The Canadian Navy has long had a close connection to Saskatchewan despite the province’s geography; indeed, one of the first naval engagements involving Canadian forces occurred in Saskatchewan during the North-West Rebellion. During the battle of Batoche, the Métis and First Nations under Gabriel Dumont attacked the riverboat Northcote, which had embarked members of the North-West Mounted Police under General Middleton. A ferry cable strung across the river damaged Northcote’s smokestack and wheelhouse, effectively scuttling the waterborne portion of Middleton’s battle plan.
On May 4, 1910, the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier created the Royal Canadian Navy. The Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve was created by Order-in-Council on January 31, 1923, with twenty-four Divisions across Canada, including Half Companies in Regina and Saskatoon. The Regina and Saskatoon Half Companies both went through a series of homes in their early years, and both faced a number of challenges training prairie sailors; pay was minimal for ratings and non-existent for officers. During the Great Depression, the Regina Half Company established a training facility at Last Mountain Lake to ensure that no naval reservist would have to go on relief.
During World War II, both units became recruiting and training centres for the Royal Canadian Navy. Naval custom has long designated shore-based training establishments as ships. In 1942, the Saskatoon Half Company was commissioned as HMCS Unicorn, in honour of one of the first ships to sail into Hudson Bay, while the Regina Half Company became HMCS Queen, in honour of Queen Elizabeth (subsequently the Queen Mother). HMCS Queen was closed between 1964 and 1975.
Today, Canada’s Naval Reserve is responsible for Maritime Coastal Defense, Port Security, and Naval Co-operation and Guidance to Commercial Shipping. In recent years, Saskatchewan Naval Reservists have served with every part of Canada’s Navy, and in operations as diverse as the Gulf War and peacekeeping missions from Cyprus to Bosnia.