In September 1919 one of the finest houses on the Charlottetown waterfront took on a new role. The Colonel A.E. Ings house on Dundas Esplanade, facing west with a splendid view of the harbour and Victoria Park, was renovated as a Sailors Institute. It was to be the home of the P.E.I. branch of the Navy League of Canada.
The Navy League’s existence in the province was somewhat of an on again – off again schedule. The organization had been around since 1895 as a Canadian organization involved in naval policy and supporting the Royal Navy while also promoting a separate Canadian navy. In the years before the Great War success was achieved with the creation of the Canadian Navy in 1910. On Prince Edward Island Frederick Hyndman, who had had Royal Navy Service was an early advocate for the League but it failed to gain much success in the province.
Immediately following the War the contribution of the Navy League continued and the national group was incorporated in 1918. P.E. I. was represented at the first general meeting a year later by Chief Justice John Mathieson who spearheaded the development of support on P.E.I. A major fund-raising campaign across the country had brought in $1.7 million ($2,495 from P.E.I.) and the province was allocated $25,000 to set up a Sailors Institute. The sum would be the equivalent of almost $400,000 today. It enabled the group to purchase and renovate the landmark property, hire staff and still have $10,000 for an endowment to handle future maintenance.
The spacious rooms of the house lost their domestic appearance. On the ground floor there was an office for the organization and a large class room. At the rear was a suite with reading room, lounge, games room, and facilities for visiting sailors and a separate caretaker’s apartment. Upstairs was a room for the Boy’s Brigade, storage, Board room and a large room (reported as the best room in the house) for the use of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.
The Boy’s Naval Brigade was a cadet organization. Before the Great War there was an informal naval training program for youth and there may have been some short-lived activity in Charlottetown in this regard. In 1918 the Boy’s Naval Brigade was officially established as one of the activities of the Navy League. When the Ings house became the Sailor’s Institute a Charlottetown branch of the Boys’ Naval Brigade was formed and by mid-September thirty boys were receiving drill and instruction from Lieut. William Gordon who has served in the Royal Navy.
A new instructor, Petty Officer A. Clements, with 10 year’s experience in both the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy, was in place by May of the following year. He was succeeded the next year by Lt. Commander W.G. Lewin who was hired to run the Navigation School established by the Navy League. Training for the boys consisted of one afternoon and one evening of each week with instruction in signalling, including Morse code, boat work, knots and splices, sea terms, compass work and drill. Walter Hyndman also provided training in wireless telegraphy. It was stressed that these skills were not just naval preparation but were useful for any work at sea.
By the following year uniforms and rifles had arrived and the Brigade “attired in their natty looking British jackies uniforms and carrying rifles” were part of the opening ceremonies of the Provincial Exhibition in September 1920.
One report states that the Charlottetown Brigade was the first to be organized in Canada and had sixty members but enthusiasm, both for the youth training and the league in general, flagged after the departure of Commander Lewin for Australia.
An attempt was made to revitalize the League in 1923 under the leadership of John Orlebar Hyndman, an insurance executive. In the same year the name of the Boys Naval Brigade across the country was changed to the Sea Cadets and the Navy League in Charlottetown announced that it hoped to establish a Corps in the City. However that was still but a hope in 1927 when it was noted that P.E.I. was the only province without a Sea Cadet Corps.
The Navy League itself was not thriving. The Ings property had been further renovated to provide for rentals for social functions but in 1929 the building was leased to the Naval Department for use as the P.E.I. headquarters for the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR). The League continued to have an office in the building.
The Charlottetown Sea Cadet Corps would have to wait until 1942 to be created. Its story will be the subject of a forthcoming blog.