bow on waterline view of HMCS Niobe as she enters Halifax Harbor, the height of her broadside 6” casemate guns being readily apparent. Their usefulness in anything besides a flat sea would be limited.

    Kingsmill and Desbarats were both relatively excited to hear this news however, it was quickly clarified to the Admiralty that any overseers they sent would be hired by the Canadian government and most importantly, the contract itself was for the Canadian government and not the Admiralty. These ships were to form the lauded Canadian navy and the British would have to keep this in mind. In the intervening period before the tenders were accepted, the program was somewhat modified. The Boadicea class cruiser previously included was cut out of the program with the stipulation that Niobe would be retained as an active combatant in its place. This was done partially as a cost saving measure but mainly it was due to the fact that the scout cruiser concept was rather flawed. Boadicea herself featured the same top speed as a Bristol class, very similar crewing requirements and was only somewhat lighter than the aforementioned cruiser. The Bristol featured basically the same armament of a Boadicea on each broadside. So in the end, the ship proved to be a white elephant, not even able to effectively lead destroyer squadrons any better than a Bristol due to her slow speed. The Bristol class cruisers were specified to be the improved Weymouth subclass which entailed a major increase in firepower over the original Bristol class, moving from largely a split 6” and 4” main battery to a uniform 6” main battery. The River class destroyers were confirmed to be of the modern Acorn class. Another modification was also made to the timetable of the construction as the department had acknowledged the delays possible with domestic construction. All of the ships would be completed over the span of 6 years with the first cruiser being finished within 3 years with the remaining pair coming into service each following year. The first pair of destroyers would also be delivered in the first 3 years while the remaining ships would have to be delivered at 9-month intervals.

    Over 12 shipbuilding companies had contacted the Canadian government to express interest but once the formal tender was released in February of 1911, only 7 sent in official applications by the deadline of May 1911. One of those firms, Thames Iron Works, was instantly disqualified due to the fact that they were a British firm that mistakenly bid under the assumption that the ships were to be built in Britain. The following firms tendered bids,

    While one of the bidders was never identified, the most promising firm was the recently established Canada Vickers yard. The Canadian government had previously authorized large subsidies which were available to any companies for the construction of drydocks, shipbuilding facilities or any other relevant maritime infrastructure. Utilizing this opportunity to establish a foothold in Canada, the Vickers Limited leased an extremely valuable piece of property in Quebec in order to build a shipyard. The Montreal shipyard was easily the most advanced in Canada, eventually including a completely covered and heated work area and the floating drydock Duke of Connaught. Vickers Limited would prove itself in the future to be one of the most valuable firms for the Canadian Navy going forward as a rare experienced firm with massive pull and resources at home in Britain and abroad. In the end, the estimations regarding the premium for domestic construction proved to be correct. The highest bid for the built in Canada program came out to be $13,000,000 while the lowest was $11,300,000. The mistaken bid by Thames Iron Works provided a valuable comparison as their price came out to be $8,500,000 for British built vessels.

    A Vickers Limited advertisement in Jane's Fighting Ships, 1914 Edition. The aforementioned Duke of Connaught floating drydock can be seen in the top right alongside the modern battlecruisers Princess Royal and Kongo.

    The tenders were proceeding at a respectable pace, an inevitable clash between the Admiralty and Canadian government was threatening to blow the foundation out from underneath the entire naval initiative. The question of the Royal Canadian Navy’s legal authority was brought center stage, with all of the imperial elitism and colonial resentment dragged along with it.
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    Red Tape Across the Atlantic
  • One very slippery slope regarding the foundation of the Canadian Navy would be it’s overall jurisdiction. This would be within not only the empire but the world as a whole. As early as their refits in preparation to journey to Canada, both Niobe and Rainbow fell victim to these issues. Upon competition of both refits, the Admiralty contacted Ottawa in order to hash out standing issues in their minds. According to the Admiralty, they could not permit the ships to sail without having the Canadian government allow the Dominion crew members to be subject to the ‘Naval Discipline Act’ of the Royal Navy, allowing them Admiralty to enforce rules and keep a tidy ship during the crossing. In order to circumvent this issue, the Admiralty pressured for both ships to be commissioned into the Royal Navy, therefore being under the aforementioned act but the vessels would be under full control of the Canadian government upon arrival. Ottawa was completely blindsided by this news and understandably furious. The previously passed ‘Naval Service Act’ has specifically stipulated that Canadian crews were subject to the ‘Naval Discipline Act’ and even if such measures were not in place, the King himself was overall commander in chief of the Canadian Military and could therefore dictate disciplinary actions of issues occurred. This misunderstanding seeded mistrust in Ottawa over the competency of the Admiralty who while already criticized for their unreliable advice, was now seen as unable to keep itself informed as to Canadian naval acts and policies.

    Even through all of this, the Admiralty remained headstrong and refused to budge on the issue. Ottawa quickly locked itself into a standoff. It took Rear Admiral Kingsmill and the Canadian Minister of Justice traveling directly to Britain in order for the issue to be resolved. The pair of ships would sail under the proposed instructions of the Admiralty however, commissioning would be done as Canadian ships with Canadian control, regardless of when this might have been done. It was a rather strange sight to see a warship flying the blue ensign but as was expected, the commanding officer of Rainbow had wished to remain within his professional boundaries and did not cause a fuss. Commander William Macdonald of Niobe on the other hand, was not as accepting of sailing his warship across the ocean under the flag of a non-military vessel. Instead, he directly requested the Queen to present him with a white ensign for his vessel, which she graciously awarded him with. A silk white ensign would accompany Niobe across the Atlantic, much to the chagrin of both the Canadian government and Admiralty.

    The next conflict soon arrived at the feet of the Canadian government in the form of a memorandum titled, “Status of Dominion Ships of War”. This document completely shattered the previously established notions back at the 1909 Imperial Defense Conference by once again changing the Admiralty’s opinion regarding the dominions legal status. Some of the memorandum was agreeable with it requiring dominion navies have proper training and be able to integrate into the Royal Navy, the bombshell was the question of jurisdiction. The Australian Navy was essentially assigned the task of filling the void left in the pacific left by the Royal Navy removing themselves from the area. As they planned to purchase and operate a fleet unit, they were assigned a vast swath of the pacific to govern. As Canada did not purchase a battlecruiser centered fleet unit, in the view of the Admiralty, did not have a sufficient geographical role to fill. Canada should therefore be ineligible to have any area assigned to its navy outside of territorial waters. The Pacific coast would be essentially protected by Australia and the Atlantic was to be tentatively protected by the 4th Cruiser Squadron of the Royal Navy in peace and wartime, Canada would effective be unable to send it Navy outside of territorial waters.

    Crew members of HMCS Rainbow relax around the 6"/40 main battery guns and their protective breakwaters, the climate of BC (both politically and physically) being much more palatable than their brothers in Halifax.

    Even the assistance of Governor General Grey did little to sway both the Admiralty and Colonial Office as when Grey requested permission to be aboard Niobe on a Spring 1911 sail down through the West Indies, both British parties flatly rejected him, noting Canadian ships could not leave Canadian waters until these matters were resolved between both governments. Grey was denied what he coined as “the symbolic inauguration of this new navy”, the navy itself was robbed of valuable and much needed training. Niobe was confined to a dockside training platform in Halifax. Rainbow had a somewhat more spirited time as could generally be described for her entire early career, she conducted fisheries patrol duties within the waters of British Columbia alongside training for the foreseeable future. While the ships themselves were largely filling the roles they were originally acquired for, the blow to the domestic Canadian Naval force both in pride and politics, was rather severe.

    Minister Brodeur was growing tired of the seemingly continued attacks on any semblance of dignity and sovereignty within his nation and in a number of correspondence to Lord Grey, quite clearly laid out his feelings on the subject.

    “When it was decided at the Conference of 1909 that a Canadian Navy would be established, I thought that this navy would be permitted to go outside of territorial waters. Otherwise it would have been obvious as you yourself state, that no navy can exist under such restrictions. If they had told me at the time that the existence of the Navy would depend on some restrictions of that kind, I would certainly not favored it’s establishment in this country. Then was the time to raise the question instead of letting the Canadian government go on with the establishment of a navy, acquire vessels and then be told that they must remain within the confines of the coast. Nothing of this kind was then said when it was mentioned. Now they state we cannot go outside territorial boundaries without passing automatically under their own rules and regulations.

    I do not see why they would not trust Canada in the management and control of her navy. Do they fear some illegal action on our part? We have had for years upon years a Fishery Protection Service which has come constantly into contact with a myriad of foreign vessels. We have indeed seized vessels at various intervals but we never did anything which brought the Imperial Authorities under any kind of measurable scrutiny. I am not even aware as the Minister of any difficulties that have even happened to make such a connection. Having personally taken part in the 1909 Conference and having strongly urged on my compatriots on the principal of a Canadian naval force, I am personally placed in a very awkward situation. If there was no fear on my part that the idea of the Canadian Navy would be jeopardized, I would have to take steps that would otherwise not conform with the obligations that a Minister has to fulfill in the discharge of his duties.”

    Grey was similarly frustrated to Brodeur. He had been an advocate for an independent Canadian naval force for years but also as a British representative, he had to respond cautiously in turn.

    “It is fair to remember that while volunteers, a fair number of personnel currently manning both ships are still indeed Royal Navy personnel that have effectively been lent to the Canadian government by the Admiralty. The Admiralty has done everything in its power to meet our convenience in these matters, so in these circumstances, I feel you will agree with me that we ought not to push them on a course which will cause great inconvenience to both parties. The English regard this seemingly simple issue as one of great moment and difficulty, I implore you to reconsider any publicly brash statements.”

    While it can be all too easy to place all of the blame for such conduct on the Admiralty itself, the main issue was not especially the naval forces of the dominions, but instead the dominions themselves. The dominions as a whole had been exercising increased autonomy and control of their own land and seas however, the issue of their jurisdiction outside of territorial waters had never before been heavily considered. The Royal Navy held itself as the most powerful navy in the world and to potentially have members of their fleet (aka the dominions, as even if internally they are seen as unique, the rest of the world largely views them as British) acting outside of Royal Navy interests could damage their overall reputation and cause an international incident. The issue was urgently needing to be resolved and as a prominent Montreal lawyer was dispatched to discuss the problems with the Admiralty and surprisingly, the Royal Navy and British government were completely willing to negotiate. When Laurier arrived in Britain alongside Ministers Borden and Brodeur for the Imperial Conference of 1911, every issue besides one had been successfully negotiated. The only remaining duty left was to publicly sign and approve the documents at the conference itself. To the relief of all parties involved, both parties had came out of negotiations in a positive position.

