Commander Lewin – First Commodore of the Charlottetown Yacht Club

The first commodore of the Charlottetown Yacht Club was a retired British naval officer who had been on the Island just days over two years before he was elected.  W.G Lewin had been a Commander with a distinguished service career in both the Royal Navy and the mercantile marine before being engaged by the P.E.I., Branch of the Navy League of Canada to open a Navigation School in Charlottetown.

John Ings House, Dundas Esplanade - First home of the Charlottetown Yacht Club. The building looked out over the mouth of the harbour.

John Ings House, Dundas Esplanade – First home of the Charlottetown Yacht Club. The building looked out over Paoli’s Wharf towards the mouth of the harbour. Photo- Public Archives and Records Office item 3218/122

Lt. Commander Lewin had been educated at Bealey Heath College and graduated from the London Nautical College before joining the Royal Navy, serving at a time when he was able to gain experience in both sailing ships and steamers around the world.  During the Great War he was with the British fleet at the Battle of Heligoland Bight and later was on the staff of the naval barracks at Plymouth and headed the navigation school there. He was for a time Swinging Officer at Plymouth being responsible for adjusting compasses on board the naval vessels and served for a period as King’s Harbour Master at Scapa Flow. Scapa was the harbour where the German Grand Fleet was interned and later scuttled.  Following the war Lewin was Navigation Instructor with the London County Council. He arrived with his family in Charlottetown in late August 1920.

It is probable that Commander Lewin’s interest in the founding of the Charlottetown Yacht Club stemmed from his larger mission with the Navy League of Canada. Established in 1895, the Navy League of Canada was originally created to help foster an interest in maritime affairs, and in particular, to encourage debate on the importance of an independent navy. Indeed, the Navy League was one of the loudest voices in establishing a sovereign naval service in Canada.  A division of the League had been established on P.E.I. in the late 1890s through the interest of Frederick William Hyndman who had served in the Royal Navy and who operated a marine insurance business in Charlottetown. The organization was particularly active in Charlottetown following the Great War. In 1919 the group acquired the Colonel Ings house on Dundas Esplanade and operated it as a Sailors Home. Just prior to Lewin’s arrival on the Island the decision had been made to form a local branch of the League in Charlottetown.  In addition to what the Guardian called “the best School of Navigation in Canada” the facility was to serve as the location for the Yacht Club and hosted other nautical groups and service organizations.  It was a given that members of a yacht club would be supporters and advocates for the navy. Lewin was also chief instructor for the Boy’s Naval Brigade which operated out of the building.

After a little more than three years Lewin left the Island. His wife had died in December of 1923 and he returned with his family to England early the next year.  In July he arrived in Adelaide Australia with his children and a new wife. In interviews with the Australian newspapers he expressed disappointment with the little interest shown in Canada with regard to naval affairs, noting that the entire fleet consisted of two destroyers, the Patriot and the Patrician.

The navigation school and other activities of the Navy League continued after Lewin’s departure. The Ings House was home to the League and the Naval Reserve until the latter moved to the Sims building on the corner of Kent and Hillsborough streets in 1936.  The Boys Naval Brigade became the Navy League Cadets and continues to be active in Charlottetown to this day as Navy League Cadet Corps 58 Hyndman.

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