Unending Seige

Canada’s Participation in the War

Canada’s Navy at War

However, not everything was negative. Britain undoubtedly would have preferred a stronger mobilization of her Empire, but in 1914 British and Canadian forces did work closely together - though Canada remained independent. The British faction in Canada was less than confident about Canada's citizen soldiers and their embryonic navy, which had just picked up two submarines from the U.S. for coastal patrols; these joined the two outmoded cruisers that Canada had owned since 1910 and that now fell under British command. Despite its insignificance, however, the navy was the first of Canada's two military arms to see combat. HMCS Rainbow sailed off into the Pacific in an unsuccessful search for German raiders.

With his 1910 Naval Act, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier had envisaged an independent Canada building its own navy, because Canada could hardly rely fully on the British navy in the event of an attack. He was right, and the First World War would make Laurier and hundreds of thousands of other Canadians long for a totally independent country.

Canadian territorial waters were unprotected against the dangers of war. To curb the activities of German submarines, Canada built up a fleet of 134 small patrol vessels that would mainly cruise along the Atlantic coast. The British would assume its command.

The British were asked whether Canada should build a real navy. The answer was a resounding no - better to concentrate Canada's efforts on land forces. The result was that fewer than 5,000 men would serve in Canada's naval forces during the First World War.