4 August

British Columbia Buys Its Own Navy

Every war has its humorous incidents. Nearly everybody in London had a favourite bomb story during the blitz in 1940. During World War I, when the soldiers were living like rats in mud and being eaten by lice, Bruce Bairnsfather produced some famous cartoons.

One of the best stories about Canada in World War I concerned British Columbia, and it happened at the outset. It didn't seem funny at the time, but British Columbia had its own navy for a few days! Its total strength was two submarines.

There was great alarm in Victoria and Vancouver late in July and early in August, 1914, because Germany had a naval squadron in the Pacific under Admiral von Spec. The story circulated that it would bombard the cities and then capture British Columbia with the help of former German citizens living there. Some very respectable citizens of German extraction were given a rough time.

The old cruiser Rainbow, stationed at Esquimalt since 1910, was ordered to protect grain ships from the German cruisers Nurnberg and Leipzig. There were no real guns or ammunition to protect Victoria and Vancouver, except a few old relics.

The British Admiralty sent out a "warning; telegram" on July 29. A group of businessmen in Victoria learned that a Seattle shipyard had built two submarines for the Government of Chile, and informed Premier McBride. The premier urged the commander-in-chief at Esquimalt to get in touch with Naval Service Headquarters in Ottawa, who referred the matter to the Admiralty. In the meantime, Premier McBride did not wait. He knew that the United States would put neutrality laws into effect as soon as war was declared, and the submarines would not be allowed to leave Seattle. Captain W. H. Logan, Lloyd's representative in Victoria, was sent to Seattle to buy the submarines under the greatest secrecy and have them delivered near Trial Island, just outside Canadian territorial waters. They made their way to the island in fog and darkness. Having been inspected and found satisfactory by a retired officer of the Royal Navy, they were taken over by Commander Bertram Jones on August 4.

The chief janitor of the Parliament Buildings, Premier 'McBride's personal messenger, was sent to Seattle with a cheque for $1.5 million to pay for the submarines.

There was near panic when the submarines appeared off Victoria on the morning of August 5. The shore battery had not been notified, owing to the secrecy, and might have fired on the submarines with its old guns if word to hold off had not been received in the nick of time.

There was more comedy in finding crews for the submarines, but British Columbia had its own navy until August 7 when the Federal Government took over for the British Admiralty. Fortunately Admiral von Spee's fleet sailed south and British Columbia was not attacked during the war.


4 August

-1693    Two hundred canoes with furs arrived at Montreal, reopening trade from the West.

-1769    Prince Edward Island was made a separate colony from Nova Scotia.

-1786    James Strange named Queen Charlotte Sound, British Columbia.

-1864    The Canadian Parliamentary party was at Saint John, New Brunswick, en route to Charlottetown (see August 2).

-1915    The Ottawa School Board was replaced by a commission of three members when the board refused to insist that teachers should be qualified to speak English.

-1960    The Bill of Rights was approved by the House of Commons.