Birth Of “The Naval Service of Canada,” May 4th 1910 Till First World War.

On March 29, 1909, George Foster introduced a resolution in the House of Commons calling for the establishment of a Canadian Naval Service. The resolution was not successful; however, on January 12, 1910, the government of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier took Foster’s resolution and introduced it as the Naval Service Bill. After third reading, the bill received royal assent on May 4, 1910, becoming the Naval Service Act which created a Department of the Naval Service under the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, who also became the Minister of the Naval Service.[1] The act called for: a permanent force, a reserve (to be called up in emergency) a volunteer reserve (to be called up in emergency), the establishment of a naval college. Canada sent to sea no less than 850 warships under a naval ensign since the navy was created by the Naval Service Act of May 4, 1910.


Naval Service of Canada


Canada's First Naval Recruits Nov. 1910 HMCS Niobe

Canada’s First Naval Recruits Nov. 1910 HMCS Niobe


Recruits, Naval Service of Canada, November 1910. This group of ratings were the first men recruited by the Naval Service of Canada, for service on HMCS Niobe. Finding Canadians who wished to serve proved hard, so many of the ship’s crew were drawn from the Royal Navy. Canadian naval uniform was modeled after the British pattern, altered by placing ‘HMCS’ (‘His Majesty’s Canadian Ship’) on the cap tally. HMCS Niobe is seen in the background. She was used mostly as a training ship. The official title of the navy was the Naval Service of Canada Aka as the Canadian Naval Forces. The first Director of the Naval Service of Canada was Rear-Admiral Charles Kingsmill (Royal Navy, retired), who had previously been in charge of the Marine Service of the Department of Marine and Fisheries. A request to change name of the Naval Service of Canada to Royal Canadian Navy on January 30, 1911, brought a favourable reply from King George V on August 29 of that year.[2]


H.M.C.S. Niobe Gunnery, Torpedo and Physical Training Instructors P.T.I.  staff on board ship in 1910.

H.M.C.S. Niobe Gunnery, Torpedo and Physical Training Instructors P.T.I. staff on board ship in 1910.


HMCS Rainbow: In its early years, Canada’s navy featured a single cruiser patrolling the waters of the west and east coast. The British cruiser HMCS Rainbow was the first ship commissioned into the Canadian Navy when it sailed into Esquimalt, B.C. on November 7, 1910. Her duties included fishery patrols and training. On Trafalgar Day, October 21, 1910, the second ship to join the Canadian Navy, the HMCS Niobe sailed into Halifax. (Canada’s Navy has operated five cruisers since 1910. In addition to the HMCS Rainbow and HMCS Niobe there were HMCS Aurora, HMCS Quebec (Uganda) and HMCS Ontario.


H.M.C.S. Rainbow, Aug. 1914.

H.M.C.S. Rainbow, Aug. 1914.


H.M.C.S. Rainbow

H.M.C.S. Rainbow.


HMCS Niobe

HMCS Niobe


The naval college was established in the dockyard at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1911 as “Royal Naval College of Canada”. The Royal Naval College was established to impart a complete education in Naval Science. Graduates were qualified to enter the Imperial or Canadian Service as midshipmen although a Naval career was not compulsory. The course provided a grounding in Applied Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Navigation, History and Modern Languages and was accepted as qualifying for entry as second-year students in Canadian Universities. The program aimed to develop both the physical and mental including discipline, the ability to obey and take charge, and honour. Candidates had to be between their fourteenth and sixteenth birthdays on July 1 following the examination. The original Royal Naval College of Canada facilities were destroyed on December 1917 at 0845, in the Halifax explosion. What could be salvaged was moved to the HMCS Stone Frigate at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston, Ontario. The “Royal Canadian Naval College” moved in 1919 to a building in the naval dockyard at Esquimalt, British Columbia. The College was closed in 1922.[3][4]


Midshipmen Royal Naval College Halifax.

Photograph of the Midshipman class at Royal Naval College, Halifax Nova Scotia. Includes Leonard Murray (second from left). Date 1912 or 1913.



H.M.C.S. Shearwater and H.M.C.S. Rainbow Esquimalt, B.C. 1910.

H.M.C.S. Shearwater and H.M.C.S. Rainbow Esquimalt, B.C. 1910.


HMS AUDACIOUS: Canada acquired two ships from Great Britain. The cruiser Rainbow was the first ship commissioned into Canada’s navy on August 4, 1910, at Portsmouth, England. She arrived at Esquimalt, British Columbia, on November 7, 1910, and carried out fishery patrols and training duties on Canada’s west coast.[5] Another Royal Navy cruiser, HMS Niobe, became the second ship commissioned into the Canadian navy on September 6, 1910, at Devonport in England and arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on October 21, 1910—Trafalgar Day.[6] His Majesty having been graciously pleased to authorize that the Canadian Naval Forces shall be designated the “Royal Canadian Navy,” this title is to be officially adopted, the abbreviation thereof being ‘RCN’.King George V, August 29, 1911. Following Laurier’s defeat in the 1911 federal election, in which the debate about naval policy played a significant part. The new Conservative government, led by Robert Borden, had opposed the Naval Service Act while they were in opposition, and replaced it with a Naval Aid Bill, which called for Canada to give money to Great Britain to help fund ships for the Royal Navy. The Liberal-dominated Senate, however, defeated the bill. The Royal Canadian Navy now found itself in limbo, with very limited funds for operations, two obsolescent cruisers, and no prospect of new ships being built or acquired.[7][8]


H.M.C.S. Niobe in drydock, Halifax, N.S., c. 1911.

H.M.C.S. Niobe in drydock, Halifax, N.S., c. 1911.


H.M.C.S. Niobe View of the front of the ship from the bridge.

H.M.C.S. Niobe View of the front of the ship from the bridge.


Despite the problems of these early years, some Canadians were still active supporters of a national navy. Building on earlier, unofficial efforts, a volunteer reserve came into being in May 1914 as the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR). Its initial establishment was 1,200 men, and it was divided into three distinct geographic areas: (1) Atlantic, (2) Pacific, and (3) Lake (representing inland areas). During the First World War, it would expand considerably, and also establish an “Overseas Division” specifically for service with the Royal Navy.[9] Canada’s Call to Arms,” on the Atlantic coast, a meditated attack by Austrian steamships on the important wireless station at Glace Bay was reported on 4th August in a cable from the Colonial Office, and resulted in the hurried despatch of the maintenance crew of the Niobe – “a carpenter, a petty officer, a seaman and a gunner” – followed by special train at 3 a.m. on the 5th by a detachment of naval volunteers, 43 strong with two field guns and two maxim machine guns, from Halifax. A military detachment of 30 was, however, already on the spot, provided under the local defence scheme, and the naval detachment was withdrawn two days later.[10]



  1. Gibert Norman Tucker, The Naval Service of Canada: Volume I: Origins and Early Years, p. 137
  2. 2. Gilbert Norman Tucker `The Naval Service of Canada: Its Official History` Ottawa, 1952.
  3. A. Foster Heart of Oak, Pictorial History Royal Canadian Navy Methuen 1985.
  4. Gibert Norman Tucker, p. 137.
  5. Gibert Norman Tucker, p. 142-144.
  6. Gibert Norman Tucker, p. 138-142.
  7. Gibert Norman Tucker, p. 191-200.
  8. Marc Milner, “A Sea of Politics: Navy, Part 2”, Legion Mazazine, 2004.
  9. Gibert Norman Tucker, p.156-158, 221.
  10. DHH OH: The CF In the Great War 1938, The Outbreak of War, p. 15.






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