HMCS Rainbow had colourful past

On May 4, 1910, by virtue of the Naval Service Act, the Royal Canadian Navy came into being. But there was one important issue.

  • Feb. 22, 2017 2:00 p.m.
HMCS Rainbow first came to Esquimalt on Nov. 7

HMCS Rainbow first came to Esquimalt on Nov. 7

By Greg Evans

On May 4, 1910, by virtue of the Naval Service Act, the Royal Canadian Navy came into being. But there was one important issue — the navy had no ships.

Negotiations with the British government soon rectified the situation resulting in the purchase of two ships — the cruisers Niobe and Rainbow. Both were considered obsolete and were offered up for scrap or for sale. Niobe, built in 1897, was the larger of the two and was stationed on the Atlantic Coast. The smaller Rainbow arrived at Esquimalt on Nov. 7, 1910. Her crew was made of Royal Navy personnel and fleet reservists who had signed on for two years.

After her arrival, Rainbow was involved in “public relations” cruises and training, the latter important  if she was to make up for the crew members that would return to England. In 1913 she underwent refit and repairs and in May 1914 she was used to transport troops to Vancouver during the Komagata Maru incident. Three months later the world was at war and Rainbow was assigned the task of protecting British shipping stretching south to Panama.

It was known that two powerful German cruisers, SMS Leipzig and SMS Nurnberg, were operating off Mexico and California when Rainbow was put to sea to patrol our coast. Fortunately the Germans were not encountered as Rainbow with its light armament may not have fared well. But she did see some action. On Apr. 23, 1916, while on patrol, Rainbow seized the German-owned but American flagged schooner Oregon following up nine days later by seizing the Mexican flagged Leonor and returning to Esquimalt with the prizes in tow.

Rainbow’s most interesting assignment came early in 1917 when she was used to secretly transport $140,000,000 in Russian gold bullion between Esquimalt and Vancouver where the money was placed in trust by the Russian government worried about the impending Russian Revolution. The same year Rainbow was “paid off” and her crew sent to the Atlantic Coast where they were badly needed to fight the German U-boat menace. Rainbow was re-commissioned for a brief period as a depot ship but met her final fate when she was sold for scrap to the Seattle firm of Neider and Marcus in 1920.