As I am naval reservist in Edmonton, I am often asked, “Why does Edmonton have a navy?” Edmonton is landlocked; a navy needs water, these people plead. The answer that I always give is that Canada has a navy, and Edmonton is part of Canada.
There are twenty-four cities across Canada that have Naval Reserve Divisions, and Edmonton, a city of over a million people, is included in this list. Canada is a maritime nation, encompassed by three oceans, and has the longest coastline in the world.
Because most of the world’s population lives near the ocean, their lives and livelihoods are impacted by events on the ocean. Ninety percent of world trade involves the sea, and Canada has major ports that facilitate the import and export of Canadian goods. The naval needs of Canada are vast and cannot all be met by B.C. and the Atlantic provinces.
Peter T. Haydon, as reported in the Canadian Naval Review, makes an unapologetic case in support of naval investment. The points below are heavy for the layperson, but are poignant and sharp:
- Despite its fiscal problems, Canada is an economic and moral leader, and as such, Canada has an obligation to help maintain order in the world.
- That obligation requires, if not demands, that Canada share the burden of maintaining order in the world, including the use of force when necessary.
- Idealistic notions of trying to share the burden through peacekeeping and the provision of aid are as delusional as they are ineffective in the initial phase of crisis management.
- No one can predict where or when the next crisis will occur or what impact it will have on world security; anyone who thinks they can is either a fool or a charlatan.
- The uncertainty of the world order today requires that states maintain versatile, combat-capable, and rapidly deployable military forces. As we should have learned from the Syrian War, crises must be contained before they can spread.
- Thanks to their inherent mobility and flexibility, navies and other sea-based forces will nearly always be the first responders to global crises.
- In many cases, a submarine can be the first vessel on scene to act as eyes and ears for the main force.
At the time of this writing, H.M.C.S. Vancouver is off the coast of New Zealand, providing humanitarian relief in the aftermath of an earthquake. Recently, Canadian ships also provided aid to Haiti. But ships are also a show of force, and they are uniquely able to travel around the world without overtly threatening other countries, as they traverse in international waters. It is, in general, not as easy to amass ground forces adjacent to a belligerent country as it is to manoeuvre and deploy a maritime task force.
With our international partners, Canadian ships help to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. We provide drug interdiction in the Persian Gulf and Caribbean Sea. We police off the coast of Somalia and in other troubled waters. We do all this while flying the Canadian flag, and Canadians should be proud of the effort that their sailors put into world security and maintaining world order.
Edmonton has a Navy because Edmontonians want to proudly serve in the Royal Canadian Navy, and we should be proud of the Canadians who step up to this duty. I personally know many Edmontonian reservists who have participated in many military exercises around the world, including the current NATO-led Operation REASSURANCE, which is putting pressure on Russian aggression, in defence of Ukraine.
Furthermore, if I may, our current Minister of National Defence is a former reservist.
It is a nice characteristic of most reservists that they work day-to-day civilians jobs but then choose to do more.
The money isn’t awesome, although it is good, but the satisfaction is invaluable. Serving one’s country is a touchstone to patriotism. It is not for everyone, but it is a great outlet for many.
As a final plug for promoting the importance reservists, when we work alongside Regular Force members, we sometimes breath fresh air (new eyes and ears) into entrenched military environments and work spaces. Ultimately, we want the best for our whole military and the integration of reservists into the offices of full-timers can only be good, while recognizing that the military is a very unique and complex organization. A diversity of opinions and experiences is always valued.
Some General Naval Considerations:
According to Daniel Sing:
“The principal purpose of military forces is to defend a state and its people against external military aggression. Well trained and equipped military forces which can satisfy this over-arching goal are also well positioned to perform less exacting tasks such as sovereignty patrols, humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping. When not engaged in existential missions, military forces can and should be used in pursuit of peace and security interests abroad. Naval forces have been particularly adept at rapidly redeploying to mount UN peace support operations.”
According to Norman Friedman:
“Warships are the clearest expression of national sovereignty. They are literally national territory, and they are independent enough (compared with, say, troops or land-based aircraft) that the national government can use them as it wants, depending on their capabilities. To the extent that Canada pursues an independent foreign policy, ships are probably the best military way of enforcing it.
Much of our coastal security, and search and rescue capabilities are performed by the Coast Guard (one of the many other governmental departments that the RCN routinely works alongside).”
And now for something different:
Heart of Oak:
Come cheer up my lads, tis to glory we steer,
To add something new to this wonderful year;
Tis to honor we call, you as free men not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves.
Heart of oak our ships, jolly tars our men,
We always are ready, steady boys, steady.
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again, and again.
We ne’er see our foes, but we wish them to stay;
They always see us and they wish us away;
If they run we will follow, we will drive them ashore;
For if they won’t fight we can do no more.
They say they’ll invaded us, these terrible foes;
Frighten our women, our children, our beaus;
But should their flat-bottoms, in darkness get o’er,
Stout Britons they’ll find to defeat them ashore.
Britannia triumphant, her ships rule the seas,
Her watchword is justice, her password is free.
So come cheer up my lads, with one heart let us sing,
Our soldiers, our sailors, our statesmen, our Queen.
The reputable academic journal Canadian Navy Review (the source of the quotations above) provides free access to old issues, and can be found here: www.navalreview.ca/
Information on naval tradition can be found on the site www.ReadyAyeReady.com