Remember the Rainbow: An Alternate Royal Canadian Navy TL

HMCS Rainbow Ceremony, August 9th 2014.
  • August 9, 2014

    Ceremony honours HMCS Rainbow, sunk 100 years ago today.

    By James Riley for CBC News

    This year marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of HMCS Rainbow during The Battle of the Farallon Islands, Canada's first naval engagement during the First World War. The battle was remembered at a ceremony in Esquimalt, British Columbia on this Sunday morning.


    Crew of HMCS Rainbow pose for a photo.

    Left as the only warship to protect the Canadian West Coast from the German warships, Rainbow was not fit for service but as was common with the neglected Canadian military, servicemen made do. Commander Walter Hose, who had transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy with Rainbow just a few years earlier, set his ship to sea with only 135 men under his command.

    Engaging SMS Leipzig in a fierce protracted engagement, Rainbow fought valiantly yet the far superior German warship eventually landed a death blow. A fire eventually reached her rear magazine and the ship violently exploded, taking 129 young men down with her.

    Commander Hose and Leading Seaman Livesay were both awarded the Victoria Cross for their superb gallantry and performance during the battle, setting the tradition of excellence within the Navy that has been upheld ever since.


    Commander Walter Hose (left) and Leading Seamen Livesay (right).

    The tragedy is commonly viewed by Canadian historians as the turning point of the Canadian Navy, public support and fierce lobbying by Walter Hose had finally gave the “ugly duckling” of the Canadian Military it’s legs in an uncertain world. The rallying cry of “Remember the Rainbow!” is still one of the most memorable Canadian quotes of the early 20th century.

    Along with the ceremony in Esquimalt, three Royal Canadian Navy warships had embarked on a trip to host a ceremony and lay wreaths for the fallen at the wreck site. HMCS St. Laurent alongside HMCS Ottawa and HMCS Fraser are to leave Esquimalt this afternoon after the service and will be joined by USS Russell, HMAS Darwin and HMS Portland off the Farallon Islands.

    The goal of this timeline is to create a realistic yet improved Canadian Navy. I’ve lurked here for a good year or two and have read some very nice stories however I was mainly inspired by TheMann’s ‘Go North, Young Man’ which while I think is a great timeline, the depiction of the Royal Canadian Navy was a bit unrealistic for my taste, so I hope to be able to spin my own tale here!
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    A New Beginning
  • A New Beginning

    From the very beginning, Canadians have had an aversion to the military and the associated spending. This can largely be traced back to two elements, the myth that the Canadian Militia had won the War of 1812 and the classical thought that the Royal Navy will provide protection to all of it’s far flung colonies. With the Militia seen as being able to jump back to combat at a moments notice and again defend the borders of Canada and the Royal Navy seen as the protector of the seas, Canadians grew complacent and to a point, somewhat hostile towards organized domestic militarism of any kind. While these ideals may have carried true throughout the remaining decades of the 19th century, the rapidly approaching 20th century turned into a rapidly changing world.

    While the Royal Navy still carried the mantle of the worlds premier naval power, it was no longer the sole power in the world. The United States had been steadily building it’s naval forces since the end of the Civil War, Imperial Germany had been on a path of united industrialism and although an eventual ally towards Britain and the Commonwealth, Japan begun to build itself as a Pacific power.

    Understandably though, the previous Canadian governments had been more focused on building and stabilizing their relatively new nation. A military in general, let alone a navy (easily the most expensive branch) was not particularly relevant until the election of the 1896 Liberal government under Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. Part of his greatest legacy to the nation was his fierce nationalistic ideals in a time period where Canada was struggling to place itself on the world stage.


    Prime Minister Laurier depicted in a 1909 Toronto Globe political cartoon leading a hypothetical Canadian Navy, Laurier proved to be one of the greatest allies of the future Royal Canadian Navy.

    As Germany began it’s strives towards challenging British naval power rather slowly however, Britain reached towards the Commonwealth for assistance nonetheless. At the Colonial Conferences of 1897 and 1902, the British outlined the strategy of the Commonwealth funding the Royal Navy, not establishing their own naval services. This shot across the bow of colonial nationalism initially taking the wind out of Laurier’s sails, but he returned to Canada and went to work in laying the foundation of the naval service regardless of British opinion. While supporting the Royal Navy was a logically sound choice on paper given the state of Canadian naval shipbuilding and the associated notions about a military in general, it was political suicide to expect citizens of the Dominions to pay up front for a navy which they may never see in their lifetime. Alongside his Minister of Marine and Fisheries, Raymond Prefontaine, the two set out with the goal of starting a navy under the disguise of the federal governments largest department.

    The Department of Marine and Fisheries held a great deal of power and responsibility over almost all aspects of the sea and inland waters. Everything from port facility upkeep, lighthouses, regulation of fisheries, hydrographic services, navigation aids, arctic sovereignty, regulation of civilian shipping and so on. Needless to say, the Department had a great deal of ground work already laid, numbering eight-armed fishery patrol cruisers, six icebreakers and eighteen miscellaneous other vessels by 1904. With the addition of CGS Canada from Vickers Barrow in England alongside CGS Vigilant and CGS Falcon from domestic yards, these small armed patrol ships made up the nucleus of a navy in the making. Careful effort was placed to run the trio of ships as close to naval vessels as possible, discipline was strictly enforced, and the crews wore naval styled uniforms aboard their own ships for the first time in Canadian history.


