"That which has no equal in art or fame, Britons do rightly 'Nonsuch' name."
From "Royal Residences" Henry VIII built this home or castle in 1538 and called it "Nonsuch".
HMCS Nonsuch is the name of the Edmonton Division of the Canadian Navy (Reserve), a name, because of what it sounds like, although one of the most historic names in Canada and Great Britain, has become most maligned. Even in the "Navy Show" of the Second Great War, the comedian wore the cap ribbon of … you guessed it … HMCS Nonsuch. It is our endeavor in these few pages to show you how proud the citizens of Edmonton should be to honour the name of "Nonsuch" as we are justly proud to serve in such a fine "ship".
Walking along Jasper Avenue the other day I looked up at the facade of the Hudson's Bay Company's store and there I read "On May 2nd, 1670, Charles II of England granted a charter incorporating the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England, trading into the Hudson's Bay, later known as the "Hudson Bay Company". Thus, the Hudson's Bay Company, which is so well known today in Canada, was founded. But the reason for the charter in being granted was because the "Nonsuch", a ketch of 50 tons, bought by the Company on March 30, 1668, sailed out of London on June 3rd of the same year and entered James Bay on September 29th. The ship returned to London on October 9th, 1669, with such a large and valuable cargo of furs that the king granted the charter for the Company to carry on and trade into the Hudson's Bay and Canada. However, as you will have noticed, almost a year before this time and about 15 years before commissioning ships of the Royal Navy with the name "Nonsuch", Henry VIII had built a royal residence for Anne Boleyn and called it "Nonsuch".
The foregoing is historical in a general sort of way as far as the name "Nonsuch" is concerned, but the present building housing the local Reserve Division of the Canadian Navy is also connected with the Hudson's Bay Company and here is how it got the name. It happened because of the transition from the horse-drawn, oat-consuming delivery wagons and carts of the Company to the modern gasoline-consuming motor vehicles. The past administration building was formerly the Hudson's Bay Company horse barns and in 1939 it was sold to the Department of National Defence to house the small Naval Reserve Division that existed at the time for the price of One Dollar and because of the part that the "Nonsuch" of 1668 played in the trade of the Company, the Division was then called HMCS Nonsuch. Until a couple of years ago the Coat of Arms of the Company was incorporated into the cornice over the main door but it had become unsafe and crumbling and so It was removed and an entire new cornice erected. It is unfortunate that the Hudson's Bay Company did not see fit to preserve this, as was requested. The relations of HMCS Nonsuch and the Hudson's Bay Company has continued to be most cordial and there hangs on one of the walls an oil painting of a sailing vessel of the type of the original Nonsuch bearing the following inscription...... "Presented by Sir Patrick Ashley Cooper, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company with best wishes to the officers and men of HMCS Nonsuch, Edmonton, 1944". Another picture depicting the ketch "Nonsuch" was presented to the ship by the late Mrs. O.J. Walker. This was a painting executed by Mrs. Walker herself. She was also an author of note.
The royal residence of Henry VIII was destroyed but the remains of this palace have recently been unearthed at Ewell, Surrey, 25 miles from London and some very fine samples of stone taken from the building have now been taken to Cambridge University. However, the name "Nonsuch" is kept very much alive by the Reserve Naval Division in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Many ships in the Royal Navy have borne the name "Nonsuch", besides those of the Merchant Marine. In the first place the Nonsuch of Elizabeth I's fleet of 1584 was rebuilt by James I in 1605 and re-named "Nonsuch". She was 88 feet in length, 636 tons and mounted 38 guns. "Nonsuch" was still serving in 1636 as part of the fleet of Charles I. The second "Nonsuch" was built by King Charles I in 1646, being 389 tons, length 98 feet, mounting 34 guns. In the civil war of that time "Nonsuch" went over to the side of Parliament and with the ship "Garland" took the Royalist ship, "Santa Thresa", July 1649. "Nonsuch", as part of the Blue Squadron and commanded by Thomas Penrose, was present at the Battle of Loewstoft, June 1653. Her complement now was 170 men, armament 40 guns. On November 15 of the same year, "Nonsuch" limped into Plymouth severely damaged by shot, her boatswain and trumpeter dead, her lieutenant, master, chaplain and many others severely wounded. She had brought a Dutch man-of-war to action off the Lizard.
