Canada's War at Sea; In Two Volumes
by Stephen Leacock and Leslie Roberts
Published in 1944 by Alvah M. Beatty Publications, Ltd.
The author chosen for the first section of the book, Canada And The Sea, a maritime history of Canada, was the renowned Stephen Leacock. He was Canada's most popular writer and humorist, now a retired professor of economics at McGill University in Montreal. It is surely no coincidence in the awarding of the commission to Eric that his father Carl and Leacock were long-time members and cronies at the McGill University Club.
Eric Riordon provided twelve paintings of ships that had played an important part in the Maritime development of Canada, each preceding a chapter written by Leacock. The publication plans soon added a second section, Canada And The War At Sea, by Leslie Roberts, a fine writer and well known broadcaster. He recounted the story of Canada's massive nationwide WW II effort in building, deploying and manning hundreds of new warships, mostly convoy escorts. Roberts, who had spent three months aboard convoy escorts to gain first-hand knowledge of his subject, told many gripping tales of recent RCN battles against submarines and weather in the North Atlantic. For this section of the book Riordon contributed ten additional works depicting convoys and convoy escorts in their various roles. They were painted in the same 6" x 8" format of the subsequent North Atlantic Convoy series and several depicted the same subjects and events. There is little doubt that these paintings were an inspiration and model for the subsequent convoy series. Six of these, #s 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are original versions, precursors of subjects that appeared in the convoy series. These are indicated in the descriptions.
An advertisement appeared in the Montreal Gazette of May 30, 1944 requesting the public view Riordon's paintings for the upcoming publication of Canada's War At Sea in the windows of Eaton's department store. The book was eventually released for sale in October of 1944.
The location of only one of the ten convoy themed paintings is known, #3, Depth Charge Attack. This painting is also unique in that we have the photograph from which it was painted. The painting is held at the War Museum and the photo at Library and Archives Canada.
The twelve paintings for the Stephen Leacock section, Canada And The Sea, are also shown here along with contemporary advertisements and newspaper reviews of the book. The original Riordon paintings for the Leacock section were donated to McGill University by the book publisher Alvah Beatty in 1945 and remain in the collection.
The reproductions here are courtesy of the McGill University Visual Art Collection.
"The painting caught the destroyers at their jetty on the point of departing on the first sea patrol"
River Class destroyers moored together, likely at Halifax. They were built between 1929 and 1934 and were the main elements of Canada's navy in 1939. Their names were Saguenay, Skeena, St. Laurent, Fraser, Ottawa and Restigouche. Only Restigouche and St. Laurent survived the war in service.
This painting of a ship (a corvette shown here) dropping depth charges was a favorite subject of Riordon's. He painted several versions including a similar one with the same title in the North Atlantic Convoy series, #25, "Depth Charge Attack".
HMCS Pictou in action.
The carrier is still attached to the depth charge in this early model thrower. It was later redesigned to throw only the barrel of the depth charge in order not to waste valuable metals.
Titled "Action Stations" on verso in Riordon's hand. "Canada's War At Sea" is also written in the same hand.
This is the only one of the ten convoy paintings used in the book whose location is known. The provenance is unknown. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art Canadian War Museum, Accession# 79067
This photo shows the corvette, HMCS Pictou, in action in 1941.
Riordon clearly used the photo, which had been published in contemporary newspapers, to paint #3, Depth Charge Attack.
Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN No. 3393539
"The painting shows RCN corvettes and destroyers steaming in line ahead as they shepherd another convoy to Britain"
"A veteran corvette shepherding a precious convoy across the North Atlantic has just flushed a U-boat lurking in the depths of the ocean with a well-laid pattern of depth charges. The skipper of the corvette has decided to ram the U-baot and send it to the bottom for all time."
A similar version was painted for the North Atlantic Convoy exhibition, #27, "Coming In For The Kill"
"The painting shows the sleek, rakish lines of this deadly greyhound of the seas. The Tribal is slim-waisted for speed and poses a deadly punch, for the armament in those forbidding grey turrets is almost as lethal as that of a light cruiser."
A similar version was painted for the North Atlantic Convoy series, #7, Tribal
Mare Nostrum means "Our Sea" in Italian. By May of 1943 the battle against the U-boats had begun to turn in favour of the Allies and by the end of the year the North Atlantic had become "Our Sea".
A similar picture, "Ahead to Eastward Lies The Dangerous Night" was shown at the 1943 RCA exhibition and purchased by the Fine Arts Museum of Quebec.
This painting also resembles #16, Sunset, painted for the convoy series.
A similar version was painted for the North Atlantic Convoy series, #12 Convoy Forms Up Under Air Cover
"The vivid hues of flaming gasoline from the vitals of a torpedoed tanker recall the grim days when gasoline was the lifeblood of the defence of Britain and the U-boats strained every effort to make the precious tankers priority targets."
A similar version was painted for the North Atlantic Convoy series, #19, "Inferno".
Always referred to in newspaper stories as "An East Coast port", Halifax was the main RCN training base, RCN East Coast headquarters and a major point of departure and arrival for the convoys throughout the war. New York City took over as the primary North American initial departure port in late 1941. This view of a convoy passing The Narrows was a familiar one for Riordon.