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The Royal Naval College of Canada, 1911-22

G. William Hines

There shall be an institution for the purpose of imparting a complete education in all branches of naval science, tactics and strategy.

Such institution shall be known as the Naval College of Canada, and shall be located at such place as the Governor in Council may determine. [1]

On 12 January 1910, the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier introduced into the House of Commons a Naval Service Bill, providing for the creation of a Canadian navy through the purchase of several warships and through the recruiting and training of Canadian naval personnel. It was evident at the time that Canada would have to rely on Britain to furnish officers for her new naval force until she could supply her own; and it was obvious, too, that, so long as such a state of affairs continued to exist, Canada could never aspire to complete sovereign control of her own navy. To reduce the presence and influence of a British officer corps in her naval service, Canada required some means of obtaining an adequate number of well-trained Canadian naval officers in as short a period as was practicable. The Liberals were quick to recognise the significance of this requirement. Thus, one section of the Naval Service Bill advocated the foundation of a Canadian naval college 'to train the lads who would later on become officers in the proposed Canadian ships',[2] in the expectation that the college would eventually supply enough Canadian officers to obviate the need for British personnel.[3] With the passage of the Liberal naval legislation through the Commons on 20 April 1910, the establishment of the suggested naval college was assured; and on 7 January 1911, it was officially proclaimed the Royal Naval College of Canada (hereafter RNCC) by the Director of the Naval Service, Rear-Admiral C.E. Kingsmill. [4]

It was intended by the Government that the RNCC should commence operations early in 1911. First, however, several considerations had to be resolved. Not the least of these was the question as to where the new naval college should be located. In the course of the parliamentary debate on the Naval Service Bill, it had become clear that Laurier would model the college after the Royal Military College at Kingston;[5] and, accordingly, the suggestion that the two institutions be situated side by side in Kingston was not, perhaps, a surprising one.[6] But Laurier himself seems to have favoured Halifax as the site for the RNCC almost from the start.[7] As early as June 1910 Admiral Kingsmill was investigating the problem of temporary quarters for naval college cadets and staff in Halifax.[8] Kingston, it would appear, was never seriously examined by the Liberals as a prospective location for the college, if only because better, cheaper, and more immediate facilities for RNCC personnel accommodation were available in the form of the old naval hospital at Halifax. From January 1911, therefore, until its destruction in December 1917, the latter became a 'temporary' site for the naval college.

There remained the problems of selecting cadets and staff for the RNCC. At the time of the discussion of the naval service legislation in the Commons, the conditions of cadet entry into the proposed college had not yet been determined; Laurier and Frederick Borden, the Minister of Militia, could say only that such conditions would presumably be identical with those governing entry into the Kingston military institution.[9] Not until 26 September 1910 did an Order-in-Council set out the requirements for cadet admission to the naval college. Applicants for cadet vacancies would have to be British subjects between fourteen and sixteen years of age; they would write a common competitive examination and also pass into the college in order of achievement up to the number of vacancies available, provided that they could successfully pass a medical fitness test. Beyond these qualifications, and unlike the case affecting the cadets at the Royal Military College, the RNCC cadets would have to serve for a length of time in the new Canadian navy following their graduation. Sir Frederick Borden explained the distinction:

The Royal Military College was established at a time when there was no permanent force at all in Canada. The object was very largely to give an opportunity for military training and a course of teaching which would fit young men to enter civil life, or the engineering professions, and at the same time give them instructions in military matters which would be of use when they became part of the active militia. An arrangement was also made with the imperial authorities by which six or seven commissions were given every year to the best men coming out of the Royal Military College. The position now is entirely different. We are starting with a permanent militia, we have no officers at all, and this course is to be limited to the preparation of cadets for the naval service and that only.[10]

In return, the Government bound itself to provide commissions and appointments for naval college graduates with appropriate qualifications.

With no naval officers of her own, Canada had to turn to the Royal Navy for officers to fill the principal service positions at the RNCC. The result was that, late in 1910, three retired British naval officers found their way to the new Canadian naval college — Lieutenants R.A. Yonge and Edward A. E. Nixon and Commander Edward H. Martin. The Royal Navy also supplied the college's Director of Studies, Naval Instructor Basil S. Hartley, and certain other subordinate members of the RNCC's teaching staff. Three Canadian civilians, Lorne N. Richardson, Albert G. Hatcher, and John J. Penny, rounded off the college's academic community as the masters respectively of mathematics, sciences and languages. Of the RNCC's original staff, Nixon, Richardson, Hatcher and Penny were to remain with the college until its closing in 1922, and Hartley until 1921, thereby ensuring a continuity of educational and administrative policy and a staff identification with all aspects of RNCC life nae benefited the cadets of every term from the first to the last.