During the American War of Independence the seventh "Nonsuch" saw action. Commanded by Captain Walter Griffith, formed part of Lord Howe's squadron that denied the French fleet's entrance into New York. The ship also took an active part in the action of July 6, 1779, off Grenada. In 1781, H.M.S. Nonsuch was in the fleet that brought relief to besieged garrison of Gibraltar in April of that year. As seen from the above, the name "Nonsuch" has considerable naval significance and we look back with pride on past battles fought by ships bearing this historic name. On the bulkhead facing the quarter-deck at the Edmonton Division there is a plaque bearing the battle honours of "Nonsuch", namely:
KENTISH KNOCK - 1652
PORTLAND - 1653
GARBARD - 1653
TREXEL - 1673
ST. LUCIA - 1778
THE SAINTS - 1673
JUTLAND - 1916
The name "Nonsuch" is a form of the phrase "non such" and should be so pronounced. It is almost an exact translation of the French "non pareil". Previous ships of the name were:
- Ex-NonPareil, 52 guns, renamed 1603, condemned 1654.
- Built in 1646, 34 guns, wrecked in 1664.
- Ketch, 8 guns, built about 1654, captured by the French and recaptured 1659. Still in navy list 1666.
- Fourth rate, 42 guns, built 1668, cut down to 5th rate, 36 guns 1691, surrendered to the French 1695.
- Hoy, 5 guns, built 1686, sold 1714.
- Fourth rate, 48 guns, built 1696, rebuilt 1717, broken up 1745.
- Fourth rate, 50 guns, built 1741, broken up 1766.
- Third rate, 64 guns, built 1774, broken up in 1802.
- Destroyer, built 1915, sold 1921.
- Ex-German destroyer Z-38, surrendered in 1945, renamed 1947 and broken up the same year.
A sloop of the modified "Black Swan" Class was ordered during the Second World War, but she was not completed (perhaps not even laid down) and the contract for her construction was canceled at the end of hostilities. The name was borne by ships of the Royal Navy almost continuously from 1603 to 1802, but there have been long gaps since then. HMCS Nonsuch was named and commissioned on 1 November, 1941, along with the other divisions of the R.C.N.V.R.
"A Campis Ad Maria"
In the ship's badge of HMCS Nonsuch is incorporated the "Beaver Rampant", symbolic of the Hudson Bay Company's fur trade and the part that "Nonsuch" played in it. The ship's motto really brings out the spirit of this inland Naval Division and the many "prairie sailors" that proved so efficient as members of the crews of His Majesty's Canadian Naval vessels during the Second World War, especially In the Battle of the Atlantic. It is "A CAMPIS AD MARIA"..... "From the Prairies to the Seas". This has been the admiration of the rest of Canada, how the men from the prairies, trained in the inland Naval Divisions, became such staunch seafarers. For the most part these Divisions had very humble beginnings, as did the Royal Canadian Navy itself. These Divisions, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, were only manned by a few bodies who used to train once a week, and at Naval Headquarters there were a few permanent force officers and ratings on the strength. For sea-time training during the summer, a couple of ex-Royal Navy destroyers were available. For the prairie-sailors from Winnipeg west, HMCS Rainbow was stationed at the Pacific Coast but was sold out of the Service after the Great War. The ships on the West Coast in the 1920's were, successively, Patrician and Vancouver destroyers. At the beginning of the war in 1939, the combined strength of the Royal Canadian Navy and Reserve forces was only 3,822. Strength at the cessation of hostilities was 95,705, with total enlisting up to September 30, 1945, amounting to 106,522. During the war HMCS Nonsuch became a hive of activity and 114 officers and 3,582 ratings were attested and trained there in that period, truly "A Campis ad Maria".
The White Ensign was first run-up in Edmonton in April, 1923, when a Naval Half-Company under the command of the late Lieutenant-Commander Athol Blair MacLeod was formed. Although this was only a half company of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the idea took on and it grew to a strength of upward of 225 officers and men, which at this tire paraded at the Prince of Wales Armouries. These Divisions, as they were called since 1935, are in every large city from coast to coast and they were fostered in the first place by Admiral Hose. A former Supervising Officer, Lieutenant (N) H. J. F. Hibbard, was the officer who traveled from city to city in order to organize the Reserve Units of the Royal Canadian Navy. At this time the idea of sailors in Edmonton was unheard of but because of the efforts of the late Lieutenant-Commander Athol Blair McLeod and his untiring work and past experience, the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve, (R.C.N.V.R.), Edmonton Half-Company, came into being.
