Remember the Rainbow: An Alternate Royal Canadian Navy TL

There was a tiny little fib, the first “true” diversion point is the death of Monk however the timeline generally stays as it does in our timeline until the sinking of Rainbow.
 
Birth of a Navy
Birth of a Navy


With the results of the 1909 Imperial Conference behind them, the Laurier and his allies returned to Canada’s House of Commons, ready to cement the Canadian Navy into law. It wasn’t until January 1910 when the issue was brought center stage.


Sir George Foster stood before the House and restated his resolution;


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


With the Houses support yet again reinstated, Laurier made his move. The stress weighed heavily on his mind, he was about to finally forge the arm which would protect his nation for centuries to come…….or was about to go down in recorded history as a fool. Mr. Brodeur was not present to ease his fears either as illness had rendered him unable to accompany him to the House. 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 would be quite the gamble indeed.


The time for backdoor dealings were over though, it was now or never. A Canadian Navy would need to be able to produce its own ships if it wished to be truly a navy of its own nation eventually, rather than simply an Imperial extension.

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Wilfred Laurier speaking to the House of Commons in 1916.


Laurier took the stand and made his resolution clear;


“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.’”

He takes a long breath as he looks to his peers on both sides of the House;

“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. 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.”

Laurier exhaled as he took his leave from the stand. As he returned to his seat, members of his own party let loose with a thunderous applause.

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Canadian House of Commons, 1918.

After some brief clarification of wartime responsibility and British power over the proposed Canadian Navy, Laurier resumed the stand.

“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.”

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HMS Eden (top) and HMAS Torrens, both River-class destroyers. It is unknown which of these designs the Canadian Rivers was originally planned to be based on.


Conservative Clarence Jameson let loose a furious barrage on the Liberal proposal;

“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."

The Conservative side of the House erupted in confirmatory yelps and applause, only to be quieted by the Speaker.

"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.”


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Indefatigable-class battlecruiser HMS New Zealand at Lyttleton, New Zealand during Fall 1919.

The Conservatives under Borden proposed an alternative bill, funding for a fleet unit consisting of a Battlecruiser for the Royal Navy alongside the accompanying cruisers. Although they opposed the part of the bill for the acquisition of cruisers and destroyers, they did agree that Canada should have its own navy in at least the personnel category. So while no agreement had been reached on the composition of the fleet, the Navy itself had shakily slip down the ways.

As the House dissolved, Laurier returned home to his residence. There was much work to be done, he had his navy however, his navy had no ships. McKenna had promised him ships, and ships he would have.

A few months later on May 4th 1910, the Canadian Navy was finally formed officially.
 
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Can we afford Champagne?
Can we afford Champagne?

Laurier had won his first major battle. The Conservatives could not defeat his bill as he controlled a majority within the House, Parliament and Senate so the Navy was finally born. It was not without controversy, the vehement disagreement about the ship procurement options from the Conservatives would troublesome however the main enemy came from outside, it was Quebec.

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One of the most formidable enemies ever faced by the Royal Canadian Navy, Henri Bourassa in 1910.

Henri Bourassa, leader of the Nationalists (previously under the Liberal government of Laurier until it’s split in 1905) was absolutely hammering Laurier and the newly formed Canadian Navy in Quebec. Through his fiery orations and brilliantly written speeches, he had rallied a considerable number of both political and public opinion in Quebec to uncompromisingly oppose anything to do with a navy ‘without consulting the people’. Bourassa went as far as to create a newspaper named Le Devoir (The Duty) which it’s sole purpose was to relentlessly slander the Canadian Navy alongside Laurier and Borden for both of their hands in letting such a ‘abomination’ come to be.

It was the commonly held view of the Quebecois that any military force organized to assist the Crown would eventually end up conscripting young (French) Canadians to be sent off to die in some far-off land. Defense of the nation would only be acceptable to them if it was completely safe from British meddling, something completely impossible due to British-Canadian ties of the day.

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

As promised previously through less than official channels, McKenna offered the sale of two cruisers to the fledgling Canadian Navy for the purposes of training. Both HMS Niobe and HMS Rainbow were offered for $440,000 which the Canadian Government agreed to using money from the Marine and Fisheries Departments budget to do so.

Niobe was assigned to the East Coast and was to be based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. A member of the Diadem class, Niobe was a relatively substantial if aging ship. Twelve years old at the time of her transfer, she normally would be perfectly satisfactory but in the rapid development of naval technology in the 20th century, she was rather obsolete as a combatant. She was relatively well protected and heavily armed compared to the ships she was likely to face but she was somewhat slow and worn out at the time of her transfer. As a training ship though, she was more than sufficient.

