The Navy League of Canada: A National Institution

By Andrew Warden

A parade of Navy League cadets, Ottawa,  2009.

A parade of Navy League cadets, Ottawa,  2009.

In 2010, the Royal Canadian Navy celebrated its centennial, and Canadians were provided with a taste of this important—but often misunderstood—national institution; in particular its crucial role during the Second World War’s Battle of the Atlantic.

Most Canadians do not realize that a significant part of the credit for celebrating 100 years of Canada’s Navy should be given to the Navy League of Canada, another national institution, and one that predates the RCN by 15 years. Established in 1895, the Navy League of Canada was originally created to help foster an interest in maritime affairs, and in particular, to encourage debate on the importance of an independent navy. Indeed, the Navy League was one of the loudest voices in establishing a sovereign naval service in Canada.

When Canadians think of the Navy League, the first thing that comes to mind are the cadet programmes, which offer exciting opportunities to more than 12,000 young Canadians in more than 250 communities. The role of promoting and sponsoring the education and training of Canada’s youth through the provision of recreational opportunities that promote physical and mental fitness is something the Navy League takes very seriously.

The Royal Canadian Sea Cadets were established in 1917 under the name of Canadian Boys’ Naval Brigade. The name was changed in 1923 to the Sea Cadet Corps, and with the adoption of the monarch as patron in 1942, it became the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets. Today, the sea cadet programme is delivered to young men and women from 12 to 18 years of age, in a partnership between the Department of National Defence and the Navy League of Canada. Sea cadet training focuses on sailing, nautical activities, naval communications, team sports, shipboard life and tall ship training, as well as the overall cadet programme goals of citizenship, physical fitness and developing an interest in naval history and issues.

The Navy League Cadet programme is for boys and girls 9 to 12 years, and is delivered entirely by the Navy League to more than 3,000 young Canadians. The programme is designed to generate an interest in, and prepare youth for, the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets. It was established in 1948 and currently operates in more than 110 communities across the country.

But the Navy League is more than just cadets — both historically and today. It continues to deliver on its initial mandate, which is to promote an interest in maritime affairs throughout Canada, as well as to garner widespread support for the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard as important national institutions. The Navy League provides this advocacy through public outreach and by bringing together interested parties through the Maritime Affairs Alliance, which provides opportunities for an open discussion of issues. Conferences such as Maritime Security Challenges in Victoria, as well as public education campaigns such as Navy Appreciation Day on Parliament Hill are just two of the ways the Navy League helps achieve its aims.

For the past 120 years, the Navy League of Canada has been a national institution that has helped to bring youth programmes into communities across the country in addition to encouraging decision makers to continue providing the necessary support required to accomplish the tasks that they set out for the men and women of the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard.

As our original motto states, the Navy League of Canada continues to “Keep Watch.”