Rear-Admiral Walter Hose created the RCNVR on Jan. 31, 1923, a time when the Navy was dealing with drastic budget cuts. Hose, however, believed volunteers could be the force’s lifeblood, and established Naval Reserve Divisions in cities throughout Canada. The RCNVR’s utility was put to the test come September 1939.
At the onset of the Second World War, droves of yachtsman and casual sailors volunteered for the service and were given minimal training before setting off to sea. The learning only really began when they joined Canada’s fleet of destroyers, minesweepers and their existing crews.Comprising more than half of the Navy by January 1941, the RCNVR confronted the treacherous North Atlantic, which along with the enemy “inflicted many painful lessons,” wrote naval historian Richard Mayne in Citizen Sailors: Chronicles of Canada’s Naval Reserve, 1910-2010. Their life at sea consisted of “long periods of boredom and sea sickness, followed by convoy actions and moments of sheer terror.”
Before long, however, members of the RCNVR were as respected as their professional counterparts. They ensured the safe passage of 25,000 merchant ships and 165 million tonnes of supplies to England and beyond. Later absorbed by the Naval Reserve, the RCNVR helped Canada’s navy become the third largest in the world by the end of the war. “Those RCNVR boys,” said one RCNVR officer, “won Canada a good name.”