|The Merchant Navy of Canada|
Historians have often highlighted the essential and dangerous role played
by the officers and sailors of Canada's Merchant Navy during the Battle
of the Atlantic. These men sailed across the ocean on defenceless, sometimes
slow ships, stalked by enemy submarines. When a freighter or a tanker found
her cut off from the convoy, she became an easy prey. The men aboard ships
that carried dangerous cargoes, such as gas or explosives, knew that, if
attacked, their chances of survival were slim.
Ships destined to sail under Canadian flag became the property of a Crown corporation, the Park Steamship Company Limited, established on April 8th, 1942. The company did not operate the ships but commissioned existing shipping companies to do so. Between 1942 and 1945, the Park Steamship Company took over 127, 10,000-tonne Park class ships, including 13 tankers, as well as 43, 4,700-tonne Gray class freighters and 6 tankers of 3,600 tonnes. All those vessels, except for two of them, were named after federal, provincial or municipal parks; some carried light defensive armament, a gun at the bow and nets against torpedoes. The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) supplied crews of eight to ten men for the maintenance and operation of that armament.
Finding crews for those merchantmen was a real challenge, as the RCN had already enlisted all men with some sailing experience. As for able-bodied men without navy experience, the Army and Air force were trying to attract them. The Merchant Navy recruited as many men as possible from shipping companies that operated on inland waterways or along the Atlantic or Pacific coasts. It also had to accept
men who had been turned down by the RCN for being under- or above-age. Retired navy officers, some in their seventies, re-enlisted to command Park class ships. The fact that men in the U.S. Merchant Navy got good pay and benefits gave birth to the myth that all merchant navy sailors received extravagant salaries. The reality of Canadian sailors was quite different! Actually, although they were paid less than their U.S. counterparts, Canadian merchant navy sailors earned slightly more than RCN sailors. With the war bonus, an able seaman received $119.12 per month, compared to $90 for a sailor on board a corvette. Officers on the other hand were better paid in the RCN and their income was tax-free.
Some 12,000 sailors served in the Merchant Navy of Canada during WWII. Of that number, 1,451 lost their lives on Canadian-flagged ships. Veterans of the Merchant Navy were granted a status equivalent to that of RCN veterans in 1992.