Niobe’s service record was rather short and uneventful. She was originally part of the Channel Squadron when the Boer War started and was subsequently was slotted into escort duty for to troop transports ferrying personnel and equipment to the cape of Africa. Niobe did serve a somewhat interest stint as one of cruisers assigned to escort the royal yacht for the world tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (who would later become King George and Queen Mary), on their journey from Britain to Gibraltar and later from St. Vincent to Halifax. Niobe served as the flagship for the Rear Admiral Reserve squadron for a four year stretch before being paid off in 1910.

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HMCS Niobe in the Halifax gravelling Dock, sometime during her RCN service.

Niobe was formally commissioned into the Canadian Navy (which had not yet been awarded the title of ‘Royal’ by the Crown) at Devonport Dockyard on September 6th, 1910. Both Niobe and Rainbow underwent some machinery fabrication to fix any immediate issues alongside being fitted with top of the line Marconi wireless sets, heating systems to facilitate effective operation cold Canadian/Atlantic winters, expanded quarters for trainees and completely rebuild galley’s for said extra crew.

Niobe left Britain with a skeleton crew of volunteers, just enough to operate the ship on it’s 50-day journey across the Atlantic. These volunteers were offered the option to transfer to the newly formed Canadian Navy or otherwise have to make their own arrangements for passage back to Britain. Her Captain was Commander W.B. MacDonald, a British-Colombia native well suited for commanding one of the first ships of his birth nations navy.

The day of arrival was specially planned, October 21st, the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Niobe arrived in Halifax, fully dressed from bow to stern in every flag held in her lockers. Her twenty-one-gun salute was returned by the battery atop Citadel Hill. While this day should have been a day of celebration, Niobe soon found herself the subject of endless mockery. The Conservative ran Herald newspaper thumbed their noses at the planned prefix of HMCS (His Majesties Canadian Ship) instead of the time honored HMS, the Conservative press in Toronto also joined in verbal beatings, adding that ‘Niobe was on her way to the scrap heap’. Bourassa held a massive rally in the streets on Montreal. Le Devoir remarked, ‘Canadian in peacetime, Imperial in times of war.’

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One of the first recruitment posters for the RCN.

HMS Rainbow on the other hand, was almost a polar opposite of HMS Niobe. Rainbow was a third the size of Niobe and only carried two 6-inch guns compared to Niobe’s sixteen. Rainbow was considerably older than Niobe at seventeen years old at time of commissioning into the Canadian Navy. While Rainbow herself had not seen much mileage be placed on her machinery and hull, she was built as a second line warship in a time when such ships were not needed, leading to her being largely kept around Britain and left to languish in port. Although Rainbow left Britain almost two full months before Niobe, she was required to sail over 15,000 nautical miles around the Strait of Magellan due to the Panama Canal not opening proper until 1914.

Although easily the inferior ship, 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.


Her Captain for the journey was Commander Walter Hose, a widely experienced RN officer with many a seagoing command under his belt so to say. Promotions were moving too slow for his liking within the RN so even before he was sent across on Rainbow to Canada, Hose enthusiastically wrote Rear Admiral Kingsmill and inquired about a position within the newly formed naval service. Matters were only helped by his wife who was originally born in St. Johns, Newfoundland.

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Steam picket takes visitors aboard Rainbow as she arrives in Vancouver, 1910.

Somewhat unmoved by the harsh criticisms of most parties, six newly appointed midshipmen eagerly waited their turn to step aboard Niobe, their first large warship. These six cadets had previously served on CGS Canada several months if not years before, each having been already qualified in navigation and seamanship aboard Canada herself. They were ready to make history as Canada’s first home-grown naval officers. While usual protocol would be that such cadets and midshipmen had to pass a rigorous set of examinations, written tests and field trials, Minister Brodeur had taken a personal hand in making sure the start to the officer corps went smoothly.

Victor G. Brodeur was his own son, Barry German was the son of a high-ranking Liberal MP, Percy Nelles’s father was a retired senior Army officer, Charles Beards father was a senior government official, John Barrons father was a judge and Trenwick Bate was the son of a Liberal backing millionaire. All of these young men skipped the exams, the method of selection was informal to say the least.