Before outlining the history of the naval college during its years of operation, the issue as to who actually commanded it throughout those years should be resolved. From 1 October 1910 until 31 December 1917 Commander Martin was the Captain-in-Charge of the Halifax Dockyard and Senior Naval Officer, Halifax, in which capacity he was also the officer-in-charge of the RNCC. During a same period Nixon was Martin's deputy, and, from January 1918 to June 1922, himself the officer-in-charge of the naval college. The evidence is clear, however, that, while Martin was nominally in command of the college from 1911 to 1917, it was Nixon who acted as its actual administrator.[11] Rear-Admiral F.L. Houghton, a cadet at the RNCC from 1913-15, recalls that the boys rarely caught sight of Martin, and were invited to tea with him just once in their 24 years at the college.[12] The true state of affairs respecting the college leadership, in fact, is effectively summarised by Commodore G.M. Hibbard, a classmate of Houghton's, in his statement that 'to all intents and purposes, we considered Commander Nixon to be the moving spirit of the college'.[13] For most of the cadets who attended the RNCC at some stage in its existence, Nixon, quite simply, seems to have been the very personification of the college — the driving force behind it, and the apostle of the standards by which all the boys lived.[14]

Since Nixon commanded the RNCC during its entire history, an understanding of his nature is essential to a proper appreciation of the college itself. Born in Ireland in 1878, he had joined the Royal Navy in 1892, and subsequently served in the North Atlantic, East Indies, and Mediterranean before applying for service at Canada's new naval institution. With his application accepted, he had promptly retired from the Royal Navy.[15] Nixon's appointment to the RNCC, therefore, marked a significant departure from his former naval way of life; and it seems evident that, from the start, he intended to employ his position to make a success of his new charge. Certainly it could not have prospered as it did without his efforts on its behalf.

'Decisive in action, frosty in manner, sardonic in humour', as Rear-Admiral P.B. Brock, RN, a cadet from 1917-20, describes him,[16] Nixon was always by far the most impressive figure among the RNCC staff members for the cadets. This was due in part, of course, to the position of authority which he occupied and to his own strong belief in rigid naval discipline. 'He was a strict disciplinarian, a physical fitness fanatic, and a strong believer in naval tradition', observes Admiral Houghton; 'under his piercing eyes and bushy eyebrows, our little lives were ordered from day to day.' To Rear-Admiral H.F. Pullen, a cadet at the RNCC from 1920-22, 'he seemed of another world, barely mortal', while Captain B.D.L. Johnson, a classmate of Pullen's, remembers how it was said that Nixon 'could look one in the eyes and tell if one's shoes were properly polished'.[17]

Beyond the natural awe and respect in which he was held by the cadets by virtue of his rank and authority, however, the Commander was also greatly admired by them for his personal code of ethics and obvious love for the naval college. The morality to which he expected all cadets to adhere became, in many cases, the object of their emulation in later life. 'Throughout my service life', insists Vice-Admiral H.G. DeWolf, a cadet from 1918-21, 'I was influenced in thought and action by the question "what would Commander Nixon think?" "Would Nix be pleased?" ' At the RNCC, De Wolf believes, 'I gained a moral outlook or philosophy, and an appreciation of right and wrong, good and bad, fair play, etc. under Commander Nixon's guiding influence, which has served me well, and which I have felt no urge to change.'[18] Not that it was always easy for the cadets to live up to Nixon's high standards. As one cadet from the 1914-17 period recalls:

Commander Nixon, not really understanding Canadian Sports, had an idea that when an ice-hockey player was awarded a penalty of two minutes in the penalty box for tripping, etc. ... he had brought dishonour on the Navy and therefore could never play on the team again. Hence the Naval College team was rapidly denuded of players!

Where the manly sports were concerned, however, the Commander was of a different fibre:

Once a year an Assault-at-Arms was held. This was a show to which Senior Officers' friends were asked, and was akin to a spectacle in a Roman Arena, inasmuch that no cadet could give in, no matter how much blood was shed. Commander Nixon always said: 'Box On' when appealed to. I think this was to impress his guests of our bravery. Nowadays, I am told, boxing has been abolished at Service Colleges, in case the Boys' beauty might be marred. I don't imagine this gory spectacle did us much good in any case.[19]

Conditions in the RNCC sick-bay, according to the same writer, were made so tough by Commander Nixon to prevent malingering 'that cadets were literally scared to go sick'. Altogether, the Commander was indeed the most unforgettable character for most of the cadets, as he was for Admiral De Wolf; and the latter accurately sums up Nixon's impact on the naval college boys when he attributes to Nixon 'an equally profound influence on most of his cadets'[20] as he had on De Wolf himself.


Despite its unfinished condition, the naval college opened for the first time on 19 January 1911, when twenty cadets entered its doors — the successful applicants from the thirty-four who had written the RNCC admission examination the preceding November.[1] Like their successors, the first cadets received a systematic and intensive instruction in navigation, seamanship and pilotage, engineering, applied electricity, physics, chemistry, mechanics, mathematics, English, history (including naval history), geography, French and German.[22] Seamanship was clearly the most important teaching subject, comprising, in the words of Admiral Houghton, 'knots and splices, bends and hitches, rope and wire splicing, navigation and pilotage, ship handling, ship construction, engineering and practical shopwork, sailing and boatwork, and much more'. In seamanship instruction, recalls Commodore Hibbard, the sailing of service craft played a big part — and with both Commander Nixon and the college itself in possession of yachts, opportunities for cadet practice were frequent and welcome.[23] Academic choice for the boys, however, was non-existent, Admiral Houghton remembers: 'you jolly well had to learn everything they taught you or you were OUT'.[24]

