100 years at sea

November 26, 2010

On 29 June 2010, ships of the Canadian navy, along with an assembly of warships from Germany, Brazil, Denmark, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom participated in an International Fleet Review in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This notable event, which rarely takes place in Canadian waters, marked the centennial of Canada’s navy. The participation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II made the occasion all the more impressive.

“We stand on guard for thee”

Everyone knows that Canada is a vast country, but were you aware that it has the world’s longest coastline, stretching some 243 000 kilometres? At the time of its creation in 1867, Canada had a large fishing fleet and numerous merchant ships, but it took over 40 years after Confederation for Canada to create its own navy. Until then, Britain’s Royal Navy was responsible for the maritime defence of Canada.

The Naval Service of Canada was established on the May 4 1910 when royal assent was given to the Naval Service Bill. The first of its warships were commissioned that year, when HMS Rainbow and HMS Niobe were acquired from Great Britain. When King George V authorized the addition of the word ‘royal’ to its name in 1911, the Royal Canadian Navy was born.

Canada had only 13 warships when the Second World War broke out. By the time the war ended, however, it possessed one of the largest fleets of all the Allied nations, with 434 ships. This remarkable growth is explained by the pivotal role that Canada played in the Battle of the Atlantic, one of the longest and most important campaigns in the war. The Royal Canadian Navy escorted convoys, helping 25,000 ships and 165 million tons of war supplies safely reach Europe in the face of attacks by German U-Boats. Today, Canada maintains a fleet of 33 warships and submarines, plus auxiliary and support vessels.

Tell me a tale of the sea

To mark the centennial of the Canadian navy, the Canadian War Museum has created a travelling exhibition of paintings drawn from its outstanding Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. Over the past few months, 46 works depicting Canada’s naval activities, from the First World War up to the present day, have travelled across the country. The Navy: A Century in Art will open in Ottawa on Remembrance Day, November 11th. Arthur Lismer, Alex Colville, Harold Beament and Ted Zuber are among the renowned Canadian artists who captured the reality of our nation’s naval history in times of war and peace over the past century.

For those who wish to learn more, the Canadian War Museum offers an on-line exhibition: Canada’s Naval History. Visitors will discover an impressive array of almost 750 photos, works of art, artifacts and archival documents, accompanied by educational resources. This innovative approach will allow guests from across the world to navigate through Canada’s naval history.

After all, it isn’t every day that we celebrate a 100th anniversary!