Trail Blazers: The Trail Boys’ Naval Brigade, 1920-1926

Trail Blazers is a weekly historical feature in partnership with the Trail archives and others

The Trail corps taking part in a “Colour Party.” Photo: Trail Museum and Archives

The Trail corps taking part in a “Colour Party.” Photo: Trail Museum and Archives

When the Trail Times first ran photos of the Trail Naval Cadets, circa the 1920’s, in two previous Trail Blazers features, there was little known about this piece of city history, Canadian history really, in the archives.

The Times then contacted the Navy League of Canada in Ottawa to ask the non-profit if anyone there could assist with tracking down some history on the Trail navy cadets of yore.

After a few emails with the Navy League, the newspaper was then contacted by Denise Robson, president of the BC Mainland Division of the Navy League of Canada. She included our inquiry in correspondence with Robert Park, a retired Commander (NL), who for the past seven years has been compiling a history of the cadet program in British Columbia.

Mr Park then scoured through his archives to distill information he was able to find on the Trail division of cadets.

“Finding information on Boys’ Naval Brigades … in B.C., and to a lesser extent in Canada, has proven to be a ‘difficult’ task and is still ongoing,” Park told the Trail Times.

The following is an excerpt from “The History of Naval Cadets in B.C.” that Park has been researching and writing about for several years. The story begins with the Kaslo Boys’ Naval Brigade on the beach at Kootenay Lake, and leads into a brief about the 1920 formation of the Boys’ Naval Brigade in Trail.

The Kaslo Boys’ Brigade was started by Rev. James Calvert, a Methodist Minister in Kaslo from 1911 to 1916. Prior to coming to Kaslo, Calvert had been a captain of the mission boat that visited native villages on the west coast.

The Kaslo Boys Naval Brigade on the beach of Kootenay Lake, 1923. Photo: Courtesy Kootenay Lake Archives, Kaslo.

The Kaslo Boys Naval Brigade on the beach of Kootenay Lake, 1923. Photo: Courtesy Kootenay Lake Archives, Kaslo.

The fifth cadet from the left is John Hamilton Stubbs who became Lieutenant-Commander Stubbs, DSC, DSO, MID, Commanding Officer of both HMCS Assiniboine and HMCS Athabaskan during the Second World War.

A DSO (Distinguished Service Order) was awarded to him for his actions during a running gun battle between a German U-Boat and HMCS Assiniboine on 12 December 1942, and a DSO was awarded posthumously to him for his actions after the sinking of his second command, HMCS Athabaskan.

Park notes that Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Max Bernays, of Vancouver, served as the coxswain on HMCS Assiniboine with Stubbs during the above noted battle. Bernays was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for his heroic actions during this action.

This medal was only one of two awarded to members of the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War.

The Trail Boys Naval Brigade awaiting the inspection party, 1924. Photo: Trail Museum and Archives

The Trail Boys Naval Brigade awaiting the inspection party, 1924. Photo: Trail Museum and Archives

Four years after the Kaslo Boys Naval Brigade was established, in 1920, a Boys’ Naval Brigade was formed in Trail. Park notes that two, or possibly four members of this “new” brigade unit, were selected to attend the First Naval League Camp held at the Rockside Farm on the Gorge in Victoria during August that year.

On 01 August 1924 the Trail Boys’ Naval Brigade was inspected by His Excellency General the Right Honourable the Lord Byng of Vimy, Governor General of Canada (1921 – 1926) and Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Naval and Air Forces of Canada. This was quite an honour for this “new” Trail corps.

Governor General of Canada, Lord Byng of Vimy, was the 1924 inspecting officer for the Trail boys brigade. Photo: Trail Museum and Archives.

“The Trail Brigade was disbanded on 20 June 1926,” Park said. “After a short but active life!”

City of TrailLocal HistoryRoyal Canadian Navy