What 'spare' time the cadets possessed was taken up largely with sports and recreation. There were never enough cadets in residence at the same time to play rugger, but soccer, ice and ground hockey, boatwork, boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, baseball, fencing, lawn tennis, cutlass and rifle drill, and gunnery were all popular among cadets and staff.[25] Extra curricular activities included an official dance each term to which the cadets could invite Halifax girls, and work on behalf of the cadet college magazine Sea Breezes, first published in 1914.[26] In general, however, remembers a contemporary cadet, there was little time for favourite activities since 'these were established for you'.[27]

Discipline and punctuality at the RNCC were from its opening the orders of the day as far as the boys were concerned. Inside as well as outside the college they never moved anywhere except at the double, as a boy laboratory assistant at the college from 1911-16, Frank Hall, has testified:

It was an amusing thing to watch the cadets in the morning just before the 9 o'clock gong. They would be gathered at the foot of the main staircase, brushing each other's uniforms for the last speck of dust, with one eye on the clock and the moment the gong rang there was a thunder of feet up the stairs to the dormitory for inspection by the commanding officer. For a few minutes there would be a silence, then a sharp command, a stamp of feet, and another thunderous rush of bodies down the stairs and to the study rooms, or perhaps to the engineering shops. . . . [28]

'I'm sure', contends Admiral Houghton, 'the strict routine inculcated in us all a lifelong respect for punctuality.'[29]

With a highly diversified curriculum, both academic and recreational, a superb commander, superior instructors, a promising career for its graduates, and government financial support, the RNCC was apparently off to a sound start with excellent prospects for further expansion. Recognition of the merits of the naval college was reflected in its early enrolment, which included the sons of a number of prominent and upper-class families. The interest of the latter, in fact, was essential to the very survival of the college, given the high fees and expenses entailed by attendance at the RNCC — so high, indeed, that a member of Parliament with a son at the college could feel himself justified in complaining about the cost.[30] Notwithstanding the growing interest in it, however, the college found its existence endangered within just two years of its inception.

This first crisis for the RNCC began with the advent of a Conservative government from the election of 1911. The new Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, was not inclined to pursue Laurier's naval policy as manifested by the enactment of the Naval Service Bill in 1910. As time passed, therefore, 'the Naval College was [placed] in an anomalous position, training lads for a Navy which was not being built and which was being allowed to disappear quietly'.[31] By the beginning of 1913, with the first cadet term ready to graduate from the college, it was evident that the Canadian cruisers to which they should have been attached for further instruction were in fact in no fit condition to receive them.

The problem was resolved temporarily when the British Admiralty agreed to accept the RNCC cadets concerned for further training on HMS Berwick for the period of a year. This, however, was merely a stopgap measure, recognised as such by all involved: and the naval college's future remained obscure. In September 1913 Admiral Kingsmill outlined the nature of the current problem to G.J. Desbarats, the Deputy Minister of the Naval Service:

The original suggestion was that after completing a year's training [in the Berwick], those who were to qualify for Engineers should return to the Naval College and the others continue serving at sea. This scheme was proposed when it was understood that Canada's Dockyards would have advanced, that we would be building ships in Canada and that we would have sea-going ships of our own in which to further train these young Officers. As these plans have not materialised, I would suggest that the Admiralty be asked to allow these young officers to continue serving in one of the ships of the Imperial Service until they have completed their time for examination for the rank of Lieutenant, or until some further decision is arrived at by the Government as to their ultimate career.

The 'extraordinary condition of affairs now existing', Kingsmill warned, jeopardised the future careers of the cadets concerned, who had, after all, enlisted with the prospect of a solid naval occupation before them. 'I think that the least that can be done for them', he concluded,

is to give them a chance to enter the profession for which they were designed and complete their training in such a way that they may, if they wish, qualify for the Imperial Service, and that arrangements may [so] be made with the Admiralty.[32]

In a memorandum of 29 September to J.D. Hazen, the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, Desbarats relayed Kingsmill's observations, and added:

The various arrangements by which these young Canadians are serving or being trained in Imperial ships have been made in a temporary manner and as expedients adopted to meet the pressing needs which arose from time to time. These arrangements do not correspond to any definite policy and there is a certain amount of restlessness and dissatisfaction among these young men on account of the uncertainty as to their prospects and as to the future which is before them. This uncertainty is having a very bad effect on the Halifax College, only four cadets having entered at the last term.

If, Desbarats noted, a Canadian navy or Coast Defence force was still to be created as Laurier had envisioned, 'then it would be well to continue the training of the Canadian cadets and Sub-Lieutenants[33] with a view to their taking service in the Canadian vessels'. However, he concluded:

If, on the other hand, it is not proposed to have a Canadian Navy or Coast Defence vessels manned by a Canadian organization, the wisdom of continuing indefinitely the training of a distinct corps of Canadian Naval Officers may well be doubted. The young men who are now training on Canadian lines should at a certain point by absorbed into the Imperial Service or discharged to Civil life.[34]

On the basis of these representations, Borden's government was compelled to examine the entire basis of the RNCC's existence. In December 1913 it was decided that the transformation in Canadian naval policy effected by the Conservatives had undermined the original raison d'être of the naval college, and that it should therefore be reconstituted by the Department of the Naval Service on a different basis. The new objective for the RNCC's instruction, Desbarats informed the Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, would be