    CGS Canada shortly after competition, 1904.

    The service went to work, CGS Canada undertook a cruise to the West Indies in 1905, largely packed with volunteers and winter weary fishermen looking for an escape to a more tropical destination. Sailing alongside Royal Navy ships in the area for exercises, this can likely be described as Canada's first naval activities. The cruise was quite successful and opinions about part time or even permanent service was relatively well received by the men.


    CGS Vigilant moored in Port Dover, 1905.

    While 1905 initially proved to be a boon for the service, Raymond Prefontaine would be replaced as the Minister of Marine and Fisheries by Louis Phillipe Brodeur, a long-time friend of Prime Minister Laurier and an equally staunch advocate for a domestic naval service. While Canada carefully traversed the political minefield towards it’s goal of a navy, the naval arms race in Europe was about to boil over.

    One word completely changed the status quo and sent aftershocks throughout world.

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    Photo Gallery #1: CGS Canada
  • Photo Gallery #1: CGS Canada

    I'll be including these galleries occasionally for photos I've found throughout my research. As you can likely tell I quite enjoy incorporating photos into my posts however I do not wish for them to be too clustered and overwhelming.

    Plus it's a little something something to flush out the backstory, please enjoy! If you like the idea of these galleries reappearing in the future or not, feel free to let me know.


    Cadets and crew members of CGS Canada performing naval drills with their 1-pdr Mark I during the 1905 winter cruise.


    Group of naval cadets serving on CGS Canada, the naval styled outfits are readily apparent. Center bottom is Percy W. Nelles who would later become the Royal Canadian Navy's Chief of the Naval Staff later in his career.


    Rifle drills underway aboard CGS Canada during her 1905 cruise.
    Fear God and dread nought
  • Fear God and dread nought

    As the dominant world naval power for centuries, the majority of personnel at the head of the Royal Navy were extremely careful about upsetting their material and qualitative advantages on the sea. Conservative, Moderate and Traditionalist Admirals had come and gone throughout the years but no man since Horatio Nelson had changed the Royal Navy more than Jackie Fisher. His radical reforms rooted their way into almost every single aspect of the Royal Navy. To say that Fisher had almost single handedly shaped the modern Royal Navy would not be exaggeration in the slightest. While not a fighting Admiral, Fisher was behind almost every single technological or doctrinal change of the Royal Navy. Torpedoes, turbines, torpedo boat destroyers, centralized fire control, vastly improved personnel coordination, oil fueling, battlecruisers and most importantly, the all big gun battleship.

    HMS Dreadnought, while not a revolutionary concept, was truly one of the most important warships in human history. Advances in centralized fire control, steam turbine propulsion and an “all big gun” armament were combined into a package that was delivered into service in record time, Dreadnought herself was so revolutionary that she shifted the way naval power was judged throughout the world. The new standard of naval power was measured in the number of Dreadnoughts and the United Kingdom had just brought itself down to the level of Imperial Germany in one fell swoop.


    Two of the most famous warships in naval history, HMS Dreadnought passes HMS Victory in Portsmouth, 1909.

    The effects of HMS Dreadnought coming onto the scene were swift and impactful. The Americans, Japanese, French, German and even eventually the somewhat technologically backwater power of Imperial Russia all started or continued development of similar ships. Even nations in South American began the ordering of Dreadnoughts to continue their own arms race. Britain still held a monstrous advantage in rapid and high-quality shipbuilding however, it was unknown how long this advantage would last. When the Hague Peace Conference of 1907 failed to limit the worldwide naval buildup, Britain moved to respond. If Germany would not bend to political pressure, there was only one place this race would end, war.

    The main response besides the ramping up of Dreadnought production was the systematic cutting of naval spending where ever possible. An extension of this was the withdrawing of Royal Navy assets to be concentrated against Germany in home waters. The Pacific Squadron which had been based out of the Royal Navy dockyard in Esquimalt for over 40 years was unceremonious disbanded in 1905 when the squadron's ships were moved to 'more relevant' postings, leaving behind the sloops HMS Shearwater and HMS Algerine. The Royal Navy dockyard in Halifax was similarly vacated in short order with Canada taking up ownership of both ports in 1910 and 1907 respectively. With even the British garrisons being removed, the Canadians were left without protection for the first time in almost 150 years.


    Crew of HMS Leander pose for a photo at the graveling dock in Esquimalt, sometime during the 1890's.

    Canada and her Marine and Fishery Department had now taken up the burden of maintaining two large military port installations alongside their extensive list of other tasks. Minister Brodeur took a hard stance in underlying this fact at the 1907 Imperial Defense Conference, Canada was no longer freeloading off the Empire and was instead footing the bills. The First Sealord of the Admiralty Lord Tweedmouth readily acknowledged this fact and again pushed the tired notion of ‘One sea, one Empire, one Navy’ to the very unamused Commonwealth politicians in attendance. When the Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin expressed interest in developing a domestic naval force, the Admiralty angrily shot him down. They later conceded that torpedo boats and submarines operated domestically would be agreeable however these were still to be placed under the command of the Admiralty, something the Australians and Canadians both found unacceptable.


    Politicians present at the Imperial Defense Conference of 1907, Wilfred Laurier is seen on the bottom row's left side alongside a young Winston Churchill in the far left second row.

