My first memories are of Royal Roads.
With our father as Commandant of the military college, and our mother in charge of five children under the age of seven, we lived there from 1954 to 1957.
A functioning farm ran on the property at that time, and it was a great place to grow up. We had 600 acres to play on – we liked to tease the bull in the field and explore the Japanese gardens. The grounds were just fascinating for us as kids.
It was almost like Eden.
Both parents also loved Royal Roads, and those years were memorable for them. They were very much a team. Our father’s leadership abilities and mother’s business sense complimented each other, and they shared an active commitment to education. They were accomplished people, dedicated to service, and they were also fun-loving.
I remember my mother coming down the stairs of the Commandant’s House wearing an emerald green ball gown and long white gloves. In full military regalia, my father was waiting for her at the door to go to a grand dinner in honour of Princess Margaret on the opening of the Nixon block in 1956.
We returned to Colwood in 1960, when our father was the Commodore of HMCS Naden, and Royal Roads figured prominently in our lives then too. We lived at Journey’s End at Belmont Park (now the Administration Building for Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site of Canada). Our dad arranged for us to have access to the swimming pool at Royal Roads, and he was a good coach – my brother and I ended up being competitive swimmers.
For about 50 years, our parents were very much involved with Royal Roads – from 1945 to our father’s death in 2010. Even when he was in Ottawa as Deputy Chief of Defence Staff and after he retired, he was fighting for Royal Roads.
The legacy of the military college in saving Dunsmuir is important here too. The federal government bought the property in 1940. If they hadn’t turned Royal Roads into a military college, it would probably all be houses now – and a castle with condos in it.
Dad established the Friends of Hatley Park to ensure the legacy continued. The museum in the basement of the castle was named in his honour, because he drove it, he made it happen.
He was vociferous in protecting Royal Roads as an academic institution. I believe his greatest pride was in receiving an honorary doctorate from Royal Roads University in 2008. I keep in my possession a photograph of his beaming smile, wearing the doctor’s cap and gown of the university. The gown only partially covered his chest of campaign medals. For me, it is an apt image of his life and its connection to the university.
After our parents’ deaths, my siblings and I were looking for a tangible legacy for them. We wanted to create something that everybody could support and contribute to and most importantly, something that would last. We established the Admiral John Charles and Mary Charles Scholarship for students in the School of Humanitarian Studies in 2012 as a long term symbol of their commitment to the institution.
This commitment to international education and to seeing the world from the broadest perspective was embedded in both parents.
I think they would be very proud of it.