Charlottetown has always been proud of its sheltered harbour and with three rivers coming together there seems to be enough room for a large number of vessels. But for five days in September 1923 the harbour was home to the entire Atlantic Coast naval fleet which made up half of the entire complement of fighting ships in the Royal Canadian Navy.
A little after 6:00 p.m on 29th August a destroyer, the H.M.C.S. Patriot, passed through the mouth of Charlottetown harbour followed by … nothing. That was it. No more vessels. The single ship was the only armed vessel on the East Coast and represented one half of the entire Royal Canadian navy at the time. Her sister-ship the HMCS Patrician was on station on Canada’s Pacific Coast.
The Royal Canadian Navy had been created in 1910 as the Naval Service of Canada and was re-named the Royal Canadian Navy the following year. The service was originally equipped with two worn-out British cruisers dating from the 1890s, the Niobe and the Rainbow, both of which were unable to continue in active service to the end of the Great War. During the war the navy had six poorly equipped ships and a number of armed yachts such as the Hochelaga.
The Patriot was built as a Thornycroft M Class destroyer in Southampton England and was launched on 20 April 1916. Serving as a convoy escort and in harbour protection duties for the duration of the war she was deemed surplus to requirements in 1919 and was acquired by the Canadians a year later. Modern when built, the ship was equipped with oil-burning boilers which reduced the number of engine room crew needed. Still, the 274 foot, 1000 ton vessel required 85 officers and men. When launched she was capable of 37 knots and was armed with 4 torpedo tubes, a 12 pound deck gun, and anti-aircraft and quick-firing armament.
The 1921 arrival of the two destroyers and the HMCS Aurora, a light cruiser which had been purchased at the same time, had been cause for celebration in Halifax as it represented a commitment to a modern navy. However, by the time the Patriot arrived in Charlottetown for its visit the optimism for the navy was gone. With the war behind it Canada decided a three ship navy was just too expensive. The service was hit with drastic budget cuts. As largest ship the Aurora was the most expensive to operate. Although it was only ten years old the vessel had been paid off and disarmed leaving only the Patriot on the east coast and Patrician on the west coast. As the only operational RCN vessel on the east coast the Patriot was in constant use, primarily as a training ship for the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. Such intensive use reduced her effectiveness and four years after her first Charlottetown visit the ship, then only eleven years old, was decommissioned. She was sold for scrap in 1928.
The appearance in Charlottetown was part of an east coast tour which saw the ship visit Chatham and Cape Breton as well as P.E.I. While the visit lacked the impact of the pre-war visit of the Prince of Battenberg’s fleet there was still the ceremonial welcome on behalf of the city and a dance for the officers and crew. After all, it was not everyday that half the navy was in town.