The Royal Navy, Ruler of the Seas

A Power Force In Defence

Seldom Seen Guardians

British North America was defended not only by soldiers guarding forts. Alone, they would not have been able to fend off American ambitions, which were contained in large measure because of the superiority of the Royal Navy. In fact the seamen and ships of the British navy played a defensive role of the first magnitude throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, even though most Canadians rarely or never saw them anywhere but at the main ports. At most, fishermen and other people living along the coasts would occasionally see frigates cruising offshore and sometimes be treated to the impressive spectacle of a large ship of the line majestically hovering on the horizon. This discretion no doubt explains why the role of seamen is sometimes neglected in Canada's military heritage.

As long as the Royal Navy ruled the seas, a major naval attack against any part of the British North American colonies was unlikely. Any adversary would indeed be subject to naval raids by the British! In North America the only serious potential enemy was the United States, and the War of 1812 had shown the extent to which the Royal Navy could, through its deadly incursions and its coastal blockade, upset the commercial and military life of that country. In peacetime the British Admiralty always kept in reserve some plan of retaliation against a major city such as Boston in the event of any attempted invasion of one of its colonies by the United States. During periods of tension between the American republic and Great Britain, such prospects were always on the minds of American diplomats, and no doubt encouraged them always to find solutions.