The Naval Reserve will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2023. Major festivities will be organized across the country to mark the occasion. The Naval Museum will also participate in the celebrations with a special program of activities highlighting the Naval Reserve’s outstanding contribution to Canadian history. 

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The Centennial Mural

The Centennial Mural is now installed at the Pointe-à-Carcy naval complex, located at 170 rue Dalhousie, in Quebec. You can visit it at any time, for free!

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Logo Parle-moi de ta Mer

Sea Through Your Eyes

The sea leaves no sailor indifferent. Stories about their time at sea, and the ships on which they served, are always among the first things that sailors talk about with each other. The Naval Reserve Centennial is the perfect opportunity to launch a major memory collection project in order to gather these stories and make them available to the public. You too, civilians and military members, old and young, will be invited to share your stories about the sea in 2023.

The History of the Naval Reserve of Canada (1923–2023)

The most important step taken by the Naval Service between the two wars was the establishing of the naval reserve and the naval volunteer reserves as continuing institutions. G. N. Tucker, Naval Historian.

The Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) was created at a crucial time in Canadian military history. In 1923, in the post-World War I period of peace and disarmament, the Canadian Navy was seen by many as an unreasonable expense that could easily be cut. The government was seriously considering the abolition of the Naval Service. 

Captain Walter Hose then proposed a solution that would save the Navy from extinction: the creation of a naval reserve force, made up of civilians pursuing a military career on a part-time basis, with units based not on the coasts but in the major Canadian cities. The volunteers would continue training in peacetime, while representing the Navy in the civilian society. The proposal was accepted and on January 31, 1923, the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) was created by Order in Council. 

The first 12 half-companies across the country were established in challenging conditions. The first recruits had to rely on the generosity of their officers, such as William Hobbs at HMCS Discovery and Achille Pettigrew at HMCS Montcalm, as well as on donations from their communities in order to have access to appropriate facilities and equipment. Despite all obstacles, these small Reserve units quickly became places brimming with a strong sense of pride and belonging. 

Citizen sailors conducted parades in their communities and learned rope work, semaphore, weapons handling (gun run, rifle drill) and cutlass drill. They served alongside the Regular Navy on destroyers HMC Ships Patriot and Patrician. Basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and tug-of-war competitions were regularly held between units, thus creating a true esprit de corps amongst reservists and motivating them to strive for excellence. Reserve units across the country continued the traditions inherited from the British Navy, while creating new ones. 

Professional units soon emerged from these first reserve companies and proved to be highly effective during World War II. The Naval Volunteer Reserve accounted for more than 90% of the Canadian Navy’s strength, which spectacularly grew to become the fourth largest fleet in the world with more than 400 ships and other vessels. The Reserve was the backbone of the Naval Service at that time. It was involved in all theatres of naval operations, participated in epic battles against German U-Boats during the Battle of the Atlantic, and played a central role in the Allied victory in 1945. 

More than 7000 women (called Wrens, from the acronym WRCNS meaning Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service), willing to make the same sacrifices as men, served during the war. The women were demobilized after the war, but were soon called back to serve in the Naval Reserve in 1951 during the Korean War, four years before the Regular Navy. As such, the Reserve played a pioneering role in Canada regarding the integration of women into the profession of arms. 

The legacy of the war forged the character of the Naval Reserve well into the 1970s. The Naval Reserve then acquired its unique traditions (gun carriage paintings), its sobriquets (the “Wavy Navy”), and its distinctive symbols. During the Cold War and under the leadership of senior officers such as Rex Guy, Ernie Moffat, and Don Arnaud, the Naval Reserve achieved a level of professionalism recognized worldwide and even became a leader in the art of organizing convoys during the nuclear age. Soon came the first ships fully crewed by Reservists: the Porte-class ships, named after gates in the fortifications of Québec City and Louisbourg. These ships welcomed the first women admitted to sea service in the 1980s. 

During the same period, a small group of elite Wrens employed in the communications branch was central to the expansion of the role of women in the Naval Reserve. Well trained and highly regarded by Regular Force members, they paved the way for women to serve in occupations that were previously restricted to men. In the early 1970s, women were primarily employed in administration, medical, supply and galley positions. Twenty years later, women were serving as bridge watch keepers and female sailors were holding operational positions at NATO headquarters. 

The 1990s saw a wind of change as Canada began to build 12 Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDVs) for the Naval Reserve, providing real opportunities for Reservists to sail anywhere in the world. Today, as in the past, the Naval Reserve is made up of individuals engaged in their civilian lives while serving part-time in the military. More than 4000 Naval Reservists, supported by hundreds of civilians and allocated to one of 24 Divisions across the country, still embody the values of professionalism, perseverance, camaraderie, and contribution to society that animate the true spirit of the Naval Reserve. 

A hundred years of daring: that’s the foundation of Canada’s Naval Reserve.  

In addition to specializing in coastal defence, mine countermeasures and diving operations, reservists offer essential support to their communities by providing emergency services in the event of natural disasters, conducting fundraising campaigns for various charities and participating in a variety of community events. They are teachers, lawyers, nurses or entrepreneurs; they speak English or French (or both); they are Canadians from all walks of life. Together, they help preserve 100 years of naval heritage in Canada.