    With the Australians leaving the Conference to resume their efforts regardless of Admiralty opinion, Laurier and his allies returned home with reinvigorated purpose. While the Liberal government was considering how to kick start the navy they wanted so dearly, the opposing Conservatives delivered an unlikely boon directly into Laurier’s arms. Leading member of Robert Borden’s Conservative government opposition and former Minister of the Marine and Fishers Department, George Foster, sent out a call to action. ‘Canada should provide naval defense for its own shores’ was his cry. It would take two months of hard-fought lobbying to bring the Quebec based politicians of his part aboard but in that time period, a major development came to pass.

    On the 16th of March 1909, First Lord of the Admiralty McKenna spoke in the British Parliament and described the alarming rate of the German battleship construction program. A great silence fell over the bewildered Parliament when it was explained that without an increase in procurement of capital ships, the Imperial German Navy would overtake the Royal Navy by three whole Dreadnoughts in 1912. With this fact let to sink in, the Royal Navy extended the need for assistance to the nations of the Commonwealth. New Zealand quickly affirmed its desire to fund a capital ship itself and even before federal agreement months later, areas within Australia pledged funding for another Dreadnought. While Canada officially promised naval assistance alongside South Africa, there was no actual agreement made. That being said, the stage was primed the players finally made their moves.


    A sketch of a proposed Australian Dreadnought in The Leader, April 3rd 1909.

    Two days later, George Foster stood in the Canadian House of Commons and reaffirmed his resolution for Canada to defend it's own shores. This had been the perfect opportunity for Prime Minister Laurier's long thought dream and with oratory skills befitting a man of his caliber, he seized the moment. Flipping the situation, Laurier forged out a series of amendments from the Oppositions original notion which turned into a basis for Canada's Navy. In broad strokes, the bill read as such:

    "The House will cordially approve of any necessary expenditure designed to promote the speedy organization of a Canadian naval service in cooperation and in close relation to the Imperial Navy, along the lines suggested by the Admiralty at the last Imperial Conference, and in full sympathy with the view that the naval supremacy of Britain is essential to the security of commerce, the safety of the Empire and the peace of the world."
    While Laurier was not completely happy with the rather brash wording of the bill, he was willing to appeal to the hard line Imperialists to at least get the Navy itself formed. Changes could happen in the future, the formation itself took priority. This first statement of naval policy in Canadian history unsurprisingly passed through the House unanimously. Both the Liberals and Conservatives knew the battle that was about to happen over the actual layout of this navy. This fact had been seen in the turn of the century where various 'Naval Leagues' across the nation regularly debated how Canada should assist Britain and the Empire when it came to naval efforts. Money for the Royal Navy or Money for a Canadian Navy at home?

    There was more important issues to see to first. Brodeur departed for the emergency Imperial Defense Conference in July of 1909, wind in his sails from the initial victory back at home but little did he know that the fledgling Canadian Navy would already be fighting for it's life before the ink even dried, both at home and abroad.
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    Death of Frederick Monk, November 18th 1909.
  • September 9th, 1909

    Frederick Debartzch Monk leaned back in his chair, stretching his tired arms towards the ceiling of his study.

    With Laurier flipping George Fosters resolution into the basis for his Navy, it had sent the Quebec based politicians into a furious series of debates. As a collective, Quebec did not want to support British Imperialism and did not want to have Canada pulled into any European wars. They did agree however that Canada should be able to protect itself and its vital commerce routes independent of the Royal Navy, this much was clear after the removal of the Royal Navy from all Canadian stations.

    The bill itself was likely months if not years away but regardless, Monk had big plans to counter lobby his fellow Conservatives. Laurier on the opposing side and his parties Leader, Robert Borden, were both likely to put fourth a Canadian Navy that was subservient to the Royal Navy and this would be unacceptable. While some of his fellow Quebec politicians would fall behind him, there was an immeasurable task ahead of eroding Borden’s hold on the party.


    Portrait photo of Frederick Monk early in 1909.
    Returning attention to the eloquently worded letter sitting on his table top, he stifled a dry, hard cough with a nearby handkerchief as the pain in his chest subsided somewhat. As a proud Québécois in the House of Commons, duty to the nation was the first priority, illness or not.

    One week later, Frederick Monk was forced to resign from the House of Commons due to his decreasing health.

    On November 18th 1909, Frederick Monk passed away in his home due to Pneumonia related complications, he was 53 years old at the time.
    War on two fronts
  • War on two fronts

    With the political war clouds rumbling merrily along both on the Home front and in England with the upcoming Conference, Prime Minister Laurier and the men below him nervously considered their situation. Even with his considerable power as Prime Minister, Laurier had a shaky grasp of power outside of the nation itself, largely when it came to dealings with Britain. In either a stroke of good luck or apt political maneuvering on the part of the members of Laurier’s Liberal party, one of the most important allies to the soon to be formed Royal Canadian Navy was the Governor General of Canada, Albert Grey, 4th Earl Grey. Due to the 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. As the official federal vice regal representative of the Monarch of the time and by birth, coming into both a noble and politically embroiled family, Grey was an extremely powerful ally to have.


    Earl Grey as the Governor General of Canada, 1905.