    British Prime Minister Asquith opened the conference with the following statement,

    “There are proposals put forward from responsible quarters which aim at some closer form of political union as between the component members of the empire, and which, with that object, would develop existing, or devise new machinery, I pronounce no opinion on this class of proposals. I will only venture the observation that I am sure we shall not lose sight of the value of elasticity and flexibility in our imperial organization, or the importance of maintaining the principal of ministerial responsibility to parliament. I will refer to one other topic of even greater moment, that of imperial defense. Two years ago in pursuit of the first resolution of the conference of 1907, we summoned here in London a subsidiary conference to deal with the subject of defense, over which I had the honor to preside. The resorts achieved particularly in the inauguration of dominion fleets adopted by Canada and Australia, are of far reaching character. It is in the highest degree desirable that we should take advantage of your presence here to take stock of possible risks and dangers to which we are or may be in common exposed; and to weigh carefully the adequacy, and reciprocal adaptive was of the contributions we are respectively making to provide against them.”

    Being the most senior prime minster present, Laurier would follow the opening. He would state, “It is my happy privilege of representing here a country which has no grievances to set fourth and very few suggestions to make. If there is one principal upon which the British Empire can live, it is imperial unity based upon local autonomy.”

    As both Canada and Australia were included in the following agreement, both parties were required to agree to the following 15 stipulations regarding their naval forces.

    1.) The naval services and forces of both dominions were to be controlled exclusively by their respective governments.

    2.) Training and discipline within the forces of the dominions must be generally the same as the Royal Navy to permit the potential for proper interchangeability.

    3.) The King’s Regulations, Admiralty Instructions and the Naval Discipline Act are all valid in relation to the navies of the dominions but should any changes be desired, these will be communicated with the British government.

    4.) The Admiralty agreed to lend to the younger services, during their infancy, whatever flag officers and other officers and men might be needed, such personnel to be as far as possible, from or connected with the dominion concerned, and in any case volunteers.

    5.) The service of any officer of the Royal Navy in a dominion ship or converse, was to count for the purposes of retirement, pay and promotion, as if it has been performed in that officers own force.

    6.) Canadian and Australian naval stations were created and defined: the Canadian Atlantic station covered the waters north of 30 degrees North and west of 40 degrees west, except for certain waters off Newfoundland, and the Canadian Pacific station included the part of that ocean north of 30 degrees north and east of the 180th meridian.

    7.) The Admiralty would be notified whenever it was intended to send dominion warships outside of their own stations, and a dominion government, before sending one of its ships to a foreign port, would obtain the concurrence of the British government.

    8.) The commanding officer of a dominion warship in a foreign port would carry out the instructions of the British government in the event of any international question arising, in which case the government of the dominion in question would be informed.

    9.) A dominion warship entering a foreign port without a previous arrangement because of an emergency, would report her reasons for having put in to the commander in chief of that station or to the Admiralty.

    10.) In the case of a ship of the Royal Navy meeting a dominion warship, the senior officer should command in any ceremony of intercourse or where united action should have been decided upon; but not so as to interfere with the execution of any orders which the junior might have received from his own government.

    11.) In order to remove any uncertainty about seniority, dominion officers would be shown in the Navy List.

    12.) In the event of there being too few officers of the necessary rank belonging to a dominion service to complete a court martial ordered by that service, the Admiralty undertook to make the necessary arrangements if requested to do so.

    13.) In the interwar of efficiency, dominion warships were to take part from time to time in fleet exercises with ships of the Royal Navy, under command of the senior officer, who was not, however, to interfere further than necessary with the internal economy of the dominion ships concerned.

    14.) Australian and Canadian warships would fly the white ensign at the stern and the flag of the dominion at the jack staff.

    15.) In time of war, when the naval service of a dominion, or any part thereof were put at the disposal of the imperial government by the dominion authorities, the ships would form an integral part of the British fleet, and would remain under control of the Admiralty during the continuance of the war.

    In the end, the governments of the dominions ended up with all of the issues they had resolved, besides one for Canada. The Canada and Australia were both more than willing to adhere to any Admiralty regulations within reason while keeping their navies overall power within their own hands. Leaving the conference with much expanded territorial authority had been a massive boon and in the Admiralty’s eyes, even a Canadian fleet unit as was proposed lacking a battlecruiser would still be a worthwhile addition to the Royal Navy abroad. That aforementioned issue which went unresolved was that of the naval ensign. As with Australia, Canada had been previously moving to adopt the standard British White Ensign, the face of the Royal Navy for hundreds of years. Even with that being considered, both Prime Minister Laurier and Governor General Grey had both privately agreed that Canada should have a unique naval ensign that while inspired by the White Ensign, must have some degree of significance to the people of Canada. Any effective steps to shake off the notion of the Navy simply being another branch of the Royal Navy under a new name were vital from both a recruitment and political viewpoint.

    Artists impression of what Lord Grey's proposed Canadian naval ensign could have looked like, it is unknown how large the maple leaf in the middle would actually be.

    There was not a particularly large amount of effort put into such a flag, it is widely believed that Governor General Grey simply constructed it himself with little help. Regardless, The eventual flag was based off the White Ensign and featured a green maple leaf of indiscriminate size placed directly in the middle of the flag, overlapping the cross of St George. The flag never left the eyes of the upper echelons of Canada’s government and when Lord Grey proposed the idea alongside an example to the Admiralty in Britain, the result was rather expected. Grey was refused and as can be read above, Canada would fly the White Ensign, this was not up for debate. It can be imagined that the very idea of a Dominion wishing to deface the emblem of the Royal Navy with such a comparatively childish attempt was not warmly received by the Admiralty. While the design of the flag was indeed of questionable quality and the idea was not heavily pushed by any party, the choice to include a maple leaf was backed by a surprisingly rich history on both the civilian and military aspects of Canada. Early settlers in what would become Canada adopted the symbol as their own throughout the 1700’s with it growing in popularity, eventually making its way onto Canadian coinage, provincial coats of arms and prominently featured in the de facto national anthem of the nation, ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’. Personnel of the Militia and eventually the Canadian Army sported the maple leaf as both regimental symbols and national identifiers throughout conflicts as the recent Second Boer War. While the Maple Leaf did not make it into the ensign of the Canadian Naval Service, it’s significance to the Navy would become far more evident in the next major conflict.

    The issue of naval jurisdiction sadly meant that Niobe was unable to attend the June 24, 1911 Spithead naval review to celebrate King George V and his coronation. Canada would end up being present at the festivities with midshipmen Victor Brodeur and Percy Nelles alongside 35 enlisted men who formed a marching procession. These days would prove to be the high point of the Canadian Navy for sometime to come as on August 29, 1911, the Canadian Naval Service was authorized by the Colonial Office and his Majesty to use the prefix “Royal”. From this day forward, the Royal Canadian Navy was now completely established. The abbreviation RCN was used as shorthand and all ships of the service would see the prefix “HMCS” used to signify their distinction from their Royal Navy counterparts.

    Canadian Naval Stations in both the Atlantic and Pacific after the 1911 Imperial Conference, Canada gained considerable jurisdiction all things considered.
    Whiskey on the Rocks
  • Political patronage has always been a sticky issue regardless of the country and Canada is no exception. Prime Minister Laurier’s long-standing rule to always have a prominent Quebec figure at the head of the Department of Marine and Fisheries and by extension, the Navy, resulted in a rather large amount of this patronage. One of these promises was to Bowman Brown Law, a liberal member of parliament for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Coinciding with the Old Home Week celebrations in Yarmouth and across the coast of Nova Scotia, Brodeur was called to Britain for the Imperial Conference. Wishing to have Niobe tour Yarmouth and the surrounding coastal towns for the festivities and to help drum up support for the Liberals and their navy, MP Law contacted the naval staff to hopefully schedule a visitation. The Chief of Staff and his Secretary both denied the request. Sending Niobe off to amuse citizens would be a disruption of her current training scheme and a gross misuse of government resources. MP Law was not deterred and asked again, being declined for a second time. MP Law demanded that the Chief of Staff cable Minister Brodeur in Britain and remind him of the promise he made, the Naval staff did no such thing. MP Law faced potential backlash from the local population if the navy did not show so furiously, he made a daring move.

    MP Law was in a fairly good relationship with William Stevens Fielding, the former Premier of Nova Scotia, and the current Minister of Finance. Even though Fielding was also in London, he intervened on Law’s behalf, sending a telegram to the Naval Service in Ottawa asking for MP Law’s request to be granted. Brodeur had barely arrived back in Canada before MP Law was on him regarding the promise, this time getting a signed letter from the Minister granting the visit. Just before this signed letter though, the naval Chief of Staff had tabled a memorandum in complete protest of the visitation. Commander Roper rightly pointed out in this paper that the opinions of the naval staff members should be obtained before the Minister promises anything regarding movement of naval assets. Rear Admiral forwarded the memo, expressing his complete support and condemnation of the delay in training. Kingsmill added to the memo with his opinion that it would be impossible to carry out the required training related to the vessel if these visitations became customary. This mess for lack of a better term, clearly demonstrates the issues the Royal Canadian Navy suffered from in its early days but nonetheless, Brodeur sent Niobe to Yarmouth. Arriving on July 14, Niobe participated in the festivities rigorously. The ship was effectively skeleton crewed in port as all of the crew possible were rotated out to enjoy the activities. The ships band was the busiest out of their compliment, being lent to the town for the duration of their stay. Over 4,000 guests would tour the ship over its 5 day escapade while a formal ball would be held to honor their presence. Niobe would depart Yarmouth on July 19 following a rapid deterioration of the weather into a heavy gale. After visiting many other ports of call, Niobe found herself off Cape Sable on the night of July 30. As the ship crept through dense fog at 7.5 knots looking for the southwest ledge buoy, they passed the buoy and due to the visibility and heavy tide, Niobe found herself crashing into ‘Pinnacle Rock’. As the Commander had just reached the bridge but not fast enough to avoid the grounding, Niobe was lifted by the swell and thrown back against the rocks. Crew members were thrown off their feet with multiple sustaining minor injuries as the hull was shredded against the seabed.

    US revenue cutter Androscoggin, rather similar atleast in outward appearances to her Canadian fisheries enforcement counterparts.

    The ship was heavily damaged, the only thing keeping the ship afloat was zealous damage control efforts and the fact the boiler rooms themselves stayed relatively sealed. After everything was said and done, Niobe had lost her stern post and rudder with after most section of the keel being completely destroyed. The starboard propeller was gone while the port propeller had lost half its blades. The port engine room had completely flooded, and its opposite was enduring 16 feet of water. The ships freeboard had been reduced to only 10 feet at its highest point over the waterline and the largest puncture in the hull was measured as 25 feet long and 10 feet wide,. It was later noted that according to Commander Macdonald, “there was 19 holes in the ships bottom large enough to drive an automobile through.” Niobe sent out a call for assistance and was almost immediately responded to by the US revenue cutter Androscoggin. The cutter kept a wide birth to Niobe and prepared to take on survivors if the damage worsened. Niobe eventually worked her way off the rocks however even with both bow anchors down alongside a stern anchor, the sea was violent to the point of dragging Niobe stem first back into the rocks. Luckily hitting around the reinforced ram bow, this did comparatively little damage. The 16 men in the two boats launched to send out the stern anchor were lost in the fog when the 5-inch-thick ropes holding them snapped.

