If you have ever ventured along Kingsway Avenue in Edmonton, you will have undoubtedly observed a building proudly bearing the sign: HMCS Nonsuch.
Fondly referred to as a ‘stone frigate,’ HMCS Nonsuch is one of 24 Naval Reserve divisions across Canada. Home to more than 60 part-time and regular force members, this fixture of the capital region has often been a point of wonder by those who ask “why do we need a naval base in a land-locked province?” This is a fair question and no, it’s not to fend off the pirates of the North Saskatchewan River!
Historically, the name Nonsuch dates back to the era of King Charles II of England who, on May 2nd, 1670, granted a charter incorporating the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England, who were trading into the Hudson’s Bay region. This would later become the Hudson Bay Company, an institution whose presence we see to this day.
The reason for the charter 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, via Hudson 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. In essence, it was the Nonsuch that became known as the ‘ship that launched an empire.’
Using the extensive river system of the prairies, particularly the North Saskatchewan and its tributaries, it was those enterprising voyageurs of the HBC that delved westward and helped open trade routes and commerce. Fort Edmonton owes its origins to this endeavour – one that eventually realized the founding of other such settlements including our very own St. Albert.
Many of our consumer products come to our homes by way of sea. That big screen TV you just got, those bananas you had for breakfast, most likely came to you via sea trade. We therefore rely on our navy to monitor and protect our seaways. The men and women serving in HMCS Nonsuch train for this very purpose; conducting local exercises, supporting operational missions including opportunities to sail in HMCS Edmonton and engage in outreach with area citizens to promote awareness as to why Canada needs a robust and capable navy.
As we prepare to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, sailors from HMCS Nonsuch will take to our local waterways in June and conduct a transit of a portion of the North Saskatchewan River to commemorate the value and rich heritage of our inland waterways. The general public will be invited to participate in the Devon to Edmonton leg, which is scheduled to take place on Canada Day.
The motto of HMCS NONSUCH is ‘a campis ad maria’ which means ‘from the prairie to the sea.’ NONSUCH bears a rich history of service and is one that all area citizens should look upon with pride. Our navy looks forward to celebrating Canada 150 and its motto ‘ready aye ready’ should make us ever mindful that we cannot take the quality of life we enjoy for granted.
Tim Cusack is an educator, writer and member of the naval reserve.