    Grey had met Minister Brodeur during the Quebec Tercentenary of 1908 and the two had become associates. Through his large network of contacts in various government departments, Grey had become interested in naval affairs by the time of the Imperial Conference of 1909, he was fully supportive of the Canadian initiative. With help from Grey and deft maneuvering, Brodeur managed to make contact with the proprietor of ‘Pacific Marine Review’, the chief constructor of the United States Navy and the US Office of Naval Intelligence in order to procure information on both the types and costs of the warships operated by the USN, RN and various South American navies in preparation for the Imperial Conference.

    Alongside Minister Brodeur for the Conference was Sir Charles Kingsmill, a recently retired and Canadian born Royal Navy officer who served with a mostly successful record from 1870 to 1908. Laurier, Grey and Brodeur were not navy men and with the upcoming turbulence, they very rapidly needed the opinions of a seasoned seamen. Kingsmill was appointed the Director of the Marine Service in the Department of Marine and Fisheries under Minister Brodeur. Kingsmill would later serve as both a key player in the success of the Royal Canadian Navy and also one of its many obstacles, being one of two people to be commonly referred to as the "father of the Canadian Navy".


    Rear Admiral Kingsmill as the director of the Naval Service of Canada, sometime between 1910 and 1917.

    The Imperial Defense Conference of 1909 opened on July 20th at the British Foreign Office in Whitehall with British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith presiding. Almost immediately, the Conference went into sensitive territory. As with previous meetings, Asquith started by listing the individual cash contributions made by the colonies, which Canada was largely lacking. Canada’s very recent intention of “establishing a local naval force in lieu of a contribution” was delivered as a backhanded a slap across the face of the Canadian delegates and to some degree, the Australian delegates. The failure of the 1907 Conference to make a solid consensus was brought up alongside the growing threat of the naval arms race with Germany, describing the Dreadnought building program Britain was planning to undertake. New Zealand and Australia’s offer to fund/man capital ships for the Royal Navy was duly noted before an in-depth Admiralty report was submitted for viewing. A comparison between defense expenditure and seaborne trade for each of the nations in attendance was presented and to the indigence of the Canadian delegates, Canada’s overland trade with the United States was excluded from these calculations. Therefore, Canada was further labeled as misers by the Admiralty, regardless of the complete Canadian takeover of both former Royal Navy stations present in Canada. While Asquith did acknowledge this fact, the damage was done by the inaccurate figures still made a large impression.

    Brodeur was rightfully furious at the unfair treatment that him, his countrymen and his fellow Commonwealth delegates had been exposed to in every Conference in the last decade and doggedly provided a defense during one of his speeches at the Conference. Not one to walk circles around the issue, Brodeur brought his points directly to Asquith and First Lord of the Admiralty McKenna;

    “As a consequence of the Conference held in 1902, we started immediately the nucleus of a navy with the numerous fishery protection cruisers ordered under my department. The following take over and upkeep of multiple vital Imperial ports and dockyard installations have fallen at the feet of our Government, which we have graciously continued to operate. Our nation and Government have recently shown great interest in the formation of its own naval force to take over the mantle of responsibility for the North American patrols. This implied notion that we are a nation of misers undermines the fellowship we all share as an Empire.”


    Portrait of the Honorable Louis-Philippe Brodeur, 1901.

    As with the 1907 Imperial Conference, nothing concrete was carried fourth from the 1909 Conference besides the relatively unanimous views on Imperial policy held by the Dominions themselves. Before adjourning the conference, Lord Crewe, secretary of state concerning the Dominions, introduced a draft of a resolution for discussion;

    “This Conference, whilst recognizing that the provision made for defense in His Majesty’s self-governing Dominions beyond the seas is primarily designed for local purposes, and is the subject to the conditions imposed by the Legislature of each Dominion, desires to declare it’s full acceptance of the principle that the whole of the military and naval forces in the British Dominions should be organized as to render each force capable of performing the most efficient service in any emergency which might threaten the integrity of the Empire.”

    The 1909 Imperial Conference proved to be the boiling point for both Australia and Canada. The discussions and opinions voiced at the Conference were extremely sensitive for all parties involved and as a consequence, Lord Crewe took admirably elaborate measures in respect to the documentation of what was actually said within the confines of the Conference. Edited versions of the transcripts and discussions were suitable for eventual publication but the unedited versions of such would remain sealed largely until Brodeur gifted his personal documentation to Canadian historians years after his retirement.

    While the Conference itself was generally seen as another antagonistic political handshaking affair by the Canadian delegation, some things had come out of it, albeit behind closed doors. In talks with both Prime Minister Laurier and Minister Brodeur, First Lord McKenna had finally relented to the Canadian position and was prepared to abandon the pursuit of naval contributions when it concerned Canada. He was prepared to agree to a Canadian formed navy, but he was not prepared to let this fact be known either inside or outside the Admiralty itself (whose records already had shown how Canada had opposed the previous Admiralty proposals for cash contributions). In his eyes, Canada could have her Navy, but the Canadian Government alone would have to publicly bear the responsibility for opposing both the British government and the Admiralty. McKeena also consented to lending Canada two cruisers for training purposes until her own navy was substantially suited for independent operations.


    One of the suggested of cruiser types to be transferred to Canada was the old Apollo class, which the famous or infamous HMCS Rainbow was apart of.

    On his return to Canada, Brodeur received a letter from Laurier that almost prophetically predicted the impending political brawl that awaited them both at home.

    “I have just received your letter and the memorandum of the program adopted at the conference. The results while favorable, will cause us some harassment. That is to say, the Tories will seize it to accuse us of having blocked the Admiralty. I must add, however, that this attack in no way alarms me.”
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    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.