    The ships CGS Stanley, CGS Lady Laurier and the tug McNaughton all arrived in under a few hours from Yarmouth to deliver additional damage control equipment and personnel to assist Niobe. The ships boats were put out a few feet over the water to allow prompt launching in case the ship foundered as over 300 enlisted men and boys were brought up on deck before painstakingly being taken off by rescue ships. Miraculously, Niobe held together long enough to move under her own steam to a safe inlet, Shag Harbor, 10 miles up the coast. She made a respectable 7-mile jaunt in 24 hours on half a propeller and no rudder, having to be assisted by the tug along the way. The inlet itself was chosen for its rather shallow depth of 36 feet and a soft sandy bottom, if Niobe were to founder, she would be recoverable and all crew could likely escape. During this time, divers assessed and used mats to repair some of the larger openings within Niobe’s hull. The damage below was immense, and the divers exclaimed when they came topside that they were not sure how the ship was still afloat. The additional pumps and shoring materials made Niobe safe enough for the return trip home and as a tow, the cruiser HMS Cornwall was dispatched to bring them to Halifax. Cornwall had been training cadets off Newfoundland before she was dispatched and somewhat humorously, also managed to fall victim to the rocks that got Niobe. 2 miles away from where Niobe hit, Cornwall managed to ground herself briefly and take on 2,000 tons of water but worked herself off in enough of a condition to bring Niobe home.

    HMCS Niobe in drydock following her grounding damage, some of the impact can be seen covered by the wood near the bow.

    As Niobe slid into Halifax harbor and was pier side, the chopping block of the Admiralty was readily awaiting its next victim. Rear Admiral Kingsmill knew this firsthand and it was more than likely possible he would be down one or more officers by the time this was all over. Kingsmill himself would release a letter to the press congratulating the conduct of the Canadian enlisted personnel during the accident,

    "The discipline on the Niobe by the boys and young recruits was everything that one could wish for. With the ship in the position she was, a gale of wind blowing and dense fog overall, the Canadian boys behaved fully up to the traditions of the British Navy. The discipline left nothing to be desired. Of course, the ship's crew and officers displayed fine discipline, but I am speaking now of the Canadian boys and recruits."

    After Cornwall was repaired and Niobe cycled into the dockyard for a stay that would last 6 months, the hellish procession known as an Admiralty court martial was now underway. Anticipating this, Commander Macdonald personally cabled London and requested the court martial, seeking to clear his name. Due to the rather bare nature of the Canadian officer structure, the Royal Navy was required to send the entire 4th Cruiser Squadron to Halifax in order to have enough officers to properly hold the appeal. The cruisers HMS Leviathan, Berwick, Essex and Dongal were all present with their officers. The witnesses charged were Officer of the Watch Lieutenant Lord Allister Graham, Navigating Lieutenant James White and Commander Macdonald, all three charged with the causing, or suffering to be caused, the stranding of Niobe.

    Graham’s defense largely rested upon the conclusion that it was unfair to hold him responsible for the stranding of the ship when he had been relieved of the watch before the accident had occurred, which was perfectly fair. While he was diligent enough, it was found that he should have stayed on the bridge during such a troubling period. Graham was well aware of the existence of the Cape Sable lights, and the time they should have been discernible from the ship however, when this time passed and the lights were not seen, he did not immediately report the fact to Commander Macdonald or the Lieutenant White. It was the duty of Graham to place lookouts above and below to ensure the safety of the ship, but he did not think he had a chance, as the fog closed around the ship very rapidly. Graham would place lookout duties with himself. Graham failed to ascertain position of the ship by cross bearings of the local lights. In the end though, he was sentenced to be reprimanded, little more than a black mark for his record however, Graham felt and expressed that he had held a rather good record as an officer, which Macdonald and White backed up thoroughly. Graham was lucky, Lieutenant White was not so.

    At the age of 24, Lieutenant White had moved to Halifax with his wife and two children when he retired from the Royal Navy due to over staffing of navigators. He took up a position with the Royal Canadian Navy until the accident had occurred. This section of the court martial is often highly debated as White himself was much more articulate with a substantial argument compared to Graham yet, was given the harshest punishment of all. White had been extremely tired due to not sleeping the day before and took his leave, instructing Graham to let him know when the Cape Sable Lights were spotted, this never came. White rather convincingly argued that the stranding was due an abnormal tide, which was impossible to foresee, an uncharted rock or a mixture of the two. The abnormal tide was indeed proven due to the aggressive nature of Niobe’s damage and the existence of uncharted rocks have been amply proven by the grounding of Cornwall. White also maintained he had not been informed of the facts as he should have been and Commander Macdonald went on record stating, "Up to the night in question, I have had the highest opinion of you as a navigating officer. You have always been most careful, conscientious, and exact, and I have complete confidence in you as a navigating officer. I also consider you an excellent pilot." Regardless of these facts though, he was sentenced as guilty and summarily dismissed from Niobe.

    When later asked to comment about the affair, White simply stated "The Niobe went ashore and someone had to suffer for it”, leaving it at that.

    Commander Macdonald of HMCS Niobe.

    The final person to be tried was Commander Macdonald himself and as White’s career had for all practicalities already been sacrificed at the alter, Macdonald had a chance to successfully prove himself of any wrong going. His presentation to the court was as follows,

    "At 9:58, after getting away from Yarmouth, I rounded Blonderock buoy, and shaped course S.74 E. The night was very clear. Up to this time no abnormal tide had been encountered, and nothing to lead me to suppose that any corrections other than those allowed for in tide tables would be necessary, I am firmly of the opinion that Lieutenant White's computation of tides was the correct one, which the point of our stranding proves, and that had there not been an abnormal tide the ship would have made the southwest ledge buoy even in thick weather. About 10:15, I gave my night order book to the officer of the watch on the forebridge and pointed out to him that the ship was making the southwest ledge buoy, to see that the ship was not set in to northwards, and on no account to get to port of his course, but to keep generously to starboard. At this time, the night was extremely fine and starry, I then went into my cabin on the forebridge. On being called at midnight, I came out of my cabin and found that the ship had run into a fog. I called out Lieutenant White's name and was informed that he was not on the upper bridge. I then sent for him. As the reduced speed had not enabled me to hear the southwest ledge buoy’s whistle, I determined to haul out, and went into the chart house to determine a course, and had just leaned over the chart when the ship took ground. The time from my first being informed that the southwest ledge buoy was sighted to the time of grounding was about 20 minutes. I beg to state that the cause of our grounding was an abnormal tide, due either to the gale, the previous night in the Bay of Fundy, or to perhaps a hurricane in the West Indies. I would ask the members of the court to place themselves in my position on the night in question, to remember that at 10:25, when I gave the order book and instructions to the officer of the first watch, the night was exceptionally fine, exceptionally clear; that no abnormal tide had been experienced, and that I was kept in ignorance of the fact that Cape Sable light had not been seen when we were closely approaching it; that when I was called about the time I expected to be, I was definitely informed that the buoy had been seen and heard immediately before the fog closed down in the position I expected it to be seen. I am of the opinion that neither the charts, tide tables nor sailing directions give the seaman, not possessed of local knowledge, any idea of the danger of the locality. I am not claiming to have grounded on an uncharted rock, though this may well be the case, and I think that this locality probably abounds in uncharted rocks, which only ships of deep draught discover."

    Following his explanation and consideration by the court, Commander Macdonald was found to be free of any guilt and as was tradition, was given his sword back by the ranking officer of the court. On a personal level though, many officers held Macdonald in a lower regard, assuming him negligible for not ensuring his crew had been following proper procedures.

    Canada would be deprived of half her naval fleet for a substantial and vital period in its history. When Niobe would emerge from the drydock in January of 1912, she faced a far more hostile nation.
    Don't Give Up The Ship!
  • August 4, 1911. Halifax, Nova Scotia.

    First Lieutenant Edward Atcherley Nixon, alongside the cadets, had spent the majority of the morning marching briskly through the surrounding area of Halifax. The specific route today had been around Bedford Basin and out into Dartmouth proper. The cadets were more than familiar with this route by this point in their tenure at the Naval College but none of them expected a stop at the dockyard’s armory. The old Lee-Enfield Mark I* rifles, fondly termed as "emily", were handed out to the eager hands of the young boys. While lacking live ammunition to the dismay of the lads, their glistening bayonets bobbling up and down surely made a similar impression to the citizens of Dartmouth as they looked on with bemused stares. The march itself was rather enjoyable but Lieutenant Nixon had something else sitting in his mind, a personal favorite event that he insisted was hosted every Friday. Training staff for the college itself had always been hard to come by and being one of the main instructors, Nixon had used his connections to bring aboard any teachers, civilian or otherwise, to assist his students. One of those civilians was Archibald MacMechan, a local university professor who had graciously volunteered each Friday to teach naval history to the cadets. Nixon had helped MacMechan prepare today's lecture and as a stand out moment in Halifax's history, the Lieutenant was fairly excited himself. The lecture itself was to take place in its usual spot, the large annex present alongside the college itself. Nixon checked his pocket watch which displayed 2 pm, he could almost hear the steps of the cadets making their way from the mess room. As all 26 cadets poured in and eventually tapered off, MacMechan began his lesson. The topic of the day was 1813 Naval Battle between HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake, a somewhat famous naval engagement around Halifax. MacMechan was a rather skilled professor and as his lesson flew on by at dictation speed, each cadet struggled to write verbatim what their instructor was teaching. Prompt reporting under stress was a valuable skill and Nixon would take personal responsibility afterwards to ensure his cadets showed such skills.

    Painting of HMS Shannon leading the former USS Chesapeake into Halifax harbor.

    MacMechan’s riveting retelling of the engagement itself was something to behold. Not a single detail was left untouched as he faithfully sundered on about the captains of each vessel, descriptions of the ships, the quick and deadly engagement itself and capped the entire lesson off with an almost eyewateringly patriotic narration of Shannon escorting the captured Chesapeake into Halifax harbor. While the Canadians did not have a direct influence on the battle, it was very much a closely held engagement for the citizens of Halifax in general. Following a show of gratitude from Nixon and the cadets alike, the Lieutenant took the stage in the professor’s place.

    He stared out into the faces of the young men in front of him, “Cadets, what do you think was the most important factor in deciding the battle in Shannon’s favor?”

    Cadet Percy Nelles stood from the crowd, “The difference in the crews sir?"

    “Correct.” Nixon stated, “This is the most important distinction I want all of the cadets here today to take to heart. While war on the sea has changed dramatically since the days of sail, the importance of the crew has not. How you conduct yourself as navigators, engineers, gunnery officers and leaders will dictate the success of both day to day operation and engagements with the enemy. Stick to your craft or duty with the utmost dedication. Your instrument or conduct may very well be the reason for victory or defeat. Take to heart the qualities of a man who can steel himself against enemy fire and stay cool in the face of adversities. Battles are decided at anytime, be it the peak of their intensity or before they even begin.”