... to give boys an education in nautical subjects, including marine engineering, seamanship, navigation, pilotage and nautical surveying as well as in mathematics and scientific subjects, and thus train them for
(a) the Royal Navy (b) the Hydrographic and Tidal Surveys (c) the engineering and scientific professions.
Those boys not entering the Royal Navy would complete their education in a university.[35]

By the end of January 1914 Hazen was referring in Parliament to these suggestions in response to criticism that the career prospects of the naval college cadets had been sacrificed by the Conservative government.[36]

The proposed arrangements were finalised when Britain's Admiralty agreed in April to accept up to eight RNCC cadets annually for sea training, provided that the two-year course of academic instruction at the naval college was extended to three to improve the cadets' readiness for their Royal Navy service. Simultaneously, the Department of the Naval Service resolved to inform new cadets entering the college in 1914 'that they were no longer obliged to serve in the Canadian navy and that the Canadian Government would not guarantee that they would receive Naval commissions'.[37] On 18 April 1914 a new Order-in-Council revised the conditions of cadet entry into the naval college in accordance with the agreement with the Admiralty, adding that, upon graduation, cadets would have to join the Canadian Naval Reserve.[38] Hazen announced the RNCC changes in the Commons on 5 May 1914.[39] It was quite true, he informed the Prime Minister in June, that uncertainty as to the future of the Canadian navy and as to the cadets' training for service in that navy had resulted in a comparatively low enrolment in the naval college over the past several years. However,

... now that these points have been cleared up it is hoped that there will be a good attendance at the College both by lads wishing to join the British Navy and by lads wishing to enter a technical profession and to enjoy the advantages of the technical, moral, and physical training which are given at the Halifax College.[40]

Such did matters stand with the RNCC at the outbreak of the First World War.


Hazen's expectations notwithstanding, the naval college did not experience a substantial increase in its cadet enrolment during the first three years of the war. The principal reason for this may have been the fees charged the boys, which remained very high — some $450 for their first year and $325 their second and third years, exclusive of transportation costs to and from the college several times a year for cadets living outside Halifax. West Coast cadets were particularly hard hit Ge the latter expense, as one from the 1914-17 term remembers:

The cadets from Halifax [paid] a ten cent fare to attend the College, while those from B.C. paid up to $150 each way, and there was always the question of going home for the bi-annual leave. The then Minister at Ottawa was most unsympathetic, and replied to one parent who asked for Government assistance with rail fare, that He only wanted Gentlemen as Officers. He didn't seem to understand one could be a gentleman, and still have no money.[41]

Whatever the factors responsible, new cadet enrolment in 1914 amounted to just eight, in 1915 to six, and in 1916 to fourteen — of which total one was discharged from the RNCC, three were withdrawn, and one went AWOL to fight with the Army in France. Not until 1917, when twenty new cadets entered the naval college, was there a resurgence of its former popularity; and the increase can be attributed, at least in part, to the impatience of young boys to join the war. 'aes the RNCC experienced its first cadet losses due to the war late in 1914, when four graduates of the first college term of 1911 — Cann, Hatheway, Palmer and Silver — went down with H.M.S. Good Hope during the battle of Coronel. They were the first battle casualties of the Royal Canadian Navy.[42] One other first-term graduate, Maitland-Dougall, was killed in action while in command of HM Submarine D-3 in March of 1918.

Throughout the 1914-17 period, the RNCC academic curriculum remained essentially unaltered from its pre-war state; but college sports were revolutionised with the introduction of rugby in the fall of 1916. From the time the cadets were awakened at 0635 until 'lights out' at 2100, recalls one contemporary, life resembled that of Trappist monks. So heavily regimented were the wartime cadets, in fact, that the annual social highlights for the 'inmates of the Naval College' amounted to just 'one heavily chaperoned picnic in the Summer and one ditto dance in winter'.[43] In sum, the RNCC facilities were very good, approximating, it has been suggested, those of the Royal Naval colleges within the restrictions of a much shorter course and mediocre facilities.[44]

This latter short-coming, coupled with the rise in naval college enrolment in the autumn of 1917, came to cast an unfavourable light on the suitability of all existing RNCC facilities. Small and of a makeshift character,[45] these had barely been adequate for their purpose at the opening of the college in 1911; and by late 1917, they had become entirely inappropriate to the existing personnel requirements. As the Director of Studies argued in a memorandum to Captain Martin in October of 1917, the current classroom accommodation had always been made to serve 'in the hope that something better would be soon forthcoming'. A new classroom had alleviated the situation only slightly; the others remained 'insufficient in number, size, and natural light and in some cases defective in ventilation and heating'. More modern facilities should be constructed, he submitted, 'now that the future of the College seems secure'.[46]

Prophetic words, indeed. For the year 1917, in retrospect, marked the peak of the college's fortunes, presenting it at first with its highest level of success, and then reducing it to the poorest state of its existence. Less than two months after Hartley's comments, the RNCC was demolished in the great Halifax Explosion, and compelled to seek new facilities at another location. Thereafter, the security of its existence was never firmly re-established; and within five years, it was to close, the victim of reduced government appropriations.