    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.


    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.”


    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.”


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.’


    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.


    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.


    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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    Photo Gallery #2: HMCS Niobe
  • Photo Gallery #2: HMCS Niobe


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


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


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


    Aft 6” deck guns of Niobe.


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


    Crew of Niobe marching through the streets of Halifax.


    Band practice on Niobe.


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


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


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


    Niobe in heavy Atlantic seas.


    6” gunlaying practice aboard Niobe.


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


    Officers aboard Niobe enjoying a smoke break.


    Cutlass practice aboard Niobe.


    Niobe's official photographer readying a shot.
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    HMCS Bluenose Article, July 1st 2019
  • July 1st, 2019

    HMCS Bluenose Celebrates Canada's 152nd Birthday!


    Join the staff of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic and the people of Lunenburg for our yearly July 1st celebrations. Retired Royal Canadian Navy personnel from the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #23 and Wayne Walters, grandson of Bluenose's famous Captain Angus Walters, will be hosting tours and a ceremonial firing of the 4 inch gun of Bluenose, "the Queen of the North Atlantic". 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 eventually as a vessel of war against Germany during the Second World War has earned her the admiration of many nationwide. Admission to the museum 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 in Lunenberg harbor followed by fireworks to end the day.


    Bluenose happily cutting her way through the surf.
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    Red Tape
  • Red Tape

    With the first hurdle somewhat successfully cleared, 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 two training ships arrival. While Niobe and Rainbow made it under the political wire, the Conservatives had succeeded in tying up the money required for payment of the ships 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.

    The classic issues of Canadian culture crept their way into the Canadian Navy almost immediately. When the Royal Naval College of Canada was founded that year, Minister Brodeur had asked for a comprehensive report containing all of the details of the College itself and its curriculum. In August 1910, a report labeled ‘Regulations for Entry of Naval Cadets’ crossed the Ministers desk. Attached was a memorandum in which Rear Admiral Kingsmill’s Chief of Staff and Naval Secretary (both RN personnel on loan) both deeply protested the request to have candidates be able to take the entrance exam in both French and English. Brodeur was understandably in a very precarious position. He was not pushing for a bilingual naval service, the logistics of such would likely be insurmountable to a Navy of their size however, at least hosting the entrance exam in both English and French would give equal opportunity to cadets and smooth over some of the tensions within Quebec regarding the Navy.


    The Naval College race team practicing in Halifax harbor.

    Brodeur quickly wrote a letter in response;

    “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.”

    When 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 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.

    Another issue was that of the flag. As with Australia, Canada had been moving to adopt the standard British White Ensign, the ensign of the Royal Navy for hundreds of years up to such a point. 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 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.

    It is largely unknown how much thought or preparation went into the creation of the first ‘Canadian Naval Ensign’ but eventually, a design was chosen. The eventual flag was the White Ensign with a green maple leaf placed directly in the middle, 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 politely sent back a very to the point response. Canada would fly the White Ensign, this was not up for debate. Internally, Grey and Laurier were the subject of a deal of mockery and vitriol from the long standing career officers of the Royal Navy. The idea of a Dominion wishing to deface the very face of the Royal Navy with a childish attempt at modifying their Ensign was rather swiftly pushed under the nearest rug.


    Artists impression of the proposed Canadian Naval Ensign.

    While the design of the flag was indeed of questionable quality, the choice to include a maple leaf was backed by a surprisingly rich history on both the civilian and military aspects. 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 such as the recent Second Boer War.

    Yet another sore spot between the Canadian government and the Admiralty was the jurisdiction of the Canadian Navy. Lord Grey had expressed his wish for Niobe to embark on a cruise through the West Indies in the spring of 1911, both for crew training and as a show of strength for the Navy. These plans were quickly dashed when the Admiralty informed the Canadian government that Niobe or Rainbow shall not steam beyond the three mile Canadian territorial limit until the ‘status of Dominion navies’ was resolved later in the 1911 Imperial Defense Conference.

    Brodeur was growing tired of the seemingly continued attacks on any sense of independence or free will of the naval service 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 favoured 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 had responded cautiously in turn, well aware of the spiders web of issues wound around the neck of Brodeur:

    “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.”

    A further issue was tossed into the mix as well, Canadian ships visiting foreign ports and operating in concert with Royal Navy ships. As per Admiralty operating procedure, no ship was sent to visit a foreign port (even if invited) without consulting the Foreign Office. This was to not potentially strain relations with such a nation or for some other specific political or geographic reason. There was confusion as to if Canadian ships would have to report to the UK Foreign Office or the Canadian Foreign Office, the former being seen as politically infeasible for the Canadians who saw the action as encroaching on their liberty to control their ships.

    Before leaving for the Conference in May, Laurier put his plans for a domestic built fleet of Canadian ships in motion. A tender was sent out to viable shipyards throughout Canada, this tender called for the construction of four modern cruisers and six destroyers. An additional subsidy was also provided to help cover the expenses to set up slipways, dry docks and the other associated large industrial sites for military shipbuilding. Various British and Canadian firms jumped at the chance, the bids were due by May 1st, 1911 and generally ranged around the $12 million mark. Deposits were received by the Government and the initial examination of the various proposals began.


    HMS Glasgow, member of the Bristol subclass of the Town class cruisers and also one of the projected types of ships to be built for the Canadian Navy.