    “Another fact as well." He paused for a moment, "Commander James Lawrence may have lost his ship and his life but his action during the battle was something to also consider. His cry of Don’t Give Up the Ship was a valiant final action to his fellow crew. Later United States Naval officers would later make this cry something to be remembered, a classic example how a small action can have even larger results. Even in death and defeat, an individual can make a lasting difference upon their ship, crew members and the fate of their country. While I do not want to impart onto you such pessimism, know that your duty extends to even when you depart this Earth. No matter how dire or hopeless a situation, keep your head level and your demeanor cool. I wish to see the day that one of you cadets merrily sail your implement of war through this great harbor of Halifax and repeat the deed of Broke so many years before.”

    With that, Nixon released the cadets for their next training session. With their journals in hand, headway was made towards his office. Sitting behind his desk, his eyes reached the letter he had received earlier that morning. Lieutenant Stephens had addressed him a rather worrying rumor. Ever since Prime Minister Laurier and his underlings had made their way to London for the recently concluded Imperial Conference, the Conservative party head Robert Borden had been aggressively growing his sphere of influence against Laurier. While this was mainly regarding the trade agreement with the United States, the shipbuilding plan, and the Royal Canadian Navy itself had come under heavy fire politically. While speculation at this point, there was considerable talk that Laurier very well might be ousted following the September election. Nixon suppressed a shiver at the thought of what the Conservative Party would do to the very recently founded Canadian Navy. They had issues with equipment, personnel, and funding as it of now and if what he had heard was correct, the Navy might simply be abolished under a new administration. Regardless of that though, Nixon broke the thought from his mind and thumbed the first journal on his desk. Regardless of what the politicians decided, he would teach his cadets until they dragged him from this building, kicking, and screaming.

    Commander Nixon after his promotion and alongside a dog at the naval college.

    Shooting Politicians in a Barrel
  • Riding high from his sweeping conference victory, Laurier made landfall back in Canada only to find for him a pre-set political minefield. The Conservative opposition had been nothing but busy in his absence as Laurier’s recently proposed reciprocal trade agreement with the United States was a veritable roundhouse kick to their hornets’ nest. In January of that same year, Laurier and US President Taft had agreed to sign an agreement regarding the free trade of natural products between nations. While the US Congress and Senate had passed the required legislation, the agreement was now to be decided by the Canadian political establishment. The Liberal party had placed its hope on the fact that the Prairie provinces would support such an agreement, giving them an excellent market for their largely agricultural materials. On the other hand, the manufacturing center of Canada which resided within Ontario and Quebec feared that this would remove materials from their own economy and place too much power in the economical juggernaut across the border. It was alleged by Frederick Monk that Laurier’s trade agreement with the United States only served to “dig a big ditch to hide the nefarious policy of his naval bill” and while this may be true, the Liberal party as a whole had been proponents of free trade for years and this was completely on brand for them.

    While outwardly a strong strategy to both empower his supporters and quietly shuffle the RCN’s various controversies somewhere to be dealt with after the next election, this gamble would prove to be Laurier’s political downfall. As Canada and the United States had specifically utilized legislation instead of a formal treaty to dodge the approval of the British government, many parties viewed this as some beginning to a shady backroom deal. A lack of consulting with the British caused overly patriotic imperialist Canadians to start pointing fingers and leveling the charge of “traitor” against anybody in favor of this agreement. Another American annexation scare was also sparked when House of Representatives speaker Champ Clark fervently declared before the house, “I look forward to the time when the American flag will fly over every square foot of British North America up to the North Pole. The people of Canada are of our blood and language.” This was promptly capped off with remarks regarding this trade agreement as the first step in ending Canada as a country, being received with immense applause. This rightly caused panic within Canada and the Conservative party latched onto this incident to fuel their anti-America, pro-Britain stance. Another nail was struck into the coffin concerning the agreement when William M. Bennett, member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a resolution that asked the President Taft to open negotiations with Britain on how the United States could properly annex Canada into it’s fold. President Taft rejected the resolution and the following vote only had Bennett himself voting for the resolution however, the damage was done. Bennett's resolution was taken into the Canadian media as substantial proof that the Americans were planning on an eventual annexation of their nation.

    This would all result in Robert Borden and his Conservative party leveling a filibuster against the proposed legislation. As the Canadian political system did not yet possess a tool used to break such a tactic, Laurier was forced to dissolve parliament and call a general election more than a year before he had previously planned. In order to assist his party in breaking Laurier’s over 15-year stranglehold on power, Borden formed a shaky coalition with the two prominent French politicians of the time, Frederick Monk and Henri Bourassa, Conservative and Nationalistic politicians respectively. With establishment Conservative funding and the use of all the talking head newspapers, the attacks on Laurier personally began. Due to Laurier taking the reigns of previous naval developments, his opposition tied the failures and problems of the department directly to Laurier himself. The naval issue was front and center in Quebec but nowhere else in Canada. The only strong thread holding all of these precarious alliances together was their personal hatred for Laurier and his naval bill, eventually holding long enough to replace Laurier with Robert Borden on October 10, 1911. Ironically for the Quebec politicians, Laurier’s compromises and French-Canadian understanding was gone, replaced by the hardline imperialist sentiments of Borden’s Conservatives.

    Political cartoon of the period lampooning Borden and Bourassa in their alliance against Laurier.

    The nightmare of the Royal Canadian Navy had been realized, the complete control of the recently born service now rested in the hands of her mortal enemies. When Niobe emerged from dock, she was immediately placed alongside and waited for a concrete announcement from the new government regarding her fate. There she would lay for years with her gun breeches removed and her very hull rotting out from under her due to a lack of maintenance. Following the removal of the pro-navy Governor General Grey and the appointment of a new Minister of Fisheries alongside Monk to the Minister of Public Works, Laurier’s carefully stacked deck in the navies favor had came tumbling down. Luckily though, Borden opted to continue the honor system of not outright dismissing civil servants from a previous administration, meaning Kingsmill, Desbarats and the remainder of their staff retained their positions. Although honestly, Borden had nobody to replace any of these staff even if he wanted to. Only a month after his election, the tenders for Laurier’s fleet had been rejected, the Borden administration returned the deposits to their owners and closed the book on the entire project. Following this, Borden announced that he would be moving to repeal the Naval Service Act from existence, effectively executing the Royal Canadian Navy. Although he promised to replace the act with his own more effective legislation, this was little comfort. The only silver lining was the fact the Naval Service Act would remain on the books until such new legislation was drafted which would take considerable time. Borden would go on to say,

    “As the government could not very well sink the ships and burn the buildings belonging to the current navy, the existing establishment would continue until a new policy could be formulated.”

    Even with this said though, the Conservative government delivered the toughest pill to swallow in the form of the 1912 budgetary estimates. A massive cut was to come from the naval budget, moving from $3 million under Laurier to $1.6 million under Borden. The promise of a fair time in a new service with plenty of opportunity was essentially snuffed away, leaving the Royal Canadian Navy without the money and later, the personnel to even send their ships to sea. Royal Navy leased personnel, Canadian recruited men and even members of the Royal Navy who had joined the Royal Canadian Navy began to weigh their options in the rapidly sinking service and as is natural, sailors tend to leave a sinking ship. Miraculously though, the Royal Naval College of Canada in Halifax escaped any of Borden's budgetary cuts. While the admission slowed to only a mere trickle even compared to the previous meager years, this trickle would later prove to be invaluable in the years to come.

    As Borden struggled to forge a naval policy for himself, he would become rapidly swept into the company of a figure who would leave his mark on the Canadian Navy for years to come.

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    Canada Day Festivities 2020
  • July 1st, 2020

    Halifax Regional Municipality Celebrates Canada's 153rd Birthday!


    Join the staff of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the people of Halifax for our yearly July 1st celebrations. HMCS Bluenose has just completed her yearly repairs in time for this momentous occasion. Wayne Walters, grandson of Bluenose's famous Captain Angus Walters will be present as Bluenose will be docked in the Halifax waterfront open for tours through the duration of the afternoon. Don't miss a chance to walk aboard Canada's international goodwill ambassador and see the 'the Queen of the North Atlantic' from stem to stern! You've seen her on the dime but there is nothing like the real thing! Bluenose is one of the most well known and admired ships ever to be built on Canadian shores, her sterling service through her years as both a racing vessel, a hardworking fishing schooner and naval ship is fun for all ages. Admission to Bluenose and the nearby CSS Acadia is free for the day, make sure to stay for the evening to watch the fully rigged schooner strut her stuff with a ceremonial sail leading elements of the Royal Canadian Navy out to sea, following by fireworks later into the evening.

    HMCS Bluenose coming into dock in Halifax, sometime during the 1960's.

    Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians and anybody else celebrating this holiday!
    Man With(out) a Plan
  • Unsurprisingly for the average politician, the newly elected Prime Minister Robert Borden’s naval policy was rather hypocritical. His party had previously been the ones to bring up the cause of naval defense during the Foster Resolution many years ago and being a supporter of the original planned merger of the fisheries protection service into a local defensive element, Borden supported a Canadian Navy. It just turned out to be nothing close to what Laurier had envisioned. It seems that the ideal plan rolling around within Borden’s head consisted to attempting to stitch together some kind of financial contribution to Britain while also building a permanent naval element for Canada itself. Placing himself at a crossroads where contributionists and nationalists would hopefully back his schemes, he had doggedly fought Laurier’s expanded ocean going fleet. Once actually in power though, Borden knew he had to tread lightly. Even though his party had won the election, the Canadian political system was still sagging with the weight of over a decade of Liberal rule, just waiting to strike back at Borden to make up their previous loss. This was also compounded by his previous allies in Quebec, who were more than likely to also oppose any naval policy. Borden’s original plan seemed to consist of simply ignoring the naval issue for as long as possible while covertly siphoning the navy of whatever resources it already possessed.

    Even after a chance meeting with the illustrious Sir William White and their subsequent discussions regarding the future for the Royal Canadian Navy, Borden remained quiet. After his inaugural speech from Britain did not even mention the topic of the navy, Laurier leapt at the opportunity to tighten the screws around Borden. Laurier went to far as leveling a motion to declare the new government as unconstitutional given in his eyes that it, “had formed a cabinet whose members held diametrically opposite views on such a question of the highest importance to the dominion and empire.” Borden completely dismissed these allegations and went on the offensive, retorting that Laurier’s naval plan had been “ineffective, expensive and ill-considered”, resulting in a Canadian fleet full of useless and outdated ships built at a ridiculous price at home. When pushed for answers regarding his own naval ambitions, Borden replied with;

    “The whole policy must be reconsidered, and we shall reconsider it. In so grave and important a determination, affecting for all time to come the relations of this dominion to the rest of the empire, it is infinitely better to be right than to be in a hurry. The question of permanent co-operation between this dominion and the rest of the empire ought to be threshed out and debated before the people and they should be given the opportunity of pronouncing upon it. I say, further, that we shall take pains to ascertain in the meantime what are the conditions that confront the empire.”

    From left to right, Isidore Belleau, Robert Borden and Wilfred Laurier having a civil conversation in the great outdoors.

