HMCS Cornwallis was established as a training centre for members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) during the Second World War. Although it closed in 1946, it resumed operations as a training centre in 1949. After unification of the Canadian armed forces in 1968, it was renamed CFB Cornwallis and became the English-language training centre for recruits from all elements (sea, land and air). The base was decommissioned in 1995. More than 500,000 members of the Canadian armed forces trained at HMCS/CFB Cornwallis.
Second World War Training Base
At the start of the Second World War, the RCN had six warships and 3,500 men. By war’s end, it was the fourth largest navy in the world with nearly 90,000 personnel and a women’s auxiliary of more than 6,000.
Basic training for (male) naval recruits took place in HMC Dockyard Halifax and its adjunct, HMCS Stadacona. However, as the number of recruits quickly grew, the navy created a new basic training establishment. On 1 May 1942, HMCS Cornwallis began operating in Halifax at HMC Dockyard while a new base was constructed on the southern shore of the protected Annapolis Basin. Cornwallis began operating at its new location in Deep Brook, Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, in 1943. (Naval officer training was established at HMCS Kings.)
Basic training naval courses usually ran from six to eight weeks and covered such topics as seamanship, ropework and weapons training. Several RCN vessels were also stationed at HMCS Cornwallis. However, due to the urgent demand for sailors, courses and programs were often shortened and actual sea training did not occur until active duty.
HMCS Cornwallis also provided specialist programs, including engine room training, accountancy, ASDIC (sonar) and antisubmarine training. It also had a chemical warfare centre and a gunnery school.
Wrens at HMCS Cornwallis
Members of the WRCNS, commonly known as Wrens, also trained at HMCS Cornwallis. The WRCNS was established in July 1942 following the creation of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division in 1941.Considered a “women’s auxiliary,” it was a separate service from the RCN.
Basic training for Wrens began in July 1942 at HMCS Conestoga in Galt, Ontario. After basic training, some Wrens proceeded to HMCS Cornwallis for specialist training. Wrens served in 39 trades during the Second World War, including clerical work, coding, signalling and wireless telegraphy. It was the first time women served in the Canadian navy in any capacity other than nursing.
By the end of the Second World War, Canada had the fourth largest navy in the world with 434 ships and 89,000 men and 6,000 women. Many received their basic or specialist training at HMCS Cornwallis. At its peak, there were over 11,000 personnel at Cornwallis, making it one of the largest naval training facilities in the British Commonwealth.
Postwar Training Centre
Following the Second World War, HMCS Cornwallis was closed on 28 February 1946. However, due to the emerging Cold War and the creation of NATO, the site was recommissioned in 1949 and tasked with basic training for new recruits. In 1951, Cornwallis also became the main training centre for female members of the naval reserve.
After the unification of the RCN, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force in February 1968, HMCS Cornwallis was renamed Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Cornwallis. It became the English-speaking division of the Canadian Forces Recruit School for the entire Canadian Forces on land, sea or air.
The base was decommissioned in May 1995 when basic training was moved to Saint-Jean, Quebec. By that time, HMCS/CFB Cornwallis had served for more than 50 years and had trained more than 500,000 personnel.