Tag Archives: Navy League

The Navy League and the Boys Naval Brigade

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.

Early flag used by 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.

John Ings House, Dundas Esplanade – Charlottetown Navy League Building. The house faced west across the harbour and stood immediately in front of the present Haviland Club.

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.


C.G.S. Brant pictures are two of the gems from Irwin Album


C.G.S. Brant tied up beside the ferry Prince Edward Island loading yachts – 1939. Picture from Mac Irwin album.

Two photos of the Canadian Government Steamship Brant from the Mac Irwin Album show how small the coal-fired buoy and lighthouse tender really was. More importantly they add to the story of the inter-club races up and down Northumberland Strait.

Earlier I had written about the role of the Brant in getting racing boats back and forth from regattas.  At that time I had assumed from newspaper reports that the Brant accompanied the fleet and that smaller boats such as snipes were taken as deck cargo and that larger yachts had been towed. A newspaper account in 1939 said that three of the large Class 3 yachts were carried on the Brant. The photos show just how it was done.


The Brant with Class 3 yacht aboard 1939. Mac Irwin album

Slung outboard from the davits of the Brant is a full-keeled yacht, one that looks like a Class 3. Two additional large boats, again probably Class 3 yachts can be made out behind the launch and a fourth boat can be seen at the stern of the Brant.  What is particularly interesting is that the boat already hoisted aboard has its mast still in place. The Brant also carried the crews of several of the racing boats and officials from the Charlottetown Yacht Club to Shediac. In addition to the boats sent by the Brant several owners, including Mac Irwin, towed their boats behind powerboats from the Yacht Club.  The 1939 Regatta in Shediac was a major yachting event for the region and was a big success for the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Strait.

The close working relationship between the Yacht Club and the Marine and Fisheries vessels rested on the harmonious attitude of the individuals concerned but also came from the long-time understanding that amateur sailors were the nursery for the navy.  Such organizations as the Navy League, Sea Scouts and the yacht clubs provided valuable training and experience at a time when funding for naval activities was strained.

Behind the Brant is the S.S. Prince Edward Island.  Since  the launch of the S.S. Charlottetown in 1931 the Prince Edward Island had seen little use. It filled in for the Charlottetown when the latter went on its annual trip to dry dock for maintenance. The ship was called into full-time service again in 1941 when the Charlottetown struck a reef on its way to dry-dock in Saint John and was lost off Port Mouton in Nova Scotia.


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.