    As it seemed just about time for Borden to once again bury the naval issue under some other bit of controversy, events in Europe moved to displace Borden’s plans. When the Admiralty announced the 1912-1913 Royal Navy estimates and their subsequent abandonment of the two-power standard in favor of a 60% advantage in dreadnoughts over Germany, the military of Britain was called forward to speak regarding a potential war with Germany. Following a humiliatingly awful showing by First Sea Lord Sir Arthur Wilson in regard to the war plans of the Admiralty, he was quickly whisked away and replaced by Sir Francis Bridgeman. On the order of Prime Minister Asquith, Home Secretary Winston Churchill was elevated into the office of First Lord of the Admiralty. At the hands of British Columbia Premier Richard McBride who was an old friend of Churchill, a connection was made eventually to Borden. Through McBride, Churchill offered the fullest assistance to the Canadian government regarding any naval development or inquiries they require.

    “They can consult the Admiralty in perfect confidence that we will do all in our power to make their naval policy a brilliant success; and will not be hidebound or shrink from new departures provided that whatever moneys they think fit to employ shall be well spent according to the true principals by which sea power is maintained.”

    There is no records of Borden and Churchill directly communicating until near the end of May 1912 in which he wrote to Churchill regarding meeting him in early July for the Committee of Imperial Defense. At this conference, it was explained that while the Royal Navy could likely rise to the challenge of Germany, a potential alliance with Austria-Hungary would result in them having to transfer a minimum of 3 battleships into the Mediterranean to counter the threat. While Britain could take the financial hit of these 3 additional ships, the potential response from Germany was feared. It was believed that if Canada sent in for the order itself, it would lessen the impact while still allowing Britain to have the battleships at it’s command in wartime. Churchill would state on the matter,

    “If we could say that the new fact was that Canada had decided to take part in the defense of the British Empire, that would be an answer which would involve no invidious comparisons, and which would absolve us from going into any detailed calculations as to the number of Austrian and German vessels available at any moment. If it is the intention of Canada to render assistance to the naval forces of the British Empire, now is the time when that aid would be most welcome and most timely.”

    In Borden’s mind, the potential for Canadian dreadnoughts would please both the contributionists, nationalists and imperialists alike but in the end, it would do no such thing. Similarly to Laurier, Borden was swept up in the grand ideals and overly optimistic talk of imperial conferences. While much of the time spent in Britain revolved around the reinforcement of the peril of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, Borden also looked into developing a permanent naval policy of his own. Borden and his team had toured multiple naval dockyards and shipyards, looking for the opinions of the great shipbuilders of Britain. In the end though, Borden largely wanted the Admiralty to produce a memorandum in which he could take back to Canada and use to champion the cause of dreadnoughts for Britain. The memorandum he eventually received did not give him the proper ammunition he needed to defeat his opponents, Borden went so far as to express his displease to Churchill with the statement of, “If this contribution was the best we could expect, it would be idle for you to expect any results whatever from the government or people of Canada.”

    While the dreadnought question had fell somewhat flat, Churchill stayed true to his word and before Sir Francis Bridgeman himself was replaced by Prince Louis of Battenberg, he delivered a detailed memorandum. Disappointingly though, the report itself barely mentioned Canada for more than 2 pages. Besides the recommendation for reinforcing shore-based defenses at various cities along the west and east coast, the report proposed Canada maintaining extensive torpedo boat flotillas. Canada would operate 3 separate flotillas, the first pair would consist of 4-6 torpedo boats and 3 submarines, being placed in Vancouver and Halifax. The final flotilla would consist of a cruiser, 12 torpedo boats and 9 submarines placed in and around the Gulf of St Lawrence. This fleet plan was much more appealing to Borden, being drastically cheaper both monetarily and manpower wise. Hopefully due to this plan being much closer to the expanded fisheries service and serving as a solely coastal defense force, it would also quash the notion from French nationalists that a Canadian fleet was solely built for Imperial use.


    It is completely unknown what form the above mentioned torpedo boats would take however, it can be theorized that ocean going or atleast larger coastal torpedo boats would need to be utilized due to Atlantic/Pacific weather. Above is the Admiralty Cricket class and below is the German V1 class.

    But as was standard, nothing came of this fleet as Borden teetered back and forth privately regarding how best to introduce such a bill before his enemies. While his supporters correctly assured him that they should deal with issues one at a time and with the introduction of the Naval Aid Bill would soon be upon them, a pair of bills would likely end in disaster. As the most contentious parliamentary debate since confederation though, the Naval Aid Bill threatened to break the Canadian government apart at the seams.

    Hello everybody, thanks again for tuning in. I apologize for the delay in the posting of this chapter however, I believe that I have finally settled on a reasonable schedule for posting. I was thinking 3 posts a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This should allow me to break chapters down into relatively smaller sizes while also keeping up a fair pace. We are rapidly approaching our point of deviation but I don't want to rush in. Feedback as always is appreciated, have a good one :)
    Dread Nought but the Fury of Parliament
  • The Naval Aid Bill was introduced in Parliament on December 5 of 1912. It read as;
    "HIS MAJESTY, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:-

    1. This Act may be cited as The Naval Aid Act.

    2. From and out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Canada there may be paid and applied a sum not exceeding thirty-five million dollars for the purpose of immediately increasing the effective naval forces of the Empire.

    3. That said sum shall be used and applied under the direction of the Governor in Council in the construction and equipment of battleships or armored cruisers of the most modern and powerful type.

    4. The said ships when constructed and equipped shall be placed by the Governor in Council at the disposal of His Majesty for the common defense of the Empire.

    5. The said sum shall be paid, used and applied and the said ships shall be constructed and placed at the disposal of His Majesty subject to such terms, conditions and arrangements as may be agreed upon between the Governor in Council and His Majesty's Government."

    In essence, this bill would essentially hand over the funds required for the construction of 3 capital ships to Britain. Canada would be left high and dry when it came to their own naval policy, as Borden wished to pass this law before any others. It is generally agreed that while these ships likely would have had Canadian names, they would be commissioned into the Royal Navy and operated by them. To the Nationalists, this was the ultimate betrayal of their trust and a worst case scenario. While the Imperialists and Contributionists were generally rather content with this payment.


    HMS Valiant in drydock, sometime around the end of WWI. While it is somewhat supported by prepared designs that the trio of Canadian dreadnoughts might be built to a unique 'flat iron' design, their operation by the Royal Navy almost certainly meant they would be of the Queen Elizabeth class. It is rather obvious why such large and expensive ships would be unsuited to domestic Canadian operation.

    That being said, the proposed amount produced a rather extreme whiplash in Parliament. Even the generally rather vapid and pro British Governor General expressed his dismay regarding the new naval bill.

    “I am not quite sure exactly what the government are going to propose as the permanent naval organization of Canada, something more practical and useful than the Laurier naval bill I hope. This they want to repeal at once and I am urging them not to do this til they have an organization to propose in its place. I think it would be a mistake for Canada, alone of all the great self-governing dominions, to be without any system of naval defense. I think you will agree with my view that for the moment an inferior and existing naval organization is better than none.”

    In his typical fashion, Borden launched himself into boisterous and stirring speeches in order to attempt to drum up support for his newest bill.

    "So far as official estimates are available, the expenditure of Great Britain in naval and military defense for the provinces which now constitute Canada, during the nineteenth century, was not less than $400,000,000. Even since the inception of our confederation, and since Canada has attained the status of a great Dominion, the amount so expended by Great Britain for the naval and military defense of Canada vastly exceeds the sum which we are now asking parliament to appropriate. From 1870 to 1890 the proportionate cost of North Atlantic squadrons which guarded our coasts was from $125,000,000 to $150,000,000. From 1853 to 1903 Great Britain's expenditure on military defense in Canada runs closely up to one hundred million dollars. Has the protection of the flag and the prestige of the Empire meant anything for us during all that period? Hundreds of illustrations are at hand, but let me give just two. During a period of disorder in a distant country, a Canadian citizen was unjustifiably arrested and fifty lashes were laid on his back. Appeal was made to Great Britain, and with what result? A public apology was made to him, and fifty pounds were paid for every lash. In time of dangerous riot and wild terror in a foreign city a Canadian religious community remained unafraid. 'Why did you not fear?' they were asked, and unhesitatingly came the answer, 'The Union Jack floated above us.'

    No thoughtful man can fail to realize that very complex and difficult questions confront those who believe that we must find a basis of permanent co-operation in naval defense, and that any such basis must afford to the overseas dominions an adequate voice in the molding and control of foreign policy. It would have been idle to expect, and indeed we did not expect to reach in the few weeks at our disposal during the past summer a final solution of that problem, which is not less interesting than difficult, which touches most closely the future destiny of the Empire, and which is fraught with even graver significance for the British islands than for Canada. But I conceive that its solution is not impossible; and, however difficult the task may be, it is not the part of wisdom or of statesmanship to evade it. And so we invite the statesmen of Great Britain to study with us this, the real problem of Imperial existence. The next ten or twenty years will be pregnant with great results for this Empire, and it is of infinite importance that questions of purely domestic concern, however urgent, shall not prevent any of us from rising "to the height of this great argument." But to-day, while the clouds are heavy and we hear the booming of the distant thunder, and see the lightning flashes above the horizon, we cannot and we will not wait and deliberate until any impending storm shall have burst upon us in fury and with disaster. Almost unaided, the motherland not for herself alone, but for us as well, is sustaining the burden of a vital Imperial duty, and confronting an overmastering necessity of national existence. Bringing the best assistance that we may in the urgency of the moment, we come thus to her aid, in token of our determination to protect and ensure the safety and integrity of this Empire, and of our resolve to defend on sea as well as on land our flag, our honor, and our heritage. And so we invite the statesmen of Great Britain to study with us this, the real problem of Imperial existence. Meanwhile, however, the skies were filled with clouds and distant thunder, and we will not wait and deliberate until any impending storm shall have burst upon us in fury and with disaster."

    Borden's Imperialistic appeal to patriotism had struck accords with members of Parliament across both sides of the aisle however as the Liberal opposition delivered their reply, any pretenses of cooperation between the parties for support was quickly dashed. While there was the potential for an option for Canada to take over the operation of said three ships in the future, it was extremely likely that these immensely expensive and resource intensive vessels would stay in Admiralty custody for their entire service lives. While special privileges would likely be given to Canadian personnel to be stationed and trained aboard these ships alongside the ships themselves receiving Canadian names, (Ontario, Quebec and Acadia), Borden was quickly taken under fire.

    If Laurier was furious at the proposal, the man in classic fashion, did not show a crack of rage in his impenetrable mask. At a Liberal caucus held the following day, the party decided with dissent that this bill would not be allowed to pass, no matter the length they must go to.

    Wilfred Laurier speaking to the House of Commons.

