Timeline: 1910-1919

The Path Leading to a Canadian Navy

1. A Canadian Navy is Born
2. The Naval Service Act
3. Path Leading to the RCN
6. World War I
7. CC1 and CC2
8. Post World War I

There are four primary factors which have influenced the development of sea power by Canada. First, the geography and geographical location of the country has meant that Canada has been relatively secure from attack by any enemy except the US. The width of the Atlantic Ocean and the considerably greater width of the Pacific Ocean have always provided a deterrent to invasion. There are formidable obstacles in the east because, despite the relative vulnerability of the Maritime provinces in our early history, the majority of Canadians still lived in the center of the country. To advance through the undeveloped regions between the coast and the Great Lakes would have meant crossing areas with no roads and no readily available supplies. The use of the St. Lawrence River could easily be denied through shore defences and blockade. On the west coast, the Rocky Mountains would prove an impenetrable barrier to the center of the country, with only the area of British Columbia sharing the same vulnerability as the Maritimes.

Canada shares with several other countries, especially Russia, the characteristic of possessing two widely separated coasts. The distance from Esquimalt around by sea to Halifax is about 15,000 nautical miles by Cape Horn (before 1914) though this has been reduced to about 7,000 nautical miles by way of the Panama Canal. This meant, and still means, that a naval force in Canadian waters must be divided, with each of the formations too far away to quickly be of use to the other should the need arise.

A second factor was the relatively large volume of external trade which, because it relied upon ocean going vessels, resulted in a greater than average interest in sea lines of communication. In the days of sail, ship building in Canada was a small scale activity. The ability and availability of shore-based commercial activities to provide Canadians with a high wage and high standard of living meant that few people sought out a sea- faring life. The priority of the Government was also directed towards the provision of an infrastructure, roads, railways, buildings, port installations, etc., and they were, despite Imperial prodding, reluctant to change spending priorities to included warships or other naval armaments.

The third factor to be considered was public opinion which, because the majority of the population lived far away from salt water, tended not to include thoughts of the sea, the trade which it supported, the jobs it provided or the requirements for its protection. Canada has, on the whole, had a relatively quiet time of it. Since the conquest, this country has only been attacked three times, always by land and always from the south. Canadians therefore considered the land defences were more appropriate.

Finally, certain external factors played an important role in the development of the Canadian Navy. As part of the Empire, Canada was relatively assured that in an emergency, the full weight of Britain could be counted upon for support. Certainly the influence of the Royal Navy has been a continuous, though largely hidden, factor. Events of the Seven Year’ s War leading to the conquest were primarily the result of Royal Navy supremacy in the Atlantic, and the decisive incident, the fall of Quebec, was brought about by the ability of the Navy to bring a superior army up the St. Lawrence to the foot of that fortress. During the period of the American Revolution to almost the end of the nineteenth century, there was a ‘hands-off’ policy because the Americans knew that their sea trade could be decimated by the RN in return for any land attacks, just as had occurred during the War of 1812. The Royal Navy and its ability to project its power anywhere on earth allowed Canada to turn her thoughts towards internal development without worry from any threat from across the ocean.

There has also been, from time to time, a need to ensure that in a war with the United States, a power other than Britain would not be able to use Canadian territory as a base of operations. The Monroe doctrine of 1823 states that the US would regard as unfriendly an act by any non-American state to take territory either in North- or SouthAmerica. There is no clear indication of what would be required for the US to actively intervene in any such violation of Canadian territory. However, such an unfortunate circumstance would no doubt have brought not only the RN but also the USN to our aid.

Though the path leading to the creation of a navy in Canada is long and indicative of the Canadian way of doing things, it makes the Canadian Naval Service and its descendants unique.