HMCS Labrador: An Operational History

The HMCS Labrador was Canada’s first heavy icebreaker and the Royal Canadian Navy’s first vessel capable of reliably operating in the waters of the Arctic. For three seasons in the mid-1950s, the ship served as Canada’s workhorse in the Far North – charting sea lanes, conducting research, and aiding in the construction and supply of joint defence projects. As the Canadian Navy builds the capacity to sustain its modern Arctic presence, the early operations of HMCS Labrador offer an instructive history and a fascinating glimpse back into the RCN’s early forays into the frozen waters of the Canadian North.

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Compiled by the Naval Historical Section, Royal Canadian Naval Headquarters

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) began archiving its historical records during the Second World War. In February, 1940 a Controller of Naval Information was appointed with the responsibility of collecting these records. However, the officer was transferred a few months later and there was no replacement. The first official Naval Historian was Dr. Gilbert Norman Tucker, who had received his doctorate in history at Cambridge University. Unlike the other historical sections, Gilbert hired graduate students of history to write narratives. During the war, his staff grew to one researcher in Great Britain and two in Ottawa. Unfortunately, on March 31,  1948 the Naval Historical Section was shut down. It is uncertain who was responsible for the Navy’s archives after Tucker’s tenure, but it may have been continued by the Directorate of Naval Information within the Naval Staff. The Naval Historical Section was re-established in March 1952 with the appointment of E.C. Russell and the naval archives falling under the jurisdiction of the Naval Secretariat. Russell held this post until 1965 when the three separate historical sections (Army, Naval, and Air Force) were amalgamated into the Directorate of History.

The Naval Historical Section compiled reference files and retained documents during the 1950s and kept them up-to-date until 1965-1966. Documents added after 1966 were added by staff at the Directorate of History, or later by the Directorate of History and Heritage.

Lieutenant(N) Jason Delaney, MA is a staff historian with the Canadian Armed Forces. He is a reserve Maritime Surface and Sub-surface (MARS) officer on active duty with DHH and holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of Waterloo (1999). Delaney’s work covers various topics, including procurement projects, Canadian maritime forces involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis, early Cold War naval operations, and the history of Canadian Forces unification. He is on the naval history team writing volume III of the official history of the RCN and publishes regularly in the Canadian Naval Review.

P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Ph.D., is a professor in the department of history and co-director of the Centre on Foreign Policy and Federalism at St. Jerome’s University (University of Waterloo), Waterloo, Ontario. He is the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1CRPG) based in Yellowknife. His recent books include Two Years Below the Horn: A Canadian’s Experiences in Antarctica, 1944-46 (co-edited 2017); Canadian Armed Forces Arctic Operations, 1945-2015: Historical and Contemporary Lessons Learned (co-edited 2017); Vigilans: 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (2015); Le Canada et l’Arctique (co-authored 2015); and The Canadian Rangers: A Living History (2013). His forthcoming books include histories of the Joint Arctic Weather Stations and the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line.

Adam Lajeunesse, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at St. Francis Xavier University, where he holds the Irving Shipbuilding Chair in Canadian Arctic and Marine Security Policy. He is a fellow with the Centre on Foreign Policy and Federalism at the University of Waterloo as well as the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Dr. Lajeunesse is the author of the Dafoe Prize winning Lock, Stock and Icebergs: A History of Canada’s Arctic Maritime Sovereignty. He has co-authored books on China’s Arctic interests and the evolution of northern military operations, as well as numerous articles and publications on northern defence, development, shipping, governance, and maritime policy.