    At the next meeting of Parliament, Laurier tore into the Naval Aid Bill from every angle he could think of. He began by saying that it was the Conservatives who had dragged the Dominion's naval policy into the zone of contentious politics with their ridiculous Imperialistic jingoism. They had thrown out Laurier's perfectly reasonable procurement plan for what? Handing the Admiralty money on a silver platter? This plan, unlike his own, would spend no money on Canadian infrastructure and do nothing to assist the Canadian economy. In the mind of Laurier, Borden had given up the policy of a Canadian navy before he went to England, and had then when he arrived, asked the Admiralty of what they would like as a tribute. Laurier reaffirmed that the existing Canadian naval organization of his own creation was not separatist in tendency. Laurier concluded by moving an amendment, the gist of which was that any measure of Canadian aid in imperial naval defense which did not carry out a permanent policy of participation by ships owned, manned, and maintained by Canada, and built in the Dominion, would not properly express the aspirations of the Canadian people. He proposed measures should be taken as quick as possible to realize the potential embodied in the Naval Service Act; and that accordingly, in place of a tribute to the Royal Navy, two fleet units should be provided, one for each coast. The makeup of these fleet units was never agreed upon however it is thought to be two similar units to Australia. This too though was rather optimistic.

    Laurier's speeches reinforced his point of view and struck home the problems with Borden's policy;

    "In our humble judgment the remedy is this, that wherever, in the distant seas, or in the distant countries—in Australia, Canada or elsewhere—a British ship has been removed to allow of concentration in European waters, that ship should be replaced by a ship built, maintained, equipped and manned by the young nation immediately concerned . . . This is the Australian policy; this ought to be the Canadian policy. You say that these ships will bear Canadian names. That will be the only thing Canadian about them. You hire somebody to do your work; in other words, you are ready to do anything except the fighting."

    It seemed that Borden had seriously underestimated the amount of bitter feelings regarding the Liberal loss in the last election and his pledges to effectively destroy the Liberal formed Royal Canadian Navy. Even members of the Quebec Conservatives switched sides to support Laurier through these debates. For 2 straight weeks in March of 1913, Parliament had a continuous sitting in regards to the bill. The Liberals were dedicated to stopping this bill by any means necessary and in the words of one of their members, "we are going to sit until Christmas time, if necessary, to prevent the passage of this bill." Over the next 23 weeks, every kind of argument and obstructive trick in the Parliamentary playbook was utilized by the Liberals. The arguments largely turned entirely partisan with each leader eventually falling back to party lines with their leaders rallying support solely around good old-fashioned party allegiance. Once the bill was forced through into a second reading though, the tactics of Laurier took a major turn. Another member of Parliament explained the tedious slug fest which had unfurled.

    "We then entered upon a discussion which involved practically continuous sitting for two weeks. The debate went on, night and day, until Saturday, March 8th, at two o'clock in the morning. Members on each side were divided into three relays or shifts and were on duty for eight hours at a time. We had to adopt unusual precautions because we did not know at what hour the Opposition might spring division and have a majority concealed and available. On Monday, March 10th, the debate was resumed and it continued at great length throughout the week. On Friday, March 14th, and again on the following day the debate became so violent as to occasion apprehension of personal conflict. As midnight [Friday] approached the Speaker twice had to take the Chair amid scenes of great disorder."


    Political cartoon showing off the issue of the Naval Aid Bill rather well.

    The general strategy for the Liberals at this stage of the debate was to discuss every single point which arose or could be introduced, and to discuss each for as long as humanly possible in the most minute of details possible. Every tiny fact or statistic brought up by the Conservatives was asked for verification, sessions of Parliament turned into marathon one sided arguments and hours upon hours of reading from lists. The Conservatives largely said as little as possible to avoid supplying the Liberals with any more ammunition for their stalling tactics and hoped as they waited that the sheer physical exhaustion caused by such obstructive and long winded tactics would eventually crack the Liberals facade. The debates themselves were quickly descending down into a state of "frivolity and license with obstruction reaching the point of destroying parliamentary government."

    In the face of such stubborn opposition, Borden would write to his Governor General, "These tactics must be arrested, condemned and banished." For the very first time, the Conservatives utilized the newly founded 'closure' rule. As is stated by, the closure rule is described as follows;

    "Closure is a procedural device used to bring debate on a question to a conclusion by a majority decision of the House, although all Members wishing to speak have not done so. The closure rule provides the government with a procedure to prevent the further adjournment of debate on any matter and to require that the question be put at the end of the sitting in which a motion of closure is adopted. Apart from technical changes as to the hour at which debate is to conclude, the rule has remained virtually unchanged since its adoption in 1913.

    Closure may be applied to any debatable matter, including bills and motions. The rule was conceived for use in a Committee of the Whole as much as in the House, but it cannot be applied to business being considered in standing, special, legislative or joint committees of the House. When these committees are considering bills, the House may use the time allocation rule to impose a deadline on the committee stage or to force a committee to report the bill to the House."

    Ironically though, a closure rule was not previously passed by the House partially on the opinion of Borden previously, with him stating that such a tactic was 'undesirable'. With votes of 105 to 67 and 108 to 73 respectively for Borden, the Naval Aid Bill was essentially rammed through Parliament after a final reading on May 15th, 1913. Although Borden's bill had braved the harsh treatment of Parliament, it still had to survive the Senate. As senators within the Canadian Senate are appointed for life by the Governor General and any new appointments are always made from among the supporters of the Party in power at the moment, this was a major issue. Borden had not been in power long enough to place a large amount of his supports within the Senate compared to the record 1896 to 1911 length of Laurier's rule over the Canadian government. This had resulted in a iron grip on the membership of the Senate and on May 29, 1913, by a vote of 51 to 27, the Naval Aid Bill was finally defeated in the Senate and returned to the House. While Borden took this initial defeat fairly well however, he soon cabled Churchill in secret and proposed the Admiralty should start construction of the trio regardless of the Canadian funds. He assured Churchill that before their eventual competition, the Canadian government would once again introduce a bill to finance these ships. In a rare show of common sense, Churchill replied with "Such an arrangement would be open to criticism in both countries as seeming to go behind the formal decision of the Canadian Parliament and that we have no right at present to assume the Senate's vote could be reserved." Borden would move to attempt a foothold within the Canadian senate but any kind of naval policy on his end seemed to be dead and gone.

    After this defeat, the Conservative government abandoned their naval ambitions for the foreseeable future as the Royal Canadian Navy continued to languish in port under the governments financial constraints. Through this "heart breaking starvation time" though, the Navy would acquire one of the men most instrumental in changing the path of the department for years to come.
    My Dear Hose, It Can’t Be Done
  • April 15, 1912. Esquimalt, Canada.

    As much as he tried, Commander Walter Hose could not stop himself from intermittently pacing across his office. The planned meeting with Rear Admiral Kingsmill was already lagging behind by over 10 minutes, further compounding the apprehension gnawing at him. Kingsmill and himself had a very positive personal and professional relationship but with what he was about to propose this afternoon, Hose feared the old salt might not react kindly to his suggestions.

    He turned to one of the many bookshelves within the office, swiping a long trail with his finger through the thin layer of dust. It had not been particularly long since Hose had been formally admitted into the Royal Canadian Navy, only about 10 months ago. A busy period it had been, not even enough time for a good dusting.

    Captain J. D. D. Stewart seemed to have had enough with the budget cuts, government ineptitude and personnel drain associated with the RCN and resigned his command of Rainbow, returning to Britain. This was rather fortunate for himself due to the fact that as far back as 1909 when the RCN was just an idea, he had the foresight to contact Kingsmill regarding officer positions in the new navy. There was not exactly a problem with his service in the Royal Navy as his last posting had been as the executive officer aboard the armored cruiser HMS Cochrane but promotions were still sparse. Being a lieutenant for 11 years did not exactly inspire hope in any serious future and a new service like the RCN would require officers, so in theory being much easier to climb the ranks.

    While he had originally transferred as the replacement Captain for Rainbow as one of the Royal Navy’s loaned personnel, this position was solidified in January when his permanent RCN transfer went through. What he had not expected was a dual command of both Rainbow and the Esquimalt Dockyard itself. It was not particularly surprising given the growing pains of the RCN, the recent budget cuts by the new administration had taken the wind out of quite a few sails and the Royal Navy volunteers were slowly heading home. Something had to be done about this lack of manpower, if this trend continued the Navy would effectively cease to be even an effective training force, let alone one with any combat capacity.

    A series of low knocks sounded from the door, followed by Hose’s secretary poking his youthful face through the frame.

    “Admiral Kingsmill is here to see you sir, would you like me to send him in?”

    Hose nodded, “Yes please, bring along tea as well.”

    There was not even a few seconds to solidify his thoughts before he heard the measured trouncing of Admiralty issue boots on the hallway boards.

    A white peaked cap pushed its way through the door first, followed closely behind by familiar bearded face, its once dark hair stained with splotches of white.

    “Good afternoon Commander, may I take a seat?”

    “Please.” Hose gestured, “The tea should be arriving shortly.”

    The discussion began with the expected exchanging of pleasantries, slowly moving into local news, occurrences, and the general day to day activities around their respective bases. Hose gingerly recounted when a local boy had made it his afternoon to follow one of the gate guards in his rounds, holding a stick in place of his opposites rifle. Kingsmill replied with a story about a how he had asked a cadet how fit for service he was, only for the cadet to tell him he could swim the Welland Canal in 90 seconds. Their good-natured conversation continued far longer than the tea lasted and eventually, the two officers decided to make their way out into the dockyard for some fresh air.

    As the officers made their way through the largely mothballed dockyard and took in the atmosphere of the Victorian era base, the conversation turned the way Hose had predicted.

    “It is truly a shame to see the facilities in such a state,” said Kingsmill. “Less than a decade of neglect and we are left with this.”

    The Admiral was not particularly wrong. The handing over of the base itself was a slow and arduous process which neither party had been willing to rush, resulting in the majority of the dock besides the heavily used piers, work shops and coaling stations being simply left to rot. Even when the Canadian government had taken over, the Fisheries Protection Service did not allocate substantial resources to upkeep nor did they utilize anything more than a small portion of the facilities. When the Canadian Navy had taken over, there was only so much they could do in regard to utilizing the facilities. There was plenty of training to do but with only a single small cruiser to reliably service, not much could be done.

    Hose snugged his cap tighter onto his head, “Indeed, we are lucky to have the required personnel to man Rainbow, let alone keep the dockyard in acceptable condition. How fares Niobe and Halifax?”

    “Somewhat better due to the activity compared to poor old Esquimalt but not particularly well. I had hoped to return Niobe to service however between her condition, our budget and the rate we are losing men of all ranks, we would be hard pressed to see her return.”

    Kingsmill tugged at his beard slightly before continuing, “The attrition rate of the crews is my main concern. We can always make do as long as the ships are seaworthy but with all of the Prime Ministers talk of disbanding the navy, losing Captain Stewart is the least of our concerns. The morale within the loaned personnel is rather grim, it is starting to penetrate through into the gunroom at this point and I do not believe we will retain many of them for the original 4-year period. That is not even beginning to address the situation regarding domestic men.”

    Hose’s thoughts began to race, Kingsmill himself had set the stage and it was time to strike, now or never.

