I grew up in Toronto, and when it came time to apply to university, I thought since I had never been west of Ontario, I would see what the rest of the country was like. I had an older brother who had been to Royal Roads as well as an uncle who attended Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, and they thought it would be a good idea.
Getting there was quite an ordeal. That fall, CPR was on strike so that meant I had to fly from Toronto – my first flight. No ferries were running since CPR operated them as well, so the navy sent a minesweeper to pick us up in Vancouver. In Esquimalt, we piled into flatbed trucks with bench seats. We were greeted by an army of senior cadets yelling at us while we got our bags. We were in shock for the first 20 minutes. We ended up doing a rudimentary parade. Most of us thought, "what are we doing here?". Being confronted with this completely new challenge, and living in a dorm together forced us to connect immediately with this bunch of strangers. I like to say we bonded against a common enemy – the senior cadets. Those are the friendships I maintain to this day.
In October 1951, we had a visit from Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. We had a big parade planned, and boy, we rehearsed and rehearsed. When the day came it was pouring rain so we all assembled in the old gym. She came around and inspected all the squadrons. She wasn’t much older than we were, but very dignified and comfortable in the royal role - a very impressive young woman.
In my time we didn’t get off campus very often and when we did we had to return by 11 p.m. Twice a year we had the so-called “stand down” weekends – two whole days off. Those of us who came from eastern Canada couldn’t go home so we would rent rooms at a motel and have a big party. The oldest guy was sent out to buy the beer and rent a car.
The work load was very heavy, a full slate of science and arts plus drill and athletics every day. The first year was probably the most life changing. I went from being a high school kid to wearing a uniform, learning how to be part of a team, and how to take orders. In second year we learned how to lead and command respect. In my final year in Kingston, I was a cadet squadron leader.
When Royal Roads Military College was closed, I was stationed in Germany, but I was able to come all the way to Victoria to attend the closing ceremonies. The closing of the military college was a great disappointment to us all. When it reopened as Royal Roads University, we were happy that it would continue to be an educational institution.
Our military heritage is commemorated with more than 900 personalized paver stones placed around the mast near the former vice-commandant’s house.