Mr. MacLeod was a naval veteran of the First World War but there were very few other naval veterans in Edmonton, because, while it was possible to join the Navy in Canada, not many recruits were required until the U-boats approached our coasts in 1917. The work of the RCN must have seemed dull by comparison with what was going on in the seas around Britain, and many Canadians did go there to join up. When Mr. MacLeod joined up he went to London, England, and paid his own fare. Because of his maritime experience gained around his native Prince Edward Island, he soon became Lieutenant MacLeod. He spent the war on mine-lying and submarine patrol work, and in 1919 was with a British Relief Force to Murmansk, northern Russia. This was the man who undertook to create the naval spirit in Edmonton almost forty years ago. The Navy allowed him to commence the Edmonton establishment, two officers, fifty men and a permanent force Chief Petty Officer to train the men. The other officers were Sub-Lieutenant Frederick Balmer Watt, an Edmonton newspaperman, who became the famed poet of the Royal Canadian Navy and served during the Second World War and the third officer of the unit was the Paymaster Lieutenant S. Brand. It may be noted here that at this time the pay per parade for an Ordinary Seaman was the magnificent sum of $0.25. Chief Petty Officer Cross also had a hand in the organization of the unit in 1923.
The Edmonton Division of the Reserve Navy, as stated before, had no "home port" of its own but in 1939 finally the seamen left the Prince of Wales Armoury. However, from 1923 to 1939 the unit appeared in many public gatherings, parades, etc., and had become well known and respected in Edmonton and had won many inter-service and other competitions. In October, 1936, the men of the Edmonton Half-Company received a pleasant order..... "The Reserve will in future wear a cap ribbon bearing the name of the Division..... R.C.N.V.R. EDMONTON". Then in 1939 came the big news; this was in March of that year and plans were completed by the government to convert the hudson bay company's garage into a naval barracks. This meant a real home for the Navy at last. This location is where it still is, the foot of 102nd Street Hill near 97th Avenue. Since this time a large drill hall and rifle range have been added. In June, also of 1939, we saw the Navy holding a very enviable spot at the Royal Procession of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their Edmonton visit. Along the driveway of the Legislative Buildings members of the R.C.N.V.R. were posted with fixed bayonets on their rifles. Then came the war! The Reserve ship went on active service September 10, 1939. Through the years that followed, several thousand naval volunteers passed through basic training at the land-bound ship which became HMCS Nonsuch. Also, for practical water training, a summer base was established at Lake Wabamun, 40 miles west of Edmonton. After the war this site was discontinued but a base has again been established in a different location but on the same lake and it is now known as HMCS Nonsuch II.
Commanding Officers during the war years were:
Cdr E. P. Shaver; LCdr C. Glassco; Lt(N) G. Crawford; LCdr (later Cdr) J. A. Dawson; Lt(N) W. C. C. Webster and LCdr R. Steward.
Cdr J. A. Dawson held the position of Commander the longest and much progress was made under his administration. After the war, Cdr Dawson settled in Edmonton as head of a local grain firm. It was while LCdr Webster was Commanding Officer HMCS Nonsuch returned to a peace-time basis, on March 15, 1946. The Command again changed on April 1st of that year when LCdr Stewart retired and LCdr (later Cdr) Rodney Pike became Commanding Officer. Cdr Pike was a native of Edmonton and is still in business in the city. HMCS Nonsuch now was an integral part of the armed forces of the City of Edmonton and continued to grow. New equipment was still being added and a thrill was provided the citizens when a fleet air arm was established and on September 28, 1946, a "Swordfish" aircraft arrived. As the airport was too far from the barracks, the pilot, Lt(N) M. E. Wasteneys decided to deliver it as close to "Nonsuch" as possible and the aircraft "sat down" in Ross Flats, only two blocks away from the naval base. This hazardous feat was the talk of the town for many days. Aboard the plane, besides the pilot, was the navigator, Lt(N) W. R. Windovor and LCdr R. Pike. In the spring of 1947 LCdr R. Pike was promoted to the rank of Acting Cdr in which rank he was confirmed on retirement in June, 1948. He was succeeded by Cdr L. R. Hoar. By now a full-time staff of permanent RCN officers and men had been established at HMCS Nonsuch and under the command of Cdr Hoar the ship showed steady progress and an up-to-date modern gun battery was installed.
