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Canada’s first submarines - CC1 & CC2

Photo of submarine HMCS CC1 and CC2 in a harbour

How Canada acquired her first submarines is a fascinating tale of suspense, intrigue, hysteria, greed, and comic opera.

In my novel, Count Jaggi was asked by Captain Karl Boy-Ed, the German naval attaché in Washington, to look into the two submarines that Canada had bought when the war started and those being built at the Vickers shipyard Montreal.

In July 1914, Richard McBride, the Premier of British Columbia, was concerned about the war storms that were looming over Europe. The anxiety grew when the British Pacific fleet was recalled to England leaving Japan, a British ally, to protect Great Britain’s interests in the Pacific. B.C. felt defenceless against possible German naval raiders since Canada’s fledgeling navy didn’t have any ships to defend her west coast.

When J. V. Paterson, president of the Seattle Construction and Drydock Company, learned of McBride’s concerns he offered to sell him two submarines that he had built for the Chilean Navy. Clandestine meetings were held between Paterson and McBride because Chile’s had stop payment on the subs. Chile felt that the boats did not meet their specifications.

Paterson offered them to the B.C. government on the condition that payment was cash on delivery. Also, the deal had to be done fast because if war was declared American neutrality laws would block the sale. On August 3, 1914 at 10:00 p.m. the two subs slipped their Seattle moorings and headed north to a rendezvous point just off the coast of B.C., Trail Island. Paterson was on the deck pacing anxiously as the subs were inspected. Once the inspection was completed, he was handed a cheque for $1.15 million. The one thing that McBride didn’t know was the price was $322,000 more that Paterson had originally agreed to sell the subs to the Chileans.

In the rush to get the deal done McBride had neglected to tell Ottawa that he was buying submarines until they arrived in Esquimalt, the Canadian Royal Navy’s west coast naval base. The shore batteries had not been informed that the submarines were arriving. There was a tense moment when they nearly open fire. The shore batteries thought they were German submarines until they received word that they were friendly.

Faced with a fait accompli Ottawa had very little choice but to reimburse B.C. for the newly acquired submarines. The subs, designated CC1 and CC2, became the first submarines to enter service in the Canadian Royal Navy. The Navy was now faced with the task of recruiting and training submariners. Also, they had to find torpedoes for the boats since they sailed without any on board.

However, this was not the only Canadian submarine story during WW1. In early 1915, the Vickers shipyard in Montreal, Quebec built ten H-Class General Electric boats for the British Royal Navy. To build the subs the British Royal Navy cancelled a much needed icebreaker being built for the Canadian government. This was done without the knowledge or consent of Ottawa.

Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden was not very happy when he found out. What added salt to the wound was that the same subs were offered to the Canadian Navy several months earlier. When Borden and Admiral Kingsmill, the director of the Canadian Navy, consulted the Admiralty in London they were informed that the subs were outdated and would not of much use. 

Borden then learns that they were being built two hours away from Ottawa. When Canadian government requested that two boats be given to them to help protect the east coast, the British refused. The boats were needed in Europe. The Admiralty assured Ottawa that the Royal Navy would provide adequate protection for Canada’s east coast, and Halifax was in no danger. 

As the war progressed, the British Navy would be strained as ships were needed to protect Allied convoys from German submarines. The British then began making more and more demands on Canada, and it’s fledgeling navy to take up the slack.

Sources and further reading


HMCS CC-1 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

HMCS CC-2 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Submariners Association of Canada (Central)

Electric Boat Company Holland Patent Submarines

Richard McBride - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Julie H Ferguson, Through a Canadian periscope: The story of the Canadian Submarine Service, Dundurn, 1995