Canada's First Submarines

CC1 and CC2

Canada's first submarines, CC1 and CC2 (R) in Seattle in 1914
Early crews of CC1-2 in Esquimalt, 1914 (Cdr BE Jones, RN, collection)

The Canadian Submarine Service was born in 1914 of crisis and opportunity, and of sheer daring by the premier of British Columbia. The birth was a complicated one - the boats departed covertly from Seattle in the dead of night and narrowly avoided being shelled by their own side. No naval band played "Heart of Oak," no flags or streamers fluttered in the breeze, and no crowd cheered when they came alongside in Esquimalt.

Canada's first submarines were originally built for the Chilean Navy by the Seattle Dry Dock and Construction Company under contract to the Electric Boat Company. When Chile reneged on her payments, the government of British Columbia bought them without federal authority. CC1 and CC2 arrived in Canadian waters south of Victoria, BC before daybreak on 5th August 1914, a few hours after World War One had been declared.

Experienced submarine officers and men were a very rare breed in 1914, and nonexistent in the RCN, so the navy had a difficult time manning CC1 and CC2. Fortunately they found two former Royal Navy submariners to command the two boats and the rest of the crews were mostly eager, but green, volunteer reservists who had never seen a submarine in their lives. "A pretty motley bunch," commented one able seaman decades later.

Bankers learned about kingston valves, grocery clerks learned about hydroplanes, and the officers, who were more used to navigating in two dimensions, had to learn to contend with three, as well as mastering the art of watchkeeping through the periscope.

Meanwhile, two German cruisers were steaming directly towards Victoria and Vancouver....