On the morning of 6 December 1917, cadet term examinations were to begin. Just before nine o'clock — when a good many boys were still trying to cram a last few points[47] — one cadet noticed a ship on fire about half a mile from the college. At five past nine, the cadets dispersed to their various gunrooms to prepare for inspection, a number lingering to observe the fire in the harbour. Three minutes later, the burning ship exploded in Canada's greatest disaster of the century.

The air was filled immediately with flying glass splinters and other debris, and almost all the RNCC cadets and staff members were injured to some extent by them. In the instance of the junior cadets, whose gunroom faced away from the direction of the explosion, the injuries proved comparatively minor, appearing at first to be 'much worse than they actually were'.[48] The seniors, however, exposed as they were by their gunroom to the full force of the explosion, suffered much more seriously; several were badly scarred for life; and one could not rejoin his term until May of the following year. The staff fared worst of all — one petty officer was blinded, and Nixon himself was gravely wounded about the head:

My head was the only part of me that was damaged. I was thrown against an ordinary wooden door which was shut, and door and I came down together. At first they had to devote most of their attention to saving my eyes, which they did successfully. My other little cuts became badly infected and I developed erysipelas, like a lot of other people.... [49]

It was a small miracle that no one was killed. But the College itself was so badly damaged that it eventually had to be condemned. As Admiral Brock described it at the time:

The building was a horrible mess. The floors were covered a foot deep with plaster, glass, woodwork, papers, and countless fragments no longer recognizable. Window panes and sashes had been blown in and small fragments of glass were scattered everywhere.[50]

In the new wing at the north end of the naval hospital, the roof was lifted clear away from the north wall and the floor collapsed.[51] Not the least impressive feature of the damage was the huge section of boiler-plate from the exploded ship which fell through the college roof into the study where the cadets would have been writing their exams a few minutes later.[52]

Within a few days of the Halifax Explosion, the uninjured RNCC cadets were all sent home on leave over Christmas while the Government pondered the fate of the institution. With the naval hospital unfit for habitation and the city devastated, the first priority was to settle upon some location other than Halifax where the cadets might resume their studies in the forthcoming term. Thus, only a few days after the explosion, Admiral Kingsmill and the Department of the Naval Service were examining the feasibility of boarding the RNCC cadets temporarily with their counterparts at the Royal Military College in Kingston.

As early as 17 December, Kingsmill himself visited RMC to ascertain whether suitable accommodation for the naval college cadets could be found there. At the time of his visit, a new cadet dormitory was in the last stages of construction, and Kingsmill quickly seized upon the idea of utilising this structure for his purposes. Although the Admiral was privately convinced that 'the instruction in engineering [at RMC] will not be of such high standard as that obtained at Halifax'[53] he informed Colonel Perreau, Commandant of the military college, on 24 December that the matter had definitely been settled: the RNCC cadets would be going to Kingston for the spring of 1918.[54]

Perreau confessed himself delighted, promising Kingsmill that all at RMC would do everything to make the temporary attachment of the naval cadets a pleasant one — the more the two services could be brought together in such fashion, in fact, the more admiration and respect they would acquire for one another.[55] He would even ensure that the RNCC cadets had their own drill shed.[56] But the key to the understanding about the prospective naval-military partnership at RMC lay in the word 'temporary'. Accommodation for the naval cadets, Perreau informed the Admiral, would be available only until 1 August 1918, after which he would require their dormitory space for his own new recruits.[57]

Obviously, therefore, the RNCC cadets would be tolerated officially at RMC for just a few months. This left Kingsmill with the unenviable task of selecting in a short time a new site which the naval college might occupy late in 1918. As early as the tenth of December, he had been considering this problem when he asked Nixon whether he could look after Esquimalt Yard as well as the college — a query that indicated a possible RNCC move to Esquimalt. This location he referred to again in January 1918, in a memorandum to the Minister of the Naval Service. At the same time, Halifax remained a viable site for the re-establishment of the college, since the naval hospital was still standing with walls and roof apparently in good condition.[58] Finally, there was the alternative of Kingston itself, an option which Kingsmill himself preferred "because it was more or less central in geographical location, close to the Government in Ottawa, and positioned on the natural naval training site of Lake Ontario'.[59] Thus, after eight years, the prospect that the naval college might be situated in Kingston had been resurrected for consideration.

By mid-February 1918, sketch plans had been prepared for C.C. Ballantyne, the Minister of the Naval Service, by the Department of Public Works, calling for a naval college with double the capacity (104 cadets) of the old institution (45 cadets) at an approximate cost of half a million dollars. A crossroad in the development of the RNCC had been reached; advice' was needed, the Minister informed Borden on 13 February, on whether to rebuild the college on such an expanded scale or to restrict it to its current, more limited dimensions. Ballantyne himself considered the education provided by the RNCC excellent, and favoured the expansion of the naval college 'for the purpose of furthering the cause of scientific education and of providing a certain number of young Canadians with an opportunity of entering the Naval Service'. He noted too that the new college would also reduce the per capita operational cost from $3,000 to $3,500 to just $2,000. However, he refused to put forward a recommendation to such effect without the Prime Minister's concurrence in the projected rebuilding scheme. The latter replied that he tended to support the Minister's proposal for the RNCC reconstruction at Halifax, but that inability to determine a naval defence programme and financial stringencies would together make it necessary to discuss the issue in Council.[60]

