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"A Name if Necessary, But Not Necessarily a Name": Why There was No HMCS Edmonton

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Bruce Ibsen

Reprinted with permission of the author and publisher of For King and Country: Alberta in the Second World War

For King and CountryDuring the Second World War more than 7360 men and women from the land¨locked province of Alberta served in the Royal Canadian Navy. Along with this contribution of personnel, towns and cities throughout Alberta had various types of vessels named in their honour. Scanning a list of names for His Majesty's Canadian Navy vessels one finds ships named for Blairmore, Calgary, Camrose, Drumheller, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Stettler, Vegreville and Wetaskiwin.

Noticeably absent from this list is Edmonton. This absence was made more unusual considering that Edmonton had a naval presence since 1923, when the HMCS Nonsuch Naval Reserve was established. During the Second World War alone this vibrant and active reserve unit trained over 114 officers and 3,582 ratings.

On 10 September 1942 it appeared that this oversight would be remedied when R.A. Pennington, Secretary for the Naval Board, Department of National Defence, Naval Services, wrote to City Council explaining that "[in] view of the relative importance of your City, in the Dominion of Canada, it is considered that one of the vessels of the R.C.N. should be named after it."1 However, Pennington went on to describe a problem impeding the provision of this honour: "It is regretted, however that 'Edmundston,' one of the H.M.C. Ships already bears a name so similar to the name 'Edmonton' that it will be impossible to apply the name of your City to any of the ships of the Royal Canadian Navy."2 Pennington concluded by asking the Edmonton City Council to provide him with three alternative names of "local significance in order of preference."3

This letter was brought up on 14 September during a session of City Council. Following some discussion, Alderman Harry Ainlay moved a motion to "request citizens to submit names, and the Commissioners [to] select the three best." Council also decided that the Commissioners should "write to find out if it is possible to make the change suggested, namely, giving Edmonton preference over Edmundston.?"4 The following day a contest was announced in both the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Bulletin.

Meanwhile Mayor John Fry wrote to Pennington expressing some surprise and indignation over the fact that

the small City of Edmundston had been given precedence over a City such as Edmonton with a population of 100,000, the Capital of the Province of Alberta, and the 8th City in Canada. A year ago the smaller City of Calgary, Alberta was honored by having a Corvette named after it. 5

Mayor Fry then proposed a solution to this predicament, asking the Naval Board to name the new ship "The City of Edmonton."

The second salvo of this skirmish opened on 21 September 1942, when R.A. Pennington replied to Council's letter of IS September 1942 explaining that:

H.M.C.S. Edmundston was one of the first Canadian Corvettes and was so named at the request of the City of Edmundston. At the time the number of requests from Cities was small enough to allow most requests .... Unfortunately, the name "The City of Edmonton" is too long to be practical. Among other things it is too long to appear on cap ribbons .... 6

Pennington then asked Mayor Fry once again to provide him with three alternative names of local significance.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Pennington's reason for disqualifying the name, "The City of Edmonton," was his view that it was too long to be practical. Yet it was only one letter longer than that for the Navy Corvette HMCS Cap de la Madeleine, and if the definite article is dropped from the name it actually became shorter than Cap de la Madeleine and one letter longer than the HMCS Charlottetown. However it appeared to some that the wartime rationing taking place all over Canada included cap ribbon lettering as well.

Back in Edmonton, contest entries flooded into City Hall. The minutes from the Council meeting of 28 September noted that "[the] subject seemed to create considerable interest and we were pleased to receive numerous suggestions from our citizens." Like most contests of this kind a variety of suggestions were received, from the practical and meaningful to the bizarre and unusual.

Some thought the ship should honour a notable dignitary, so names like the Aberhart, Fighting Joe [after former mayor Joseph Clarke], Frank Oliver, Lord Strathcona, Riel and the Grads were suggested. Others wanted a descriptive name like Alberta Capital, Bloodhound, Conquest of Edmonton, Friendly City, Edmonton Belle, or the Unique, while others opted for amalgams like Capalta, Edmonscona, Edmonstrath, Edalta, Noralta, Sconaton, and Sol-Nav-Air.

After examining the entries Council found that "[the] suggestion which appeals to most of us is the name 'Fort Edmonton'." So it was moved by Alderman Guy Patterson that the first selection [Fort Edmonton] be approved. There was some discussion as to the possibility of making Strathcona the second alternative; however, when it was brought up as a motion in Council this suggestion was defeated. Therefore, the City decided that if it could not choose "Edmonton" or "The City of Edmonton" it would graciously accept "Fort Edmonton" as an appropriate name.

On 30 September 1942 Mayor Fry once again wrote to Pennington, suggesting that the ship be named the "Fort Edmonton." Fry explained that "[we] would have liked to have complied with your request for another two alternatives, but none of the names suggested appealed to members of City Council as they all lacked local significance."7


1. Edmonton City Archives [EA], Record Group {RG] 11 [ City Commissioners Department], Class 11, File 1.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. EA, City Council Minutes, 14 September 1942.

5. EA, RG 11/111/1.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

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