The Canadian Navy was founded more than four decades after the birth of the country. And it was a humble beginning: the Naval Service Act became law in 1910, and two ships were purchased from the British Royal Navy. The following year, with permission from King George V, the word “Royal” was added, to create the Royal Canadian Navy. Canada’s Navy also assumed control of former British Royal Navy bases in Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C.
Why the Navy was created
Canada’s desire for naval autonomy and less reliance on the Royal Navy emerged in the late 1800s from the rising need to protect Canadian fisheries from American ships illegally entering national waters. This growing urgency to guard valuable resources, coupled with the British plan to counter the increasing threat of the German Navy, ultimately resulted in the Canadian Navy.
World Wars, Korean War, Cold War
Soon after the Navy was created, there were debates in Parliament over funding shortfalls and a lack of political commitment to properly manage the fledgling fleet and crews. But the small Canadian Navy prevailed by proving it could protect Canada and assist her Allies in the early stages of the First World War. By the Second World War, the Navy had more than 400 ships and nearly 100,000 sailors, the largest number of ships and sailors in its 100-year history.
Rallying from near collapse due to overextension in the Second World War, the Navy rose again to help in the Korean War, dispatching three ships within days of the start of the conflict in 1950. This experience created the blueprint for most future Canadian naval missions. Moreover, the Navy’s response to threats from the Soviets during the Cold War resulted in the development of new technology, such as variable-depth sonar, the hydrofoil and destroyers capable of carrying helicopters.
Unification of the Canadian Forces
In 1968, while the world was still divided by the Cold War, the Navy came under the unifying banner of the Canadian Forces, alongside the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Army, and was officially designated the Maritime Command. Since unification, ships have served in the Gulf War and as part of missions for NATO, including patrols on the coast of the former Yugoslavia.
This interactive piece features a menu where users can select from a list of historic Navy vessels to learn about, with a narrated explanation of each.