    Once the 1911 Imperial Conference started in late May, there was a long grocery list of issues to cover just between Canada and Britain regarding its navy. Admiralty Secretary Graham Greene and Minister Brodeur managed the negotiations. While the issues regarding the Ensign and French language were not raised by either party, agreements were successfully reached to resolve the other issues.

    The Admiralty was willing to remove the restrictive block on operations outside of the three mile territorial area if Canada would constitute two naval ‘stations’ which would encompass both the Atlantic and Pacific on both shores of Canada. These two stations would range from 40 degrees West on the Atlantic side to 160 degrees West in the Pacific side while North of 30 degrees. These stations would take over patrols and jurisdiction over Bermuda and most of the US coastline while adjoining to the West Indies Station. The Admiralty would not send their ships within these stations without prior notice, as Canada would do in kind to any of the Royal Navy stations around the globe. Canadian naval warships would also be expected on also act on behalf of the Crown when on foreign station. The Canadian Navy emerged from the Conference with the power to act however in the eyes of most of it's people, it was simply just another branch of the Royal Navy, regardless of the title placed upon it.

    Into the early morning gleam of July 31st, 1911, Rear Admiral Kingsmill was enjoying a glass tea when a knock erupted from the door of his office, an urgent telegram. Sipping the hot liquid in one hand and placing the piece of paper onto his desk, his eyes widening as he read the text.

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    Whiskey on the Rocks
  • Whiskey on the Rocks

    While the Navy had its breakthroughs on paper, the service was off to literally a rocky start. Niobe has been making her way to Shelburne from Yarmouth on July 31st, after she had taken port in order to visit the citizens of Yarmouth and spread the good word of the Navy. The men were landed and participated in a large parade while over her time docked, 4,000 visitors inspected the ship and a grand ball took place alongside other entertainments. Niobe was the center of social activity for the duration her stay. This has came under much debate as Minister Brodeur had promised a Canadian Naval ship would visit Yarmouth before he left for the recent Imperial Conference, secretly to supposedly assist the Liberal party in the oncoming election and to spread the good word of the navy.


    Commander MacDonald of Niobe

    The crew and officers had put ashore and participated in a town celebration thrown in their honor. Commander MacDonald had retired to his cabin and left the navigational officer, Lieutenant Charles White with control of the bridge. With a heavy fog and wind across her side, Niobe’s crew crept the ship slowly along the shoreline in order to keep situated on their route. As the ship came around an area known as ‘Pinnacle Rock’, the terrible screeching of steel rocked the ship. Crew members were thrown off their feet with multiple sustaining minor injuries. Commander MacDonald was soon back on the bridge and had a status report in hand.

    The starboard engine room had been pierced by a rock, tearing a gash estimated to be 25 feet long and 10 feet wide in the bottom of the ship. The ship was beached hard on the underwater rock structure with one engine room flooding quickly. The engineering staff informed MacDonald that while the flooding was under control for the moment, the force of the impact had caused damage in other compartments as well. Niobe sent out a call for assistance and was almost immediately responded to by the US revenue cutter Androscoggin. The cutter came alongside Niobe and prepared to take on survivors if the damage worsened. Niobe had embarked 190 boy trainees who at this point alongside most of the under training enlisted personnel, were sent up on the deck to clear the compartments below and more easily evacuate in case of the situation developing for the worse. All boats were also dropped and kept in the water near the ship. The 16 men who embarked to keep the boats in an orderly fashion were separated from Niobe in the gale and were eventually recovered later that day. 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.


    CGS Stanley escorting two tall ships through ice.

    As the ship was slowly hauled from her stony berth, the flooding severely worsened. Niobe began to settle by the stern, no more than 10 feet of freeboard remaining between the crew and the Atlantic below. Furious work from the damage control teams using the additional equipment managed to keep the flooding at bay however, the Commander was informed that if the weather worsened, Niobe would likely founder. Evacuating 300 non-essential personnel to the accompanying ships, Niobe limped under her own power to Shag Harbor which was located 10 miles down the coast. MacDonald produced the charts for the area and chose a patch of sandy bottom which was shallow enough that if the situation worsened, Niobe would simply settle on and even keel and be likely recoverable. Once Niobe had safely made refuge in the harbor, her divers were sent over to survey the damage. Large sets of matting were placed over the damaged hull sections in order to hopefully keep the ship watertight enough to make the journey back to Halifax for repair. With the forecast giving fine weather, Niobe limped into Halifax Harbor a few days later without further incident. Rear Admiral Kingsmill personally praised the junior officers, enlisted personnel and trainees for their superb organization and cool demeanor throughout the incident. With rumors swirling publicly and within the Canadian government, Commander MacDonald requested to be tried by court martial.


    US revenue cutter Androscoggin

    He sent the following telegram to the Admiralty in Britain:

    "Respectively submit convenience of service admits Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty may be pleased to try me at court-martial grounding Niobe."

    In November at the trial, MacDonald gave the following statement in his defense:

    "After getting away from Yarmouth, I rounded Blonderock bouy,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 Lieut. White's computation of tides was the correct one, which the point of our, which the point of our stranding proves, and that had there not been an abnormal tide the ship would have made the southwest ledge bouy even in thick weather. About 10.15 p.m. 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 bouy, 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 Lieut. White's name, and was informed that he was not on the upper bridge. I sent for him. As my reduced speed had not enabled me to hear the southwest ledge bouy'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 bouy 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."

