Tane Casserley

Canada's first warship to be preserved

By Randy Boswell - Canwest

As the federal government prepares to mark the 100th anniversary of the Canadian navy next month, the ship seen as the birthplace of the country's maritime fighting force is edging closer to formal recognition and protection as a national historic site - in the United States.

The CGS Canada, the armed vessel on which the nation's first naval recruits trained ahead of the official creation of Canada's navy in 1910, was later sold and renamed the Queen of Nassau before sinking off the Florida Keys in 1926.

Discovered by recreational divers in 2001, the ship has been probed extensively by U.S. Marine archeologists, who are now working toward designating the wreck a historic site because of its significance in the evolution of Canada's military.

"We're still in the process of writing the nomination," said Tane Casserley, national maritime heritage co-ordinator with NOAA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Casserley, who completed his master's thesis on the history of CGS Canada/Queen of Nassau, has chronicled the story of the ship since it was built in 1904, describing the 61-metre cruiser as nothing less than "the nucleus of the Royal Canadian Navy."

In 2006, when artifacts recovered from the shipwreck were displayed at the Vancouver Maritime Museum under a special bi-national agreement, the warship was also hailed as "the cradle of Canada's naval forces."

Launched from a British shipyard, the CGS Canada was commissioned by the federal government to patrol our Atlantic fishing grounds. But amid international tensions in the first decade of the 20th century, the ship became the main training vessel for the officers of a Canadian navy that wouldn't be formally established until May 4, 1910.

The Canadian Forces website dedicated to this year's naval centennial notes that CGS Canada played a key role in the formation of a proto-navy.

"If not a navy," the site says, Canada's fisheries patrol vessels "did the job of a small one. Eight of the fisheries cruisers were armed, the most noteworthy of which was CGS Canada, and these latter vessels were operated in all respects as warships."