The Issues Crystallize

The Naval Bill

The Canadian Navy League

In 1895, however, pressure mounted. In Britain, the competition with Germany over the number and quality of new ships, including the famous and extremely costly Dreadnoughts, prompted the naval lobby to form the Navy League. Its purpose was to help the government persuade the people of the British Isles to accept the sacrifices needed to maintain naval superiority. By founding sections in the colonies, the Navy League hoped to press local governments, including Canada's, to share this British vision.

Branch No. 6 of the Navy League was founded in Toronto in 1895. On 20 June 1896, three days before the federal vote that would bring Wilfrid Laurier to office, a naval defence plan drawn up by H.S. Wickham, the branch's honorary secretary, was published in the Globe and Mail. In the circumstances, it could hardly go anywhere, but the proposal was not without interest. Wickham argued for a naval militia partnering the land militia with the equivalent of a General Officer Commanding, permanent and reserve forces, schools on both coasts and, lastly, the adaptation of the Fisheries Protection Service to the requirements of coastal defence.

In December of the same year, Wickham submitted another idea to the Governor General and the prime minister. This time Canadians were to be provided to the Royal Naval Reserve as part of a programme the Admiralty had set up to help small merchant vessels convert to warships in a crisis. 51 This suggestion was not picked up, but Wickham would persistently press for government action in this area until 1910.

As with the rest of Canada's political and military life, imperial and colonial conferences had an impact on the development of Canada's naval defence. In the meetings of 1887, 1894 and 1897, the Canadian ministers rejected any idea of participating in this defence, even though the Royal Navy was not what it had been 40 years earlier.