    “Sir, I have an idea about how to potentially lessen the blow of losing all of these personnel.”

    “Please continue.” Kingsmill replied with a small grin.

    Attempting to hide his hard gulp, Hose resumed, “I had been contemplating this issue for some time now but the Naval Service Act itself had the answer I was looking for. Alongside granting the navy it’s regular force, the act also provides the framework for both a reserve force and a volunteer force. Neither of these are currently in place at the moment and I believe that with the proper guidance, reservists and even volunteers could be used as an extremely valuable basin in which to draw personnel from. I have seen firsthand during my tenure in Newfoundland as Gunnery Lieutenant aboard HMS Charybdis how valuable these reservists can be.”

    Hose felt his confidence return as he continued, “Although I am not just suggesting naval reserves placed for example in Halifax and Vancouver. I believe that one of the most vital issues facing the navy as of now is the lack of public support. The people of a city such as Halifax are more than appreciable in regard to the navy and life at sea but what of the western areas? If the navy can spread it’s presence into various large towns and cities throughout the country as a whole, we can work the service into the hearts and minds of the people. Not just recruiting personnel but building good will for this sorely deserving service.”

    Kingsmill stopped dead in his tracks, throwing off Hose for a split second as he turned on his heel to await the Admirals response.

    “I have to say, you have brought forward some valuable foresight but my dear Hose, you don’t understand, it can’t be done. Prime Minister Borden has cut our budget to the point where we are going to soon run headfirst into operational difficulties. With the new administrations distain for the navy, asking them to expand the force and spend more money does not seem particularly permissible.”

    The old salt placed a hand on Hose's shoulder, “This is a difficult time for all of us Commander, our best strategy of survival is to keep our heads under cover and wait out the storm.”

    “Enough of this doom and gloom talk.” Kingsmill cracked his stony face with a grin, “A forward thinker like you needs a bit more tea and we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

    Hose weakly replied with a smile of his own, “I am certain the crew of Rainbow would be more than happy to host their flag officer aboard for a cup.”

    As they continued their walk towards a new destination, Hose grimaced. This result was expected, potentially it even went better than he had hoped but still, this service would not survive by keeping it’s head in the dirt and praying for it’s life. Even if the government itself had a vendetta against the navy, if they could capture the collective attention of the people only just a small amount, it could be the very lifeline the navy needs in the very near future. This wouldn’t be the end of this idea, it was only the beginning.

    Esquimalt dockyard deep into the winter, even the cold isn't an excuse for the various guards and personnel operating within the base.
    Knock Knock, Let the Enemy In
  • Decades before Canada even had an inkling of developing their naval forces, Germany had been moving to cement themselves into a major naval power. This was always predicated on building a large battle fleet in the Mahanian style however, the target of this fleet seemed to constantly change. The United States became one of the German fleets main priorities following the various civil wars in Samoa, the resulting tension putting Germany in a position where war plans were needed in case of an unseen conflict. The Germans quickly came to the conclusion that a fleet on fleet blue water engagement between the nations would not be particularly possibly given the distance required and the lacking nature of the German battle fleet. Therefore, the German Admiralty adopted the stance of cruiser warfare against any enemies on the continent. This type of warfare was designed to damage or destroy the enemy nations economy to the point where it would enter into negotiations. The main tactics within this type of warfare would be the sinking/capturing of merchants, bombardment of ports, sending landing parties ashore and generally causing havoc around enemy shores. While this tactic was adopted though, the German Admiralty and the Kaiser both seemed to grasp the fact that cruiser warfare was a sound tactic but not one in which an entire war strategy can be based upon.

    German naval developments were spurred onward by international conflicts such as the Spanish-American war and the various American annexations of Pacific islands. In order for a nation to survive on the world stage, it required a strong naval force. The Germans saw American expansionism in the Pacific as a direct rivalry to their own ambitions there. Germany would go so far as to draft multiple plans regarding attacks on the American mainland, seemingly never stopping to question the logistics or foolishness of such actions. These plans moved away from cruiser warfare and advocated for direct action on the mainland. Such actions included full military occupations of Norfolk, Hampton Roads and Newport News in Virginia with a strike through Chesapeake Bay up into Baltimore and Washington. These plans were eventually replaced by alternatives which called for the seizing of the Azores alongside various bays in Maine and South Carolina which the Germans would use as staging areas for the destruction of the USN. Various versions of the war plans called for 150,000 men to capture Cape Cod. While these various plans were kept on the record and tweaked for years, they were hopelessly optimistic and would have likely been complete suicide for the German fleet. It is interesting to see that in this period of tension, Britain also experienced similar issues with the United States but instead of heavily planning invasions or military action, the British took the action of rapprochement. It seems the Germans held a rather low amount of respect for the various American armed forces branches given their showings against the Spanish and other parties, judging their own forces as likely to succeed against them due to sheer training and willpower alone. The mindset of Germany is well expressed by a former naval attaché in Washington who stated, “A declaration of war by Germany against the United States is only possible if we have an alliance with England and if our flank facing France is covered by Austria, Italy and possibly Russia as well.”

    It seems that sometime around 1903, German warships began extensive scouting of Canadian and American coastlines for potential military actions. From the period of 1903 to 1904, SMS Gazelle, SMS Falke and SMS Panther all surveyed both coasts of North America. Falke and Panther specifically are of great interest specifically given their hidden objective of locating what was referred to as 'unterstutzungplatze' or 'U-places'. These areas would be hidden ports, anchorages or other vital areas in which raiding cruisers could gather, rest and hide from enemy eyes. Lengthy trips throughout 1905-1906 reported on various settlements, soundings, defenses, and local landmarks along the entire west coast of North America, all the way into Alaska. All of this information was aggregated into the 'Cruiser Handbook' and passed out to any commanding officers in charge of Cruiser Warfare. Extensive charting was conducted on both coasts alongside photographic info and invasion plans for Puget Sound and the straits of Juan da Fuca.

    SMS Bremen in 1909 as she visits New York city. Her distinctive yellow upperworks, white hull and ram bow were rather striking to onlookers.

    Even though the West Coast of North America was viewed as the 'soft underbelly' compared to the East Coast, German planning largely revolved around the more valuable Eastern Coast. SMS Bremen was dispatched in 1907 to gather information on the harbors of Halifax and Quebec City after the Royal Navy’s departure from Halifax. Handwritten orders specified identifying any changes in the bases defenses or operations alongside rumored fortifications being built in the St Lawrence. This “tour” by Bremen proved to be one of the most valuable in years. Alongside various goodwill stays throughout the period, shore parties heavily photographed building areas for new batteries, ruins of the old fortifications and got as accurate information on the current batteries as possible. It was revealed that the defenses of Quebec were essentially completely neglected while Halifax proved to be rather fairly defended. The location and caliber of batteries were noted however, the mixture of deteriorating older defenses and new construction greatly confused the Germans as they fairly did not seem to understand Canadian internal defense politics.

    SMS Freya visited Halifax in August of 1908 however, her entrance was less than stellar. On her way into Halifax, a heavy bank of fog was encountered and a local schooner was cut in half. 9 locals were killed and while the Halifax Herald did run the story on their front page, the text itself was rather muted and fair towards the Germans. For their part, the crew of Freya attended a large church parade and sermon in honor of the victims of the accident. This visit resulted in the revelation that certain passages and narrows around Halifax were not navigable by larger ships and through interviews with Canadian artillerymen, the true caliber of their guns was discovered, smaller than expected. Bremen would visit the East coast again in 1911 and 1912, visiting Quebec, Montreal, Sydney, Charlottetown, and Halifax. Cruiser warfare was heavily practiced in the gulf of St Lawrence, entailing torpedo drills, gunfire exercises on locally purchased targets and small arms practice. Bremen’s surprise visit to Saint John, New Brunswick in May of 1912 proved to be a particularly eventful endeavor. Clad in the white and yellow of the German East Asia Squadron, Bremen contrasted heavily with the dull grey of Royal Navy vessels normally found around the coast of Canada. The Charlottetown Guardian said that the particular color scheme gave her the “appearance of a big pleasure yacht” but the inclusion of the prominent ram bow and heavy guns showed she was built for fighting rather than amusement of the public.

    The mayor of the city had been delighted and invited the commanding officers on a tour of the harbor/city in his automobile. Throughout the drive, the mayor went into great detail in regard to the dredging of the nearby bay and the improvement of the surrounding dockyard. Alongside a gift of the Saint John’s Standard, a special issue of the newspaper containing a full diagram and description of the discussed port improvements. His final act as a host involved him promising to send the original harbor plans through the German embassy. Throughout this visit and the many others, the Germans gathered a complete picture of Saint Johns and its non-existent defenses. Various newspapers through the town condemned and praised the Germans visit although discourse came to such a head that the mayor personally apologized to his guests, who graciously accepted.

    Ships bands and ceremonial guards were common place on port visits, the crew of SMS Gneisenau can be seen here in their tropical white uniforms.

    The cruisers SMS Viktoria Louise and SMS Hertha visited Halifax through 1912 and 1913, the commanding officers of both ships stating in their reports;

    “The huge cruiser Niobe has not left drydock for the past nine months. The breeches of all guns were removed and she is without maintenance personnel. Sailors from HMS Cornwall called the Niobe rotten and that a voyage aboard her would be a risky endeavor. The training of cadets has ground completely to a halt and as the Director of the Naval College told me, cadets had to find work ashore to ‘earn dollars’ as soon as they go on leave. Officers complain openly of difficulties with the cadet’s social education, being bitter regarding how the younger men were listless and had lost all joy in their work. Cadets come from very divergent social circles and there was abundant difficulties in recruiting sons of French-Canadian parents. The officers themselves seemed generally not particularly enthusiastic about their duties and the English officers regarded their Canadian comrades as colonial and therefore inferior. It seemed nobody wanted to undertake tough demanding work of the service or in business anymore. Businessmen and industrialists in Canada seem to view the naval question as merely an election slogan. All of the English sea officers aboard Niobe are in some respect inferior, either physically or professionally compared to Royal Navy personnel. The dockyards themselves are present in a melancholy aspect. Freshwater cannot be brought aboard ships as there is no barge and the coaling area is heavily cramped.”

