RCN established 110 years ago

Navy News / April 28, 2020

One hundred and ten years ago, on May 4, 1910, the Royal Canadian Navy was established.

Over these 11 decades, tens of thousands of men and women have answered the call of duty through service in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), helping shape the history of Canada as a great maritime nation.

From cities, towns, villages and First Nations communities, they have stepped forward to stand their watch at sea through two World Wars, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, the first Gulf War and the War on Terror.

And they continue to serve their country today, even in these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From 1867, the Royal Navy provided maritime defence of British North America and for the Dominion of Canada. With the First World War brewing in Europe early in the 20th century, Great Britain redistributed the British fleet and reduced its stations in Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C.

As a result, the Government of Canada assumed full responsibility for protecting Canada’s major seaports and the longest coastline in the world.

On May 4, 1910, under authority of the Naval Service Act, the Canadian navy was created. In August 1911 it was designated the Royal Canadian Navy by King George V.

In the early years, Canada relied on others – mostly Great Britain – for expensive equipment such as its first warships, His Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Rainbow and Niobe.

The navy’s early history was shaped by the First World War, then by the post-war economic slump and the Great Depression. It was the Second World War, and in particular the Battle of the Atlantic, that forged the RCN's vessels, men and women into a true naval force.

In fact, throughout 2020, the RCN is commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest battle of the war, which was fought at sea from 1939 to 1945. Much of the burden of fighting the battle fell to the RCN, which at the outbreak of the war, was comprised of only six destroyers and a handful of smaller vessels.

Canada’s navy was instrumental in turning the tide of the war, and by 1945 had grown to become one of the largest in the world, with one in 116 Canadians serving. The RCN destroyed or shared in the destruction of 33 U-Boats and 42 enemy surface craft. In turn, it suffered 2,210 fatalities, including nine women, and lost 33 vessels.

As it marks 110 years of service, the RCN commemorates the courage, resiliency, selflessness and sacrifices of the men and women who served, and continue to serve, our nation in times of peace and war.