“Dedication of The Royal Canadian Navy Monument” by Stephen Harper*


*Moderator’s Note: This statement was made on 3 May 2012, in Ottawa.

"Dedication of The Royal Canadian Navy Monument"

“Thank you very much, [Minister of National Defence] Peter [MacKay], for that kind introduction and thank you also for your ongoing leadership as Minister of National Defence.

Speaker Kinsella and fellow parliamentarians, Chaplain Wilcox, General Natynczyk, Vice-Admiral Maddison, Chairman Mills, distinguished guests, designers, veterans, ladies and gentlemen.

Canada is a maritime nation, a maritime nation with trade, commerce and interests around the world. Surrounded as we are by three oceans, it can truly be said, that Canada and its economy float on salt water.

Such a nation must have a navy. A navy that serves, a navy that protects, a navy that will, if circumstances demand, place its ships and their personnel in situations of imminent danger, for the sake of the country they have sworn to defend. This the Royal Canadian Navy has done for more than one hundred years.

So, we are gathered here on the eve of the day set aside to annually honour the Royal Canadian Navy, to dedicate a special place, a monument to this navy in which Canadians have safely placed so much trust for so many years. It is to be named The Royal Canadian Navy Monument.

Let us speak then of the unique service of the Canadian sailors and their remarkable story. Perhaps it should not be necessary to remind Canadians of this - that sailors are not like soldiers, any more than soldiers are like aviators. But it is so. Sailors have their own customs, their own traditions. As I have seen for myself, on the many occasions that I have been guest aboard one of our ships, sailors have their own professional language that speaks of their life on the oceans and the seas of the world.

The monument that we now dedicate, by its unique design and as explained to us in great detail, speaks to this, to the meaning of naval service on behalf of all the men and women who serve, or who have ever served, in the Royal Canadian Navy.

In the navy’s first century, more than 600 warships have been sent to sea bearing the proud prefix HMCS, ‘His or Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship’. During the First World War, they guarded our coasts. In the Second World War, they fought a campaign, a bitter campaign, against Nazi submarines, the Battle of the Atlantic, in which they suffered terrible losses. But they kept the sea-lanes open for the convoys of troops and supplies that would ultimately help bring down the enemy. They were in the English Channel, clearing mines and scrapping with Nazi destroyers. They were at D-Day. They were in the Pacific. In fact, the last Canadian to win the Victoria Cross was a naval pilot, Robert Hampton Grey, killed as he sank a Japanese destroyer days before the end of the war.

The Royal Canadian Navy has continued since then to serve off Korea during the conflict there, in peace and security operations the world over, and most recently, in the Persian Gulf during the mission to Afghanistan. Indeed, some members have served in Afghanistan itself. In fact, sadly, it was two years ago today that navy mine expert Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake was killed in that country.

Our navy has taken a lead role in providing humanitarian assistance as well.

And even since then, Canadian sailors and ships have gone in harm’s way. As recently as last year, HMCS Charlottetown and HMCS Vancouver formed part of NATO’s Libya engagement the former coming under, and returning, enemy fire, the first Canadian warship to do so since the Korean War.

All these things that our sailors have done, in the defence of Canada and in the defence of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, all of these things have been well documented. But still we need memorials, such as this, tangible remembrances that may cause a younger generation to demand of an older one: ‘What is this place? What do these things mean? What did these people do?’

And so, while there are other memorials across the nation dedicated to those who lost their lives during various periods of conflict, this monument demands that the navy’s full story be told and understood, and serve as a reminder to all Canadians that the navy is always there – over the horizon – today as in the past at the first sign of trouble to say ‘Ready Aye Ready’ in the service of our great country as it says there on the west face of this striking design.

And now, a happy occasion, the christening of The Royal Canadian Navy Monument. Miss Elsa Lessard served in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, as has been mentioned, during the Second World War. Since then, she has been active in the service of veterans, and received a Commendation Award from the Minister of Veteran’s Affairs in 2008. Miss Lessard, would you honour us now, in the traditional manner, by christening The Royal Canadian Navy Monument?”

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