    Commander MacDonald was found not to be guilty of any major transgressions however, he was reprimanded for not being present on the bridge regardless of the situation. Lieutenant White was found guilty due to him not being present on the bridge at the time and he was thereby court martialed. Astonishingly, there was not a single fatality during the incident.


    Niobe docked to repair her grounding damage.

    The initial blame was placed solely on poorly trained Canadian Navy personnel however rather amusingly, a Royal Navy cruiser, HMS Cornwall was also out aground within a two mile radius of where Niobe nearly met her end. Niobe was under repair for over a year and by the time she emerged, she came out into a nation that was somehow less friendly towards the navy. Laurier's luck would run out in the 1911 election held in September, the Navy not only lost its largest allies, it lost almost every advocate that existed in the reaches of Parliament. Robert Borden and his Conservative government came out of the election as the majority party and the fledgling Canadian Navy was placed upon the chopping block.
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    Dark Days Ahead
  • Dark Days Ahead

    With Niobe laying useless in a Halifax drydock until December 1911, her dual roles as a flagship and training vessels had came screeching to a halt. Trainees were sent either abroad to Britain or across the country to learn aboard Rainbow.

    In July 1911, Parliament was dissolved in preparation for the national election in September. For Laurier’s Liberal party, the election revolved around two issues depending on the region. Quebec hadn’t stopped their almost militant media campaign of slandering the Canadian Navy and the issue remained an extremely serious one within the province. Outside of Quebec however, the issue for Laurier was trade reciprocity with the United States. Laurier had predicted such an improved trade relationship especially considering decreased tariffs, would both invigorate the economy and distract the Anglophone and Francophone communities from the decisive issue of the naval question while he pushed the shipbuilding program through behind the scenes. It would also hopefully split the more radical trade based Conservative sub-parties against the main party as well. This fateful decision would prove to be the downfall of the 15 year reign of the Liberal party in Canada. The largely British supporting Maritime provinces alongside Ontario and British Columbia essentially turned on Laurier with little coaxing from Borden’s Conservatives. Accusations of disloyalty to Britain and her Commonwealth was abundant and the Conservatives successfully lobbied that free trade agreements would slowly erode Canadian sovereignty and place them at the mercy of the United States. Ironically, Bourassa’s anti-Liberal campaigning in Quebec under the guise of halting Imperial support to Britain actually ended up placing Borden’s much more Imperialistic Conservatives in power over the more nationalistic Liberals.


    Political caricature depicting Robert Borden and Henri Bourassa campaigning against Laurier.

    As the election drew to a close, one glimmer of good news shined through for the Canadian Navy. On August 29th, 1911, King George V officially gave royal sanction to the Canadian Navy, bestowing them the title of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and therefore changing the prefix of the few Canadian warships from HMS to HMCS.

    That however, was where the positive news ended. Aware of Laurier’s gamble to push the liberal shipbuilding program through, the Federal election had froze the project in place. The newly minted Prime Minister Robert Borden’s first speech as the leader of the nation had not a single mention of the Navy and soon after, the up and coming shipbuilders found their deposits returned to them. There would be no shipbuilding program, no industrial base and for all intents and purposes, there would be no Navy. The personnel within the navy had not forgotten Borden's various promises to disband the Canadian Navy and strike the Naval Service Act from the books and they prepared for the worst. Borden would follow through with his promise, the 1912 naval budget was cut from $3 million to $1.6 million in an instant. The RN volunteers and sailors attached to the Canadian ships departed, the promise of a fair time in a new service with plenty of opportunity essentially snuffed away, leaving the Royal Canadian Navy without the money or the personnel to even send their ships to sea. To put the situation into perspective, 125 new enlistments were recorded for the entirety of 1912 and 1913 however, this was countered by 150 deserters over the same two year period. By 1914, the Royal Canadian Navy would sit at 330 men of all ranks and two decrepit second hand cruisers.

    Somehow miraculously, the Royal Naval College of Canada in Halifax escaped Borden's 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.

    When Prime Minister Robert Borden traveled to Britain in 1912 to receive the Knighthood customary to all dominion Prime Ministers of the era, he met a certain individual who would propel the Canadian Parliament into one of the most vicious, underhanded and heated debates since the time of Confederation.​

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    Dreadnoughts? Again?
  • Dreadnoughts? Again?

    When Robert Borden's Parliament had first convened in March of 1912, the topic of the previously perilous naval arms race between Britain and Germany was again raised by the Imperial leaning members of the majority. With the somewhat limited information available to him, Borden reviewed the naval arms race in Europe and came to an independent conclusion that no emergency contribution to the Royal Navy would be required. While this meant that there would be no immediate need to support Britain with financial aid or personnel transfers, Borden had plans for the future of the Royal Canadian Navy. The Laurier Navy would serve as a suitable baseline however the largely nationalistic status of the Laurier styled service did not sit well with Borden who largely thought of a service that would simply support the Royal Navy and uphold Canadian sovereignty. With Laurier's previous attempt at a shipbuilding program destroyed and the naval budget slashed to 53% of the previous year, the Royal Canadian Navy was placed on a starvation diet until the current government could 'cooperate much more closely with the Admiralty in framing a new Canadian naval organization'. Money was extremely tight over the next two years, coal and ammunition was hoarded for the very few times that Rainbow was permitted to train.

