Some Ideas for 2010 by Mike creasy
The past 100 years have seen plenty of changes in the naval scene on Canada’s west coast, as the new Dominion struggled to make its way in a changing world. That it survived wars, the great depression, endless political intrigue and an eternal reluctance to spend money on our own ships, is testament to the character of our little navy. As we consider how best to participate in the 100th anniversary celebrations, it seems appropriate to look back at some naval vessels that have had a direct impact here – ships that we should remember in Victoria – as possible candidates for that next modelling project.
Top of the list has to be HMCS Rainbow, a 20 year old Apollo class cruiser purchased from the Royal Navy in 1910, intended to carry out inshore patrols and provide a means of training Canada’s new navy. In July 1914 as the world prepared for war, Rainbow was called upon to escort a shipload of illegal immigrants from Vancouver harbour. Fortunately, the Komagata Maru was armed with nothing more than lumps of coal and Rainbow’s mission was successful. Only days later however, she was dispatched on a mission from which she was not expected to return.
The powerful German Asiatic Squadron of Admiral Graf von Spee had been pushed out of the far east by Japan’s entry into the growing European conflict; the beginnings of the Great War. It was believed that the Germans would strike at traffic off Canada’s west coast (the US was still neutral) and Canada’s sole west coast warship was sent on August 5, 1914 to intercept them. With no high explosive shells for her 6” guns, carrying only half her normal crew complement, the signal from Ottawa ended with the admonition to…”remember Nelson……All Canada is watching.” Patrolling from Mexico to Prince Rupert, Rainbow never found the enemy. During her absence, near panic ensued in the streets as the German cruisers were expected to drop the hook in front of the Empress Hotel at any time.
Relief came in the form of a pair of large Japanese cruisers, the IJN Idzumo and IJN Asama, which pulled into Esquimalt on August 25, 1914. Banks reopened and people heaved a collective sigh of relief, earning the Japanese ships a spot in BC’s naval history. World War 1 got going that fall; mainly an Atlantic affair for Canada’s fledgling Navy, and to Canadian sailors serving in the Royal Navy. One very notable exception to this was the only loss of a Canadian Naval vessel during the First War, HMCS Galiano.
Galiano and sister ship Malaspina were built for fisheries patrol and lighthouse re-supply work on the west coast. Commissioned into the RCN in 1917, both ships continued with these and other duties from their Esquimalt base. In October 1918, just days before the end of the war Galiano was lost in a violent storm between Cape Scott and Cape St James. A memorial to her loss can be found in the southeast corner of Ross Bay Cemetery.
Hmcs Thiepval certainly deserves mention. A 130 foot Battle-class trawler, she was a fixture on the BC coast for many years on naval and fisheries patrol duties. In the summer of 1924, the ship was selected to provide support for a daring “round the world” flight by British Sqdn-Ldr Stuart MacLaren in a Vickers Viking flying boat. Thiepval was sent ahead to establish fuel dumps through the Aleutians, becoming the first RCN ship to visit Russia and Japan, but the adventure ended when the Vickers crashed in the Bering Straits. Theipval recovered the wreckage and the unhurt explorers, returning all to Esquimalt where the big wooden propeller became a fixture in the officers mess. In 1930, the ship was lost on a rock in Barkley Sound and her 12 pounder was salvaged and mounted ashore in Ucluelet. The old wreck is now a popular
dive destination in only 40’ of
The auxiliaries HMC Ships Laurier and MacDonald have to make the list. These 113-footers were built side by side at Quebec City in 1936 for the RCMP and commissioned into the RCN in 1939 for patrol and escort duties on the east coast. The ships were turned over to the Department of Fisheries in 1946, and became fixtures on the west coast as the CGS Laurier and CGS Howay. Both are still around, now in private hands.
Armed yachts and Fisherman’s Reserve boats should be on the list too, since these little vessels filled some big gaps in a navy stretched to its limits. Names like Norsal, Sans Peur and Fifer ….. large yachts pressed into service for patrol and inspection duties, often the only naval vessels seen regularly by the public. Norsal sank in 1990, but Fifer (in all her restored glory) is now for sale in San Francisco. Only $950,000 US….. maybe a model would be cheaper?
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Western Shores Narratives of the Pacific Coast, James Hamilton, Progress Publishing, 1932
The Ships of Canada’s Naval Forces 1910-2002, Macpherson & Barrie, Vanwell Pub. 2002
The Naval Service of Canada, Gilbert Tucker, King’s Printer, 1952
The Gumboot Navy. Carol Popp, Oolichan Books, 1988