In the next two months, Kingsmill's own preference for Kingston as the new site for the naval college — a preference assisted immeasurably by the fact that the RNCC cadets and staff were already situated in that city — appears to have gained ground with the Department of the Naval Service in Ottawa, if only for reasons of expediency. By May, Colonel Perreau had become aware of rumours that the RNCC might erect additional temporary buildings and remain billetted with RMC for an indefinite period. He was greatly alarmed by such a prospect. In a memorandum of 28 May to the Secretary of the Militia Council, Perreau insisted that the continued presence of the naval college cadets at RMC into a second term of instruction would entail a considerable reduction in admissions to RMC itself. Worse, that presence would also create serious friction between the naval and military cadets at the college, since tension was inevitable if the interests of the military institution were to be so seriously threatened. If the naval college must remain in Kingston, he asserted, then let it be located at a site other than the grounds of RMC.[61] Perreau's forceful presentation swung the Department of Militia and Defence behind his plea, in opposition to the interests of the Naval Service. On 8 June the former informed him that a meeting of 3 June between the Minister of Marine, the Minister of Militia and Defence, the Adjutant-General, and the Master-General of the Ordnance had resolved the problem of selecting a new site for the RNCC by deciding upon Esquimalt as its new home.[62]

During this same interval, the naval college cadets were boarded alongside their military counterparts; and, for most, the experience did not prove particularly pleasant. One RNCC cadet of the period recalled in 1955 that, understandably perhaps, the naval college boys were inclined to feel that they were on sufferance[63] — and it was probably axiomatic in any event, asserted a second in 1965, that unwanted guests did not bring out the best in anyone.[64] Despite the fact that their new accommodations at RMC were far superior to those furnished by their old quarters in Halifax, the RNCC cadets found themselves unable to enjoy a situation in which they possessed little in common with the military cadets who surrounded them. With the naval and military cadets eating separately and with their respective periods of instruction rotated[65] there were few opportunities for intermingling among them — and, in any case, different service training backgrounds and loyalties and substantial differences in ages between the RNCC and the more senior RMC cadets conspired to produce a mutual antipathy between them. 'Unless we happened to know a gentleman cadet privately, we never mixed with them', recalls Admiral Brock; [66] so that, if there was no direct friction between the naval and military cadets, then neither was there any direct contact between them.

The military college cadets particularly resented the fact that the RNCC visitors were occupying their newest, and best, residence in single rooms while they themselves were doubled up in the older buildings.[67] In time, many of them came to term the naval college boys 'water babies'. The latter, unimpressed with the bearing of the RMC cadets, were quick to respond with such expressions as 'Bullocks', 'Turkeys', 'Flat Feet', and, sarcastically, 'Gentlemen Cadets'.[68] When it was rumoured for a time in April that the RNCC cadets would be spending their next term in Kingston, Brock remembers how he, with Kingston relatives, was 'very pleased, but the others were not and used much forcible language'. And, when, finally, it was resolved that the RNCC would not remain at RMC after all, rejoicing among the naval college cadets was widespread. 'I do not think that there was anyone else in the College who was even moderately sorry at leaving Kingston.[69]

The move of the RNCC to Esquimalt in September, 1918, proved popular among the cadets, who found the climate much more to their liking than that of Halifax had been. Their new living quarters in the Esquimalt Naval Dockyard were not ready when they arrived, so for the first few weeks of the autumn term, they had to make their home in HMS Rainbow. Thereafter, college life settled quickly into its former Halifax routine. The calibre of academic instruction remained first class — equal to university teaching, in the opinion of one contemporary cadet — although classroom facilities, as at Halifax, were simple and barely adequate to their task.[70] Rugby, in its turn, remained the established RNCC sport at the new location, with games being organised five or six times a week; after the demise of ice-hockey because of the warmer climate, it was rivalled only by boating in popularity. Morale at the naval college was high, enrolment was up, and the future of the RNCC again appeared promising. By May, 1919, Ballantyne was asserting that a new naval college would eventually be built at Halifax.[71] And the excellence of the RNCC was formally brought to the attention of the Department of the Naval Service by Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa in his report on his Naval Mission to the Dominion of Canada late in 1919:

In setting up the Royal Naval College in 1911, and commencing the entry and training of officers on similar lines to those obtaining in England, Canada prepared a sound foundation for the provision of executive officers for a future navy. The value of such a step is apparent when it is realized that by this means Canada has trained 25 Lieutenants ranging in seniority up to 2½ years, 15 Sub-Lieutenants, and 12 Midshipmen, whilst in addition there are 46 cadets under training.[72]

But the storm clouds of economic retrenchment were gathering again to menace the continued existence of the naval college. On 22 October 1920 the Naval Committee met in Ottawa to examine the question of its future. There, it was observed that, for some years to come, only six appointments annually in the Naval Service could be afforded naval college graduates, at the exorbitant cost of an estimated $30,000 each for their training. If, however, the RNCC were closed and the cadets for whom appointments could be found assigned directly by arrangement with the British Admiralty to Royal Navy training vessels, a saving in the vicinity of $170,000 per annum would be achieved. The other alternative was to permit the naval college to operate on a more economical basis by effecting reductions in its staff. On 28 October these considerations were forwarded to the Minister of the Naval Service, who decided to keep the RNCC open for the present. But the following day, Commander Nixon was requested by the Naval Secretary to proceed to Ottawa to advise the Department on what economies might be effected in the operation of the naval college.[73]

