Confederation Marine Modellers

            This topic became a regular feature in the club’s newsletter each year. However, we have learnt that it has been appearing in the wrong month. In 2003 the Canadian Parliament created Merchant Navy Remembrance Day which designated September 3 as a day to recognize the contributions and sacrifice of Canadian merchant mariners.
          Canada, like several other Commonwealth nations, created its own Merchant Navy in a large-scale effort during World War II, but that was not the beginning. An informal merchant navy appeared in 1914 at the start of World War I and was renamed as the Canadian Government Merchant Marine in 1918, but slowly declined and had disappeared by 1930.
            Within hours of Canada's declaration of war on September 10, 1939, the Canadian government passed laws to create the Canadian Merchant Navy setting out rules and controls to provide a workforce for wartime shipping.
            A school was established at St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia to train sailors for the Canadian Merchant Navy, who became known as "Merchant Mariners." Manning Pools, or barracks, were built in major Canadian ports to house Merchant Mariners. The Merchant Navy was considered a fourth branch of the Canadian military alongside the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force, and suffered the highest casualty rate of the four.
          The extremely high casualties due to U-boat attacks during the first months of the war, made it urgent for the Allies to expand their merchant navies, not only to replace lost ships but also to speed up the delivery of equipment and food that Great Britain needed. Canada did her part as well and started building freighters as rapidly as possible. In six years of war, Canadian shipyards built 354 ships of 10,000 tonnes and 43 of 4,700 tonnes for the Allies.
          Ships destined to sail under the Canadian flag became the property of a Crown corporation, the Park Steamship Company Limited, established on April 8th, 1942. The company did not operate the ships but commissioned existing shipping companies to do so. Between 1942 and 1945, the Park Steamship Company took over 127, 10,000-tonne Park class ships, including 13 tankers, as well as 43, 4,700-tonne Gray class freighters and 6 tankers of 3,600 tonnes. All those vessels, except for two of them, were named after federal, provincial or municipal parks; some carried light defensive armament, a gun at the bow and nets against torpedoes. The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) supplied crews of eight to ten men for the maintenance and operation of that armament.
          From the very beginning of the war, German submarines tried to cut supply routes across the Atlantic, threatening the transport of vital goods and personnel to Britain. Along with the RCN and the RCAF, the Merchant Navy played a key role in the six-year campaign to clear the Atlantic of U-boats. It was far from easy - they faced fierce attacks by German submarines and hazardous, life-threatening weather conditions in the North Atlantic - but they put themselves in harm’s way in the quest for peace and freedom in the world. The Battle of the Atlantic was the only battle of the Second World War that was waged close to North American shores. German U-boats attacked coastal shipping from the Caribbean to Halifax. During the summer of 1942, they even penetrated deep into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and sank ships.
          Merchant mariners bore much of the brunt of the Battle of the Atlantic. The casualty rate was one in seven, a higher percentage of total casualties than those suffered by any of Canada's fighting services. Approximately 1,500 Canadians died, including eight women. As well, 59 Canadian-registered merchant ships were lost.         After the war, Canadian Merchant Navy veterans were denied veterans benefits and official recognition for decades. This was not corrected until the 1990s and many individual cases remain unresolved. Similar to the Canadian Merchant Navy Veterans status, World War II United States Merchant Marine Veterans were also denied veterans benefits and status until 1988.
         Memorials have been erected in various locations in recognition of the sacrifice. These include

  • "Royal Canadian Naval Association Naval Memorial (1995)" by André Gauthier (sculptor) was erected on the shore of Lake Ontario in Spencer Smith Park in Burlington, Ontario.

  • A commemorative plaque at Sackville Landing, Halifax, Nova Scotia unveiled in 1993.

  • A memorial plaque to those lost on the SS Point Pleasant Park was erected by the survivors of the vessel in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, in 1967.

  • On the grounds of the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, erected in 1996.

  • A sculpture erected in 2016 on the waterfront of Sydney Harbour, Nova Scotia.

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Lest we forget the merchantmen - Canada's Merchant Navy