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Again we showcase the group of naval cadets serving in CGS Canada. Back Row (L. to R.) Charles T. Beard, P. Barry German, Victor G. Brodeur, Wright; Centre Row (L. to R.) Fisheries officers Fortier, Stewart, Woods; Front Row (L. to R.) Henry T. Bate, Percy W. Nelles, John A. Barron. The majority of these cadets would form the first officers of the RCN.

It would certainly not do today or even in the decades following however, this first class of naval cadets produced leaders who would eventually move on to serve the Navy with great distinction, through years of great turmoil and thunderous victory.
 
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Due to the unique structure of the Canadian governmental system, the Governor General of Canada is placed above the Prime Minister of the nation in the order of precedence.
How was this unique? In all the Dominions, the Governor General was the representative of the King, who was the head of state. As such, the G-G outranked the PM.
 

Lusitania

Donor
Wonderful TL. Truly enjoying the story. Don’t know if this premise could be within your TL but wondering if British Empire where in 1932 as part of the Britain granting greater powers to the dominions Canada would assume administration of the British Carribean colonies including Bermuda. This would thrust the Canadian Navy in new spotlight and new roles.
 
Photo Gallery #2: HMCS Niobe
Photo Gallery #2: HMCS Niobe

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HMS Niobe launched in Barrow-in-Furness on February 20th, 1897.

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HMS Niobe shortly after her commissioning, sporting a dashing coat of black striped fleet paint.

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HMCS Niobe attending the Coronation celebrations of King George V and his wife Queen Mary in Charlottetown Harbour, June of 1911.

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Aft 6” deck guns of Niobe.

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Crew of Niobe cheering on fellow crew members during a boxing match aboard ship.

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Crew of Niobe marching through the streets of Halifax.

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Band practice on Niobe.

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Stokers of Niobe posing for a photo after a dirty day of work.

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Right forward 6” gun of Niobe covered by Atlantic ice.

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View of Niobe's two bow mounted deck guns from the crows nest.

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Niobe in heavy Atlantic seas.

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6” gunlaying practice aboard Niobe.

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Niobe's Captain standing on deck during an Atlantic patrol.

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Officers aboard Niobe enjoying a smoke break.

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Cutlass practice aboard Niobe.

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Niobe's official photographer readying a shot.
 
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To be pedantic the sailors in the penultimate photograph are not at Fencing practice. They are going through their Cutlass Drill, practicing a 'low backhand guard'!
 
Wonderful TL. Truly enjoying the story. Don’t know if this premise could be within your TL but wondering if British Empire where in 1932 as part of the Britain granting greater powers to the dominions Canada would assume administration of the British Carribean colonies including Bermuda. This would thrust the Canadian Navy in new spotlight and new roles.

I hadn’t expressly thought of incorporating that into the timeline however it’s an interesting idea. Although I don’t believe there is any changes to this timeline that would make it anymore possible here than OTL.
 

Lusitania

Donor
I hadn’t expressly thought of incorporating that into the timeline however it’s an interesting idea. Although I don’t believe there is any changes to this timeline that would make it anymore possible here than OTL.
No with a little massaging it could of happen. I think the pre-cursors yo day be a stronger Canadian navy after WW1 that is not scuttled. An agreement for Canada to help with costs of administrative the colonies.
 
No with a little massaging it could of happen. I think the pre-cursors yo day be a stronger Canadian navy after WW1 that is not scuttled. An agreement for Canada to help with costs of administrative the colonies.

I'll look into it but I wouldn't expect much. The racial tensions and politics of the time simply do not allow such a thing to happen realistically.
 

Lusitania

Donor
I'll look into it but I wouldn't expect much. The racial tensions and politics of the time simply do not allow such a thing to happen realistically.

It could not of been a sudden thing but a result of Britain utilizing Canadian Navy to supplement its own ships in the Caribbean during WW1. At end of war a decision is made due to high British debt accumulated during war that the Caribbean colonies be jointly administered and protected by the Canadians. There would of been opposition especially by politicians from Quebec but slowly over the next decade greater interaction and even greater movement of people between Canada and British Caribbean occurs. British still looked at everyone outside the British Isles as colonials. If a Canadian presence provides a direct benefit to both the Canadians (Pride and trade) and investment and markets for the Caribbean islands it could of worked. Racial issues would of existed but I believe that all the colonies were under the control of British Europeans at the time and Africans and East Indians

While I am discussing the political side I am interested in Naval and military side. Even trying to give Canada a reason to keep its Air Craft Carriers after WWII.
 
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