The writing was on the wall; and, significantly, the cadets themselves were beginning to reveal their awareness of it. Up to the end of 1918, all RNCC graduates had chosen a naval career. But, commencing in 1919, several turned to civilian professions following their graduation, taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by McGill University and the University of Toronto to enter as second-year students. In the autumn of 1919, one cadet entered McGill; seven more followed in the autumn of 1920, and three entered the University of Toronto in the autumn of 1921.[74] By September of that year, too, if the experience of L. C. Hyndman, a cadet at the time, is any judge, it was evident to the naval college boys that they would be unable to continue in the naval service beyond the following June.[75]

Such, indeed, was the case; the 1921-2 term proved the last year of operation for the naval college. Rumours about its impending closing had been circulating since 1921; and on 3 April 1922 the Naval Secretary informed Nixon that the college would probably have to be closed shortly owing to reduced appropriations for the Naval Service for 1922-3.[76] This decision was confirmed by the new Director of the Naval Service, Commodore Walter Hose, on 1 May, with Hose adding that a scale of gratuities for the RNCC staff had been forwarded to the Minister for approval of Council. Nixon himself, stated Hose, would not be employed further by the Department after the termination of college operations.[77] On 22 May George P. Graham, the Minister of the Naval Service, outlined the situation to the Commons. There was little point, he insisted, in permitting existing RNCC cadets to complete their three-year course of instruction when no employment could be found for them in either the Canadian or British navies upon their graduation. A complement of sixty-five officers, instructors and civilians were currently engaged in training just forty-two cadets—and to what purpose if no naval careers existed for them?[78] Sentiment was not enough to justify the college's continuation. If the cadets were to be trained only for further university education, then they should commence their studies in the university itself and not in a naval college.

To its credit, the Department did its utmost to provide for the further civilian education of the naval college cadets. Thus, Desbarats despatched letters to the Deans of the Faculties of Applied Science at McGill University, the University of Toronto, Queen's University (19 May) and the University of British Columbia (2 June), asking that they accept second-year RNCC cadets into the first year of their Applied Science programmes. By 9 June, all had consented to do so;[79] and most of the cadets ultimately took advantage of this arrangement.

The RNCC closed its doors for the last time on 16 June 1922. 'How very sad it is', complained Hartley to Nixon,

that the thing started with such infinite labour, watered and weeded with tears and care for eleven years and which had sprung up into the thriving plant bearing such noble fruit should be cut down by a damned upstart of a worm [Hose].[80]

Despite Hose's promise to Nixon that all the naval college staff members would be provided for, only the officers received gratuities from the Department, as Nixon noted bitterly the following year.[81] He himself died just two years after the closing of the college. For the next twenty years, until the opening of the Royal Canadian Naval College in September 1942, in response to the wartime demand for trained officers, Canadian naval cadets would be instructed in the ships and establishments of the Royal Navy.[82] Forty years later, the last ex-cadet on active duty with the RCN (R.A. Wright) retired as a Rear-Admiral.[83]


During its years of operation from 1911-22, the Royal Naval College of Canada cost the taxpayers an estimated total of $1,453,000.[84] For this expenditure, it was able to graduate 150 cadets, almost half of whom subsequently pursued naval careers. Sixteen of the RNCC graduates ultimately achieved the rank of commander, 20 of the rank of captain, 6 that of commodore, 14 the rank of rear-admiral, and 5 that of vice-admiral and Chief of the Naval Staff. One, P. W. Brock, became a rear-admiral in the Royal Navy.[85] Thus, almost one in six of the naval college cadets rose to hold flag rank; and the fact that most of the senior officers who directed the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War and in the immediate post-war years were RNCC graduates must attest favourably to the calibre of the institution. Other cadets attained prominence in legal, political, engineering and related civilian fields.

More than anything else, the cadets appear to have benefited from the high sense of strict, but equitable discipline, of comradeship, and of proper behaviour that the college instilled in them. This discipline was of the sort, recall Commodore Hibbard and Admiral Houghton, which promoted self-respect and teamwork and a personal belief that under no circumstances must the RNCC be let down. Throughout their later careers, many cadets sought to subscribe to the code of conduct that Commander Nixon inspired in them all.[86] L. C. Hyndman summarises the principal virtues of the cadet training at the naval college:

Aspects which impressed me most could probably be said to be discipline, order, decisiveness, decency, fair treatment, and fair punishment, respect for established authority when properly exercised, precision, organization, punctuality, tidiness, cleanliness, and like qualities.[87]

If the cadets tended to be unimpressed by anything in their RNCC experience, it was perhaps by the hazing of junior by senior cadets practised there. In his 1918 diary, Brock set down several aspects of the hazing system:

We were always to run past the seniors' gunroom, to give way to them on all occasions, to wait until they had all entered the messroom before going in ourselves, and to let them have the seats in the bootroom. We had to stand at attention in their gunroom and run their errands for them.[88]

