Fresque du Centenaire / centennial Mural

On July 3, 1812, Lieutenant Frédéric Rolette boarded the Cuyahoga Packet, capturing precious war documents. This bold seizure was the first shot in the War of 1812, opposing Great Britain (and its Canadian colony) to the United States of America. And what a catch it was! For the American schooner was transporting, in addition to her crew, a troop of some forty soldiers and officers, and Rolette took her leading the assault from a barge, with only five or six of his men.

A survivor of the events tells the tale…

“His gaze seemed so fierce to us, said they, that we trembled as we looked at him, as timorous soldiers receiving harsh orders from their captain”


Frédéric Rolette was a sailor born in Québec City, who did his military service in the ships of the British Royal Navy. During the War of 1812, he served as a naval officer in the Provincial Marine, a naval force recruiting among the Canadiens and part of the Great Lakes Fleet. Rolette distinguished himself by his temerity at the battles of Frenchtown near the River Raisin and Lake Erie en 1813. After the war, he was presented with a sword of honour by his friends and the citizens of Québec, in recognition of his valour during the War of 1812. This sabre is part of the exhibit of the Naval Museum, which is entrusted with conserving the collection of the Chatillon family, descendants of Frédéric Rolette.


Sabre de Frédéric Rolette / Sabre of Frederic Rolette


The Provincial Marine was demobilized after the War, and Canada went without a naval force capable of defending its territorial waters until 1855. That year, action was required to counter the illegal fishing done by American fishermen in Canadian waters. The Department of Fisheries decided to arm a few sailships to protect its halieutic resources, thus standing up Canada’s first naval force.

These crews, made up of civilians entrusted with taskings usually reserved for military vessels, may be what is closest to an actual ancestor to the Naval Reserve. The most renowned of these sailships was probably the schooner La Canadienne, under command of Doctor Pierre-Étienne Fortin. A jurist and a politician, he was also a Captain in the Fisheries Navy. The success of his patrols with La Canadienne, in addition to his important social role, garnered him the moniker “King of the Gulf.”

At the end of the 19th century, the Fisheries Navy was a true Canadian naval force. It was demobilized in 1910, upon the formation of the Naval Service, which was to become the Royal Canadian Navy. During World War I, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve played a key role in the defence of Canada and even took part in the Gallipoli landing en 1915. This can be considered the first Canadian experiment with a professional naval reserve corps.

The idea of standing up a permanent corps of naval reserve in 1923 was based on these successful experiments…