The latter half of the nineteenth century saw rapid expansion and development of the British Empire and, with it, the dependence on ocean shipping routes for its trade and defence. At the same time, the German Empire was becoming increasingly aggressive and competing step by step with Britain. Concern as to the adequacy of the Royal Navy of that day to defend the widely separated components of the Empire and their essential shipping gave rise to the formation in Britain in 1895 of a society with the primary aim of ensuring an adequate naval defence. This was the Navy League, organized with local branches in towns and cities and drawing its support from people of all walks of life, but interested in the problem of ocean trade and naval defence. The movement expanded rapidly and before the end of that year, branches had established themselves abroad, including one in Toronto whose warrant, dated 16 December 1895, now hangs in the National Office in Ottawa.
From its earliest days, the Navy League has been an active organization. In October 1895, the group in Toronto, in the course of forming the branch there, had already prepared a submission to the Canadian government on the subject of maritime defence and the need for a Naval Reserve training program. Continued efforts in support of improved naval defence, either as an imperial or national effort, helped the government when it was formulating Canada's naval policy and establishing the Canadian Naval Service, forerunner of the Canadian Navy, in 1910. In these early years, the branches in Canada supported informally a youth training programme aimed at encouraging young men towards a seafaring career, and providing basic training in citizenship and seamanship.
The First World War placed heavy commitments on the Navy League, with its activities expanding into recruiting of Naval and Merchant Navy personnel, operation of hostels for seafaring personnel, provision of welfare services to the dependents of seamen and, in the final stages, the rehabilitation of Naval Veterans.
In the years following World War I, the Navy League took particular interest in seeking continued support for a Canadian flag, the Merchant Marine and maintained shore hostel facilities for the benefit of seafaring personnel. The training of boys was formalized under the name of "Boys' Naval Brigades" across the country; this became the main raison d'être for many local branches during the Depression. The establishment of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1923 was much assisted by the enrolment of graduates of this scheme; a parallel apprenticeship programme was set up with Canadian shipping companies to enrol ex-cadets in the Merchant Marine. The Boys' Naval Brigade name was changed at about this time to the Navy League Sea Cadets to permit infusion of funds from the Department of the Militia.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Navy League was once more involved in War Services activities. This included the operation of 24 hostels in various port areas, such as the Sea Gull Cub in Halifax, the provision of amenities and special clothing supplies for visiting seamen, as well as those of the RCN and Canadian Merchant Navy. The Navy League came to consider itself "the nursery of seamen" for the RCN. The Navy League also assisted in the establishment in Ottawa of HMCS BYTOWN Wardroom.
With the end of the Second World War and the closing out of its War Services operations, the Navy League was again able to turn its attention to its primary objectives; continued support of youth training and promoting a knowledge of maritime affairs. The minimum age limit of the Sea Cadets having been set at 14 years, there was felt to be a need for an organization to cater to interested boys under that limit. Thus in 1948, the Navy League established The Navy League Cadet Corps for younger boys. This development was followed in 1950 by the establishment of the Navy League Wrenette Corps for girls. Wrenettes no longer exist as a program as girls are part of Navy League Cadet Corps and Royal Canadian Sea Cadets.
1895 - First Canadian Branch formed
1910 - Canadian Navy established
1914 - Recruiting and Welfare Services, World War I
1918 - First Canadian Boy's Naval Brigade formed
1918 - Federal Charter approved establishing the Navy League of Canada
1923 - Boy's Naval Brigade name changed to Sea Cadet Corps
1939 - Welfare Services, World War II
1941 - Canadian Navy became partner in the Sea Cadet movement
1942 - King George VI agreed to be Admiral, Royal Canadian Sea Cadets
1943 - Scholarship program introduced
1948 - Navy League Cadet program established
1950 - Navy League Wrenette program established
1995 - The 100th Anniversary of the Navy League of Canada
1997- Last Navy League Wrenette Corps closed (NLWC Centennial)