Monday, May 10, 2010

A Naval Anniversary - or two

Last week saw ceremonies across Canada to honour the centennial of the establishment of the once-Royal Canadian Navy. The federal government announced the restoration of the executive curl on officers' rank insignia, a piece of tradition which had been lost when the RCN was subsumed into the generic Canadian Forces in 1968. Rumours now abound that HM the Queen (aka Mrs. Battenburg) may restore the royal designation to both the Navy and the Air Force when she drops by for a visit later this summer.

In Saskatchewan, where 40 percent of exports travel by sea and depend on maritime security, Premier Brad Wall signed a proclamation designating May 4, 2010 as "Navy Day in Saskatchewan." The first picture today shows the guard of honour from that ceremony.

Yesterday marked another naval anniversary of an entirely different sort. It was 125 years ago yesterday that saw the first naval engagement fought by a Canadian formation. Since this pre-dates the establishment of Canada's Navy by some 25 years, I should point out that the Canadian formation involved was the (not yet Royal) North West Mounted Police.

During the North West Resistance (or, as we called it when I was a lad, the Second Riel Rebellion), General Middleton devised a plan to have some number of his troops go down the South Saskatchewan River in the ferry Northcote and land behind the Métis fighters of Gabriel Dumont to enclose them in a pincer movement. On May 9, as Northcote sailed past their position, Dumont and the Métis strung a cable across the river and managed to take off the stack and wheelhouse. Northcote lost steerage way, drifted down the river past her designated landing point and eventually ran aground on the wrong side.

Canada's first naval engagement did not go so well for Canada.

But I'm not the only Saskatchewan sailor to have won the odd wager in the mess about the location of Canada's first naval battle.

(First photo from the Leader-Post. Second photo is of a contemporary hand-coloured lithograph taken from First Peoples of Canada.)

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