    Although the Navy itself was put out into the metaphorical dog house, Borden's previous assessment of the European situation was about to be flipped on it's head. As many a Sea Lord before him, Churchill would rise in the House of Commons to speak of another vague expansion of the German capital ship construction program. In reality, the Germans had actually somewhat scaled back their naval ambitions to place resources elsewhere but in a masterstroke, this plan was kept quite secretive and therefore the British were none the wiser. Any reports of German shipbuilding slowly down was largely downplayed by staff within the Admiralty. This issue had not made it's way across the Atlantic, Borden and his Conservatives were still settling into their newly taken seat of power and were not exactly looking to rock the boat especially when it came to any new naval least for the moment.


    From left to right, Isidore Belleau, Robert Borden and Wilfrid Laurier having a conversation.

    When Prime Minister visited Britain in July 1912, he found himself in a meeting with an extremely eager Churchill. Churchill had previously heard about the debates within Canadian Parliament regarding the Naval Service Bill, especially regarding the Conservatives vehemently campaigning for a fleet unit containing a single capital ship. Once Churchill had finished spinning his tale of the Empire being in dire peril due to the German shipbuilding program starting to catch the British's equivalent, he found Borden was more than eager to cooperate. The information thrown around in this meeting was largely rushed and insubstantial yet when Borden left Britain, he had pledged to Churchill to provide funding for three of the most modern capital ships. Borden took his time with this new bill, he skillfully navigated the ranks of his own party, reaffirming support for such a bill as he went and trying to bridge differences in the meantime. Amusingly, Borden actually expected large swathes of the Liberal opposition to support his bill which as was drafted, flew directly in the face of Laurier's proposed domestically grown Navy.

    On December 5th, 1912, the rather blandly named 'Naval Aid Bill' was presented to Parliament as such;

    "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."


    Robert Borden fully enveloped in one of his passionate speeches

    Borden seized the opportunity and went directly into his characteristically boisterous and stirring speeches;

    "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 away. These three Dreadnoughts or Battlecruisers would be placed under British command for the foreseeable future with the eventual option for Canada to take over the operation of said three ships. Special privileges would be given to Canadian personnel to be stationed and trained aboard these ships and they would be given Canadian names, Ontario, Quebec and Acadia.



    While many historians believe the Naval Aid Bill would have funded three ships of the Queen Elizabeth class, studies on Canadian battleships found in Admiralty design records point towards a much more unconventional series of designs. The above designs are designated as 'U4' and 'U5' respectively and differed to the QE class significantly with slightly thinner belt armor, rearranged secondary battery and a complete lack of superfiring main battery turrets. U4 being a 'flat iron' while U5 features both forward guns in an 'en echelon' arrangement around the conning tower. A design called 'U3' also exists and is laid out in the same manner as Queen Elizabeth however no surviving images or likenesses have so far been found. Credit goes to the above shown authors for the Shipbucket illustrations.

    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.

    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. Laurier accused Borden of creating a false urgency as a pretext for keeping the future of Canada’s defense in the hands of the British government alone and as evidence, he produced an unofficial Admiralty memorandum supplied by an anonymous source (it is largely believed that such a document was given to the Liberal opposition by Lord Charles Beresford, a longtime ally of Laurier and his independent Canadian naval service) which outlined the fact that England in fact in imminent danger and had officially revealed that she had been compelled to withdraw her ships from distant seas in order to concentrate them at home. 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.

    Laurier's speeches reinforced his point of view;

    "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."

    Over the next twenty three weeks, every kind of argument and obstructive trick in the Parliamentary playbook was utilized by the Liberals. One 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."

    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 into some kind of support.


    Wilfred Laurier with future Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

    That support never came.

    In the face of such stubborn opposition, the Conservatives utilized the newly founded 'closure' rule. 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 which would mean that any new appointments are always made from among the supporters of the Party in power at the moment. Borden had not been in power long enough to place a large amount of his supports within the Senate. The record 1896 to 1911 length of Laurier's rule over the Canadian government 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 put to rest.

    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. Again all of the odds though, one man was dutifully working away to help the ever floundering ugly duckling of the Canadian military gain it's feathers.
    Photo Gallery #3: HMCS Rainbow
  • Photo Gallery #3: HMCS Rainbow


    Crew member of Rainbow taking a photo in Pacific waters, note the hat tally which reads 'RNCVR Pacific', meaning he is a member of the Pacific Division of the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve.


    Sailor aboard Rainbow stands besides the aft emergency steering station.


    Rainbow moored to a buoy in Esquimalt Harbor, British Columbia.


    Quartermaster manning the helm of Rainbow.


    Crew of Rainbow coaling the ship, a very dirty endeavor.


    Crew of Rainbow alongside their unnamed mascot.


    Crew of Rainbow posing for a photo around the aft 6” gun.


    Rainbow in heavy Pacific seas.


    Crew members from Niobe on their way to reinforce the crew of Rainbow, 1914.


    Crew of Rainbow manually turning the capstain to raise the ships anchor, supervised by Commander Hose who can be seen looking aft.


    Dinner preparation aboard Rainbow.


    Crew of Rainbow lounging on deck.


    Nap time for crew members of every size.


    Two of Rainbows dogs having a snooze on the deck.


    Crew members of Rainbow having a little drink on shore leave.


    Two of Rainbows mascots having a little rough play.
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