Cdr L. B. Hoar retired in 1951 and he was succeeded by Cdr George P. Manning. During Cdr Manning's tenure of office he was awarded the Canadian Forces' Decoration. In July 1954, he was promoted to the rank of Acting Captain which was confirmed later in the year. Thus he became the first officer to reach the rank of Captain (Navy) as Commanding Officer of HMCS Nonsuch. The ship had come a long way since the half-company of 1923. While Captain (Navy) Manning was Commanding Officer, the Division continued to improve in all phases and at the time of his retirement in January, 1955, HMCS Nonsuch ranked as one of Canada's best Naval Reserve Training Divisions. But more was yet to come and in 1960, under the command of Cdr C. H. Rolf, "Nonsuch" won the double honour of being the best Division in Canada and the one making the most progress and received the trophies for winning these awards.
Succeeding Captain (N) Manning in 1955, was Cdr Norman S. Cameron. Cdr Cameron, during the Second World War, served as an air engineer on loan to the Royal Navy. Cdr Cameron served in, the capacity of Commanding Officer until September, 1958; then because of pressure of the business he had founded in Edmonton, he was forced to retire. The next appointment as Commanding Officer went to Cdr L. Garrett. This was on September 4, 1958. For three years prior to this appointment, Cdr Garrett was active as Executive Officer of HMCS Nonsuch. However, on January 6th, 1960, at a change of command ceremony before the entire ship's company, Cdr Carl H. Rolf took over the responsibility of Commanding Officer from Cdr Garrett. Cdr Rolf was also a former Executive Officer of the ship since 1958. Appointment of Cdr Rolf as the Commanding Officer started a new era as far as "Nonsuch" was concerned and 1960 was on; of the finest on record. We have already mentioned the winning of the most coveted trophy for Naval Divisions across Canada, the Naval Divisions Efficiency Trophy. But "Nonsuch" was not satisfied by merely winning this award. The Division went ahead and brought home the Barry German Trophy, awarded annually for the most improved Naval Reserve Division presented by the Naval Officers' Association of Canada. Winning both these trophies in the same year was the first time that this was accomplished by any naval division in Canada. Not bad, "Nonsuch". Because of this we have a reputation to live up to and instead of being easier, it will be harder, for more is expected of us. A great name has been created in Edmonton, history has been made inland naval divisions and we mean to continue doing so.
Decommissioning and Re-commissioning of HMCS Nonsuch
The unit was de-commissioned in 1964 as part of a government economy drive. Even such measures could not keep the great name off the lists of Naval Reserve Divisions. Nonsuch was back in operations in 1975 at her present location in a W.W. II Recreation Centre near the old airport. With a new force blowing wind into her sails, won the Silver Destroyer trophy not once, or twice, but five times. Three of these victories took place in consecutive terms.
Mention should be made of the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve that existed from 1914 to 1920. Then the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve was established in 1923 at the same time as the familiar Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, R.C.N.V.R., (The Wavy Navy) and the two forces were amalgamated in January, 1946, to form the Royal Canadian Navy (Reserve).
This little work would not be complete without some mention of the WRENS. During the war the women did great work and they were familiar sights on the naval bases and on the street wearing the blue uniforms of the Navy. They were employed as communicators, secretarial workers, in the galley, etc., but after the war this branch of the service was completely disbanded in 1946. In 1951, the Wrens were established again, first RCNR, later, RCN, and they form part of the Reserve Divisions across Canada. Naturally, there was a WREN Division onboard HMCS Nonsuch, with meetings at the regular weekly parades. Of course, women have long been fully integrated into the Canadian Navy and are employed in all positions, both ashore and afloat.
Royal Canadian Sea Cadets and Navy League Cadets train onboard using the facilities available. The Sea Cadets, like the members of the Reserve Division, are given the opportunity to take part in real naval training at the Pacific Coast and the Great Lakes regular training periods during the summer months.
In the City of Edmonton, there is also an active branch of the Naval Officers' Association and it is gratifying to note the interest they take in HMCS Nonsuch. At the various gatherings and meetings onboard the ship, it is a fine thing to see the members of the Association present.
Herewith has been presented a brief history of HMCS Nonsuch, the Naval Reserve Division of the City of Edmonton in the Province of Alberta, Canada. Our endeavor has been to make you all feel proud of the part the Division has played In the training of Citizen-Sailors both in time of war and peace. On the Quarter-deck, to the left as you enter the main doors is our Roll of Honour, the names of the Officers and Men of HMCS Nonsuch who paid the Supreme Sacrifice during the Second World War, adding to the Tradition and history of this Division. It is to their memory that we humbly dedicate these lines.