    Besides direct spying and information gathering on military matters, officers of the ships attempted to gather information on Canadian politics and naval policy. It seems that the backwards and extremely convoluted state of Canadian politics in regard to the nations naval policy sent the minds of Germans officers spinning, although what was protected information wise was not particularly useful. Rumors regarding Borden’s dreadnought donation to the Royal Navy was relayed but all parties involved seem to have accepted this was a dubious possibility. While the Canadian Navy was actively foundering in port, the Germans laid the foundation for any future actions against Britain or the United States. The information present in the ‘Cruiser Handbook’ would proven vital to the actions of the Imperial German Navy against Canada and Britain through the early months of World War I.
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    A Reserve of Determination
  • Commander Walter Hose often referred to the period of 1912 to 1914 as the 'heartbreaking starvation time' and with the state of the navy in general, it evident as to why. With HMCS Niobe left in drydock and later allowed to rot pier side, personnel started to hemorrhage rather worryingly. Recruiting had fell to the wayside with essentially zero effort being put into the matter, posters within post offices were scarcely replaced and showed out of date information. Recruits turning in quickly found themselves deserting or transferring to the Royal Navy instead if they even decided to join. Figures for enlisted sailor intakes in 1912 listed 126 new sailors but 149 deserters. What personnel remained within the navy were found to be older pensioners from the Royal Navy, the average rating left assigned to Niobe in this period was well over 30 years old with some of the oldest being almost 50. The situation regarding training opportunities were so poor that the midshipmen from the College were forced to serve temporarily with the Royal Navy to receive their qualifications. Rainbow herself had fared better than Niobe, largely due to Commander Hose and his dogged determination. Her shrunken compliment largely relegated her to training in Esquimalt harbor and on the odd occasion, enough crew could be shaken out of the Fisheries Protection Force to allow the cruiser to stretch her legs up the coast. In fact, through this period, Rainbow was occasionally utilized as a fisheries protection ship herself although her considerable size and slow speed meant she was generally unsuccessful at catching smaller vessels within the 3-mile limit. Her one notable capture was that of the US schooner Edrie on February 21 of 1913 which she seized and brought into port after a quick blank shot from her 6 pdr battery.

    The above chart shows the truly dismal state of the RCN leading up to WWI. As of 1913-1914, HMCS Rainbow effectively carried the bulk of the RCN's active personnel.

    Even with this sporadic work on his plate, Hose was not a man to stand idle for any period of time. Admiral Kingsmill’s disapproval of his plan regarding a volunteer naval reserve not withstanding, he was not ready to let the idea go. With the rate of attrition, the regular force was going through, there would need to be a pool of even semi-trained personnel to pull from in case of an emergency. It turns out that Hose did not have to scheme for long as the opportunity fell directly into his lap. In July of 1913, a group of men including Royal Navy reservists in Victoria decided that they would attempt to form a volunteer naval force along similar lines to that of the Royal Navy. This raggedy group of naval enthusiasts, Royal Navy pensioners, yachtsmen and businessmen spent the next few weeks gathering financial, material, and political support through Victoria, the news eventually reaching Commander Hose in Esquimalt. While Hose could not go against the wishes of Kingsmill just yet, he met with the group multiple times and pledged to help in any way he could. Hose undertook a risky move and went above Kingsmill’s head, speaking directly to the Minister of the Naval Service, John Douglas Hazen. Hazen was outwardly sympathetic towards the group and with his permission, the unofficial reservists were granted permission to use the Esquimalt facilities with Hose’s supervision. When news of this eventually reached Kingsmill and Ottawa, both were furious at both the direct disobeying of orders and the lack of transparency in both parties’ actions.

    Even after a personal rebuke from Kingsmill, Hose started the training of the reservists fervently. This group had no official status, little funding, and no pay whatsoever. All equipment was loaned from Esquimalt’s stockpiles and for a rather long time, these out of place men marched through the yards of Esquimalt, rifles in hand and clad in civilian attire. Instruction came from Commander Hose alongside members of Rainbow’s crew and Esquimalt base staff. All instructors were volunteers and took time out of their personal lives and even careers to ensure some semblance of training was passed to this vital group of trailblazers. During the following month, the new Indefatigable class battlecruiser HMS New Zealand stopped to visit Vancouver on its scheduled world tour. The leaders of the volunteers were surprised when the battlecruisers commanding officer, Captain Lionel Halsey, invited them aboard for a meeting. The officer made it a point to reinforce how crucial the role of the reserves was to the struggling organization and in the end, provided written resources for the unit to assist in their training. By around the same time of next year, the group had grown to over 140 members, although their training was somewhat surface level.

    Men of the unofficial Victoria naval reserve pose for a photo, the mismatched civilian clothing and scatterings of naval uniforms can be seen throughout.

    It would seem that through their determination, the group of amateur sailors from Victoria attracted the attention of the federal government. Utilizing an order in council through the Naval Service Act, the government strangely passed the ruling which brought the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve (R.N.C.V.R.) into being. It is unknown why a government seemingly hellbent on destroying the current navy would drop it a lifeline however, it is theorized that it was a kind of Liberal appeasement strategy or simply preparing for the Conservatives own navy. Regardless, the Reserve drew immediate criticism from the Liberals as they saw the organization not as a means of strengthening the existing Naval Service, but as an inevitable siphon to push more capable men into Royal Navy service. The organization itself was laid out with officers and enlisted men, open to all capable seafaring men up to 45 years old. The personnel would be volunteers in peacetime but would be engaged with the navy’s regular personnel during wartime. Contracts would be drafted in 3-year intervals with the ability to reenlist until the cut-off age. With a budget of $200,000 and a personnel goal of 1,200 men, the organization was to be split into 3 separate divisions. The Atlantic Division encompassed the entire East Coast until Quebec, the Lakes Division covered Quebec City to Manitoba and the Pacific Division held the rest of the nation. The Reserve would embark on 21 days of training per year in all of the same aspects as the regular force and would receive similar payment to the Canadian Militia.

    The men of the Victoria Reservists were absorbed into the Pacific Division and in July of 1914, 50 of it’s members would be mobilized onto HMCS Rainbow. As the 1911 Sealing Convention signed by Russia, Japan, the United States, and Great Britain entailed, various vessels of each nation would patrol the Northern Pacific to prevent unethical harvesting of the population. This duty was usually reserved for the sloops HMS Algerine and HMS Shearwater which were the only remaining Royal Navy units in Esquimalt however during the summer of 1914, both these vessels were engaged in peacekeeping operations off Mexico. Rainbow was therefore readied for a 3-month cruise in their place, the members of the reserve being complimented by regulars from Niobe and abroad. She was undergoing cleaning and store replenishment in drydock when, in early July of 1914, she received an urgent call to assist in an ongoing international incident in Vancouver.

    HMCS Rainbow alongside HMS New Zealand during her 1913 visit to British Columbia, the modern arrangement of the battlecruiser heavily contrasting the vintage cruiser.

    Hose himself would not complain, any reason to get his ship and crew at sea was acceptable to him. This indifferent demeanor would soon change as Rainbow would quickly become involved in one of the most infamous Canadian racial episodes of the 20th century.
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    The Blanchet Boys
  • October 14, 1913. Esquimalt Navy Base, British Columbia.

    It had been sometime since the guards at the base gate had relieved each other of their duties but to the dismay of at least one of the two boys watching from a nearby hedge, the lone guard seemed content remaining at his post.

    “These blasted guards haven’t moved from the gate in hours. How are we supposed to get inside the base if they keep standing around like statues?”

    George Blanchet smirked at his younger brother with amusement, “I believe that is sort of the point, you aren’t supposed to get in. Not like that stopped you trying before.”

    Louis shot back a scowl, “Why did you even come along with me if all you were going to do is complain?”

    “Because.” George rolled his eyes, “The last time you went here alone, the people from the base had to haul you down from the gate and drag you back home. You make enough trouble for our Uncle as it is without breaking into a navy base. You had better hope he doesn’t bring this up to Mother in his next letter.”

    “I just wanted to get aboard the Rainbow.” He whispered, “She never visits Victoria anymore and I can never get close enough to see her.”

    “Maybe you should ask Mother to join the Navy again, you would get to see the poop deck of that ship as much as you like.”

    Louis adjusted himself, rolling onto his back for a moment to stretch. “I got enough of Mother and her wooden spoon last time, you and I both know she would never let me join the navy. Besides, I would want you to come along with me to scrub that poop deck.”

    “Nice try but I don't think the navy is for me. I would much rather enjoy myself with a nice novel, not one of those picture books full of charts and navy ships you seem to always grab from the library.”

    That poke struck a nerve, George watched a vein begin to push its way out from under Louis’s brimmed hat. His brother’s determination was only matched by his temper and his hobby was a point of contention within the family.

    “Listen here, I don't need another perso…”

    The distinctive sound of thunderous boots on the ground cut off the younger Blanchet brother as it echoed from up the dirt road. The pair briefly paused to take in the sight before them, roughly 30 men clad in civilian clothes, brandishing rifles topped by full length bayonets approached the gate before coming to a stop in an unorganized pile. A short fellow wearing a naval uniform strolled towards the gate, a brilliant circular rank insignia on his sleeve catching the boy’s eyes as he quickly returned the guards salute. He seemed to instruct the group of men behind him something indiscernible before stepping through the gate.

    “Who are these people?” George said with a turn of his head, “Why aren’t they wearing uniforms?”

    Louis poked his head up over the hedge, “Only one way to find out.”

    He let out a low whistle and one of the men, not as tired and short of breath as some of his older comrades, cocked his head towards the source of the noise. Louis waved him over as he stepped out from behind the bush, the young man checked his surroundings for any sign of what was likely the impending return of his leader and walked towards the boys.

    “What are you guys doing here?” Louis questioned, the man who upon closer inspection, was not too much older than themselves.

    George cringed, a little bit on the nose there Louis. He was definitely going to be reported to the base staff again. The young man did not seem phased by this question, stopping a few feet away before leaning his shining wooden rifle stock against the grass as a rest while he spoke.

    “We’re the Victoria Naval Volunteers!” He stated, puffing his chest out in a show of exaggerated bravado. “The base Commander was leading us in an afternoon march around the outskirts of the base before we start to conduct drills aboard his ship shortly.”

    “Wow, so you are part of the navy?” Louis exclaimed, his eyes gleaming with excitement.

    The man seemed to deflate somewhat at this question, “No we aren’t.” His eyes dropping to the grass below, “We are trying to get some uniforms to look the part but we aren’t official part of the navy, at least not yet. Even though we are just volunteers now, just you wa...”

    “Hey Arthur!” A voice came from the group, “Get back over here fast, the Commander is on his way back!”

    The young man mumbled something under his breath before scrambling back into the group, just as the naval officer returned through the gate. As the men filtered into the base, George could almost feel the excitement radiating off his brother.

    Louis turned and broke out into a run in the vague direction of town, “Come on George!" He yelled over his shoulder, "We have to get back to Uncle and tell him. This is my ticket onto Rainbow!”

    George shook his head slightly before starting after his brother. Perhaps Mother would approve of playing sailor around the dockyard, since it's not technically being in the navy. Perhaps the dreaded spoon would come out again on her next visit. Regardless of that, somebody needed to help keep the eager 15 year old in check and as much as he tried, their poor Uncle did not seem to be up to the task alone. Usually proud Québécois would have nothing to do with an "Anglo Institution" as his mother had previously put it but with their father being away on business and mother being back home in Quebec, perhaps Louis and his determination would trump their Uncle. Maybe playing navy men wouldn't be that bad George thought, none of the other boys back home had done something like this. That would definitely put him as the center of attention and do you know what? That doesn't sound too bad at all.

    Gate of Esquimalt Navy Base around 1915, minus any trespassing attempts from local minors.