A harmless enough arrangement, it would seem; 'fagging duties were trivial, and physical punishment (a few cuts with a cane) was at best nominally based on some disciplinary offence'.[89] Harmless, that is to say, if Hyndman's recollection was true that 'the majority of seniors were generously disposed toward juniors although necessarily insistent that their reasonable commands be obeyed and no nonsense'.[90] Where the system ceased to have any merit, however, occurred when seniors abused their privileges respecting the junior boys. Ex-cadets recall how hazing could be excessive, even savage, with the least able (and therefore the most punished) junior cadets the worst bullies in their senior years. For at least one naval college cadet, the hazing became 'a really black mark against the RNCC, probably carried out in accordance with old customs by unthinking young men'.[91]

In the years immediately following their graduation from the naval college, those cadets bent on pursuing a naval career were required to serve in warships of the Royal Navy. It is interesting, therefore, and a valid test of the adequacy of the RNCC's system of instruction, to observe how the Canadian midshipmen compared to their British counterparts in the execution of their ship-board duties aboard British vessels. Commodore Hibbard remembers how the Canadian midshipmen in HMS Erin were often given preference over their British colleagues of equal seniority; in fact, their captain recommended their early promotion to Sub-Lieutenant. For Admiral Houghton, there was no trouble in holding his own with his Royal Navy opposite numbers in naval knowledge and in general education. 'Our professional competence', he recalls in retrospect, 'was certainly equal to theirs; and in some ways, I believe we were a bit more sophisticated and surer of ourselves." Commander Pressey notes simply that he was treated by the British officers 'like one of their own'; while another cadet insists that, after his experiences at the RNCC, his treatment in the Royal Navy was actually luxurious. Although Admiral Pullen was the lone Canadian midshipman among 1,100 officers and men on HMS Hood, he was able to hold his own with his British colleagues and 'was never made to feel inferior to them'.[92] And Admiral DeWolf describes his own experience in HMS Resolution:

We were received kindly enough — though we joined an already overcrowded gun-room. There were four Australians, a New Zealander, and a South African already there, and the Colonial influence was strong! We were a year older than the R.N. midshipmen of our seniority, on the average, and generally stronger, and made a major contribution in the athletic field. This undoubtedly helped us in our relation with the ship's officers. We were considered 'quaint' — but good! I think the only thing we lacked in comparison with our R.N. contemporaries was an understanding of big-ship routine, and we soon learned this the hard way! ... I would say that we were given the same consideration by 'the R.N. Officers as was given their own midshipmen.[93]

Admiral Brock notes that a Royal Navy captain was willing to recommend him for transfer to that navy in 1921, immediately after his graduation from the RNCC, and that without his Canadian naval college background, he could not have made the transition. In his view, too:

The short answer to the value placed by the R.N. on my R.N.C.C. background is that da 1st class certificate I got there counted exactly the same for my seniority as a Lieutenant as if I had got it at R.N.C. Dartmouth.[94]

How valuable was the RNCC background of the cadets to their later naval careers? One remarks that 'no Naval Education ever helped make money, except through the marriage route — I ended up about where I expected'. Admiral Pullen believes that his RNCC experience had nothing to do with his advancement in the pre-war Royal Canadian Navy — but notes that 'certainly there was a common bond with our seniors who were all ex-cadets RNCC'. For Captain B.D.L. Johnson, 'my RNCC education was sufficient to serve me on my life's path when supplemented by the College of Hard Knocks'; and in the opinion of Admiral DeWolf, his naval college background was 'most assuredly' beneficial to his advancement in the service. Commodore Hibbard contends that the training at the RNCC was eminently suitable for naval service and civil career alike; and Commander G.M. Mitchell also maintains that anyone who attended the naval college 'could not but be helped in the development of any career'. Captain J.R. Mitchell may well sum up best the advantages of an education at the RNCC for later life:

The education, academically and physically, was of such a nature that any young man who was fortunate enough to be able to be part of it could not help but be improved, and benefited no matter what career he followed.[95]

The naval college, wrote Admiral Kingsmill to Nixon in 1920, 'js the only part of the Naval Service that I regret ceasing to have anything to do with'; and his son remembers well his ities at the news that it would be closed.[96] Most of the RNCC cadets were similarly chagrined, and are inclined to agree with Hyndman that the closing of the college was a distinct loss, not only to the naval service, but to Canada itself. It was a stupid thing to do, observes Admiral Pullen — even if, as Commander G.M. Mitchell points out, the Royal Canadian Navy was so small and costly at the time that 'there was not much else that could be done'.[97] One cadet observes that he has been looking askance at politicians ever since the closing of the RNCC, for the simple reason that the Royal Military College did not close up as well. Perhaps Admiral Houghton's remarks are a fitting epitaph for the naval college:

During the College's twelve years of existence, it gave excellent early training to 148 young Canadians, some 60 of whom were still serving in 1939; and the majority of these formed the professional nucleus of a Service which in four years grew to sixty times its pre-war size and became, in numbers of men and ships, the third largest Navy in the world. If that isn't a credit to our early training I don't know what is.[98]




HMCS Rainbow
HMCS Rainbow in 1910.
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