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Wartime Victoria (British Columbia)

Pat in Halifax

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I am wondering if anyone out there can help. I am trying to find some history of Victoria during World War II dealing with Naval roles involved in AS patrols by ships and aircraft as well as harbour defences and local precautions. I have found very rudimentary info on the internet including info on the vessels launched from the 2 main shipyards but not much else. Even the city's own website 'skims' over that period of time.  I even have a query in right now for this to the Esquimalt Military Museum which has yet to answered.
This info is for a ship's history pamphlet for HMCS VICTORIA which would follow the same lines as the one for ST JOHNS:

HMCS St Johns named for St. John’s, Newfoundland
The current ‘Halifax’ class frigate; HMCS St Johns, is the first Canadian Naval vessel to bear the name. Named for the capital city of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the ship inherits a rich seafaring and Naval history form it's namesake city. St Johns was not only that other “Canadian East Coast Port” but was also the Headquarters for the Western Local Escort Force (WLEF) later known simply as the Western Escort Force. Though the province was still a British possession during the war years, St Johns and it’s accompanying Naval garrison was manned and Commanded primarily by Canadian Officers and enlisted men. The city’s contribution to the ‘Canadian’ war effort cannot be ignored.
During the War years 1939 – 1945, the Canadian Shipbuilding Industry completed 4 Destroyers, 70 Frigates, 123 Corvettes, 122 Minesweepers, 398 Merchant vessels and over 3600 specialized vessels (LSTs, MTBs etc). Convoys departing overseas sailed not only from the large well publicized ports like Halifax and Montreal but also from St Johns.

St Johns actually carries the unique distinction of being the first place on the North American continent where German POWs were arrested immediately following England’s declaration of war on September 3, 1939. On that day, the German freighter Christoph V. Doornum was broken down in Botwood’s harbour. The crew was promptly arrested and sent to St Johns where they were interred initially in the YMCA and then into a make shift POW camp. As a colony, the British declaration of war immediately brought Newfoundlanders into the conflict.
The importance of St Johns cannot be under-estimated. The city and surrounding landscape was garrisoned and fortified by Canadian and British Naval, Air and Army as well as United States Navy personnel. St Johns and the people of St Johns were a decisive factor in the Battle against German U-boats in the Atlantic.
The Battle of the Atlantic, which saw Canadian units heavily engaged start to finish, was the longest lasting single campaign of the Second World War, opening with the sinking of the passenger freighter SS Athenia bound for Montreal on September 3, 1939 and closing with Allied Navy and merchant vessels still slugging it out with Kriegsmarine U-boats and surface raiders until VE Day; May 8, 1945.
Pre-war planning meant that the people of Newfoundland were much more prepared for war in 1939 than they had been in 1914. Though there was no functioning parliament pursee in St Johns, the population had seen the signs pointing to war throughout the 1930s. As England became quickly overwhelmed with events on that side of the Atlantic, the Newfoundland “Commission” quickly forged an informal alliance with Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. It was he who determined that “The integrity of Newfoundland and Labrador” were “essential to the security of Canada.”
The standing up of RCN Command facilities in St Johns meant that “The Pit”, the area of the Atlantic out of range of short range patrol vessels and aircraft, was substantially reduced in size. It was here that German U-boats could attack with impunity. With this, on May 27th, 1941, the NEF (Newfoundland Escort Force) was formed comprising six RCN destroyers and 17 corvettes as well as seven RN destroyers and four corvettes. Now, convoys from Halifax were escorted by the WLEF (Western Local Escort Force) to a point just east of the Grand Banks. Here they were picked up by the NEF, escorted through “The Pit” to a point south of Iceland where they were then picked up by an RN Escort Group. The NEF ships would then refuel in Iceland and then pick up a west bound convoy, repeating the whole process in reverse.
When the Battle of the Atlantic was at its height, German submarines regularly penetrated coastal defenses including gaining entrance to Conception Bay and sinking two ore carriers near Bell Island in early September 1942. It was also during World War II that one of the greatest sea disasters in Newfoundland’s history occurred when on October 14th, 1942, U-69 sank the North Sydney to Port-aux-Basques ferry Caribou. The subsequent bolstering of defences now meant that St Johns was on a full-fledged war footing. Her natural defences also meant that the harbour was a safe haven not only from the enemy but also the weather and on one particularly nasty winter evening in January 1941, 53 merchant ships took refuge in the harbour!
The city’s primary responsibility through it all remained the supply and maintenance of the ocean escorts. Between January 1942 and May 1945, 545 escort vessels of various nationalities were stationed at St Johns or in nearby outports with the bulk of these being RCN vessels. During the same time period, the number of military personnel serving in St Johns rose from under 1000 to well over 5000, the highest of any Canadian Naval base outside of Halifax.
Unfortunately, at war’s end, the requirement for such a large Naval force was no longer. The training facility at HMCS Avalon as well as port facilities and air bases throughout the island slowly dwindled in size and importance over the years following the War.
Sadly, the hundreds of vessels of the Royal Canadian Navy ended their careers without fanfare. Throughout the summer and fall of 1945, vessels were sent to ports throughout eastern Canada for disposal and with the exception of a few newer classes of vessels maintained for post war service, the Royal Canadian Navy became a shadow of it’s former self.
The Canadian Naval Memorial Trust maintains the last Canadian warship from World War II as a memory to all those who have served in the Canadian Navy in the past. HMCS Sackville, moored at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, NS is the last remaining ‘Flower” class corvette anywhere in the world. Her legacy will live on for years to come; a testament to the efforts of thousands of young Canadian women and men and to the ships in which they sailed.
Downsizing following WWI: “The War to end all Wars”, meant that the brand new Royal Canadian Navy along with her sister services was ill-prepared for war, a war which would turn out to be of a magnitude unprecedented.
In 1939, as the clouds of war closed, Canada’s contribution to the war at sea was little more than a token gesture.  Less than 4000 personnel and 7 semi sea-worthy vessels constituted the Royal Canadian Navy. Immediately upon commencement of hostilities on September 3rd of 1939, the RCN’s primary duty became guarding the North Atlantic convoys. With the United States still out of the war and Britain dependent entirely on her colonies for supplies, the port of Halifax and the RCN suddenly became paramount. From an antiquated force, the RCN grew to over 350 surface combat vessels and by War’s end, the RCN would be the 3rd largest Allied Navy in excess of 100,000 personnel.
The RCN contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic was 29 German U-boats sunk and 15 “probables”. Though some post-war records leave many unknowns, discovered sunken ships and submarines continue to reveal the truth. Records from the German Navy indicate the typical RCN sailor to be an admirable yet formidable foe.
Over 2000 RCN sailors paid the ultimate sacrifice in WWII.  In faraway lands and in the depths of the eternal seas, they lay. For them; we weep, for them; we rejoice.



You could try emailing a curator from Fort Rodd Hill - they have alot of information there on harbour defences during the Second World War (it was one of the major units defending the harbour).  Try this address -  fort.rodd@pc.gc.ca


Sent off an email this evening from home.
I'll let you know how I make out
Thanx again - Actually got WAY MORE than I could use for my purpose! The "Fleet" is almost complete (CORNER BROOK drafted and out for translation and GOOSE BAY in the works) and though posted on another thread, if any are interested, namesake histories for our current Naval vessels are at:

You may note some repeat info from one to the other re shipbuilding during WW II, a brief on the BOA and a footnote to set the tone.
Any questions or if you find any glaring errors/omissions, I am humble enough in my historical writings to accept construction criticism!!!! but...I turn 48 in a couple days so am getting tired and cranky in my old age!!!!