The Maritime Defence of Canada


223 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-919769-63-2
DDC 355.4'5'0971





Reviewed by Dean F. Oliver

Dean F. Oliver is postdoctoral fellow at the Norman Paterson School of
International Affairs, Carleton University.


The Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies has done Canadian military
history a great service in publishing this collection of superb essays
by Roger Sarty, one of the country’s foremost naval historians. From
the opening piece, surveying Canadian maritime defence in the years
before 1914, to the concluding chapter on submarine warfare through two
world wars, Sarty’s writing is crisp, clear, and challenging. His
central argument—that Canadians have been far more concerned with
maritime defence than most previous historians have allowed—is backed
by meticulous research and balanced argumentation.

Regular riders on the military history conference circuit will have
heard many of these papers before, and most have been published in
revised form elsewhere. Nevertheless, as Desmond Morton notes in the
foreword, the collection fills several important gaps. The chapter on
Mackenzie King and rearmament, 1937–1939, for example, provides a
subtle but convincing reinterpretation of Canadian defence policy in the
years before World War II. Far more than we have realized, Sarty argues,
King was extremely cognizant of the country’s coastal and maritime
defence needs and thus made the navy the centrepiece of Canadian
rearmament. Moving with his service chiefs in this direction, moreover,
was an act of some courage that entailed no small risks to King’s
political future and to that of his party.

This revisionist chapter exemplifies the greatest strength in Sarty’s
writing: a subtle depiction of the evolution of maritime policy in the
context of Canada’s convoluted political, economic, and social mosaic.
This is not “guns and trumpets” history. Whether dealing with “The
Naval Side of Canadian Sovereignty, 1909–1923” or anti-submarine
warfare, Sarty never loses sight of the complex interactions among
various actors and institutions and the myriad ways in which defence
policy affected—and was affected by—for instance, French-English
relations or national economic policy. The potential threat to Canadian
interests posed by the immense maritime power of the United States is
handled with similar tact, though Sarty’s message is clear: lack of
national capacity invites trouble, not only by relegating defence
responsibilities to an interested foreign power, but also by requiring
rapid and reckless decision-making with inadequate resources in times of

Informed by brilliant scholarship, The Maritime Defence of Canada is a
book no military historian should do without.


Sarty, Roger., “The Maritime Defence of Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,