Military college photo albums now online

Susan Down

Shaggy-haired 1970s recruits getting their first military haircuts. Muddy runners completing the obstacle course. Uniformed cadets at the formal dance. These were some of the people photographed each year at the former Royal Roads Military College.  

Until now, most of these exceptional images were accessible only in photo albums, preserved in the Royal Roads University Archives.  This month the archives completed digitizing over 1200 pages from these albums covering 1963 to 1988. Now the photos are searchable by year and fully accessible online through the library webpage.

“Royal Roads University is proud of our military college heritage. These digitized photo albums offer us a chance to reflect on the discipline, teamwork and commitment of the Royal Roads cadets, leadership traits we encourage and admire today at RRU as part of a growing educational legacy,” said Paul Corns, associate vice president of Community Relations and Advancement at Royal Roads University.   

The majority of the photos in the digitization project were taken by RRMC staff photographer Len Watling, who first spent nine years with the Royal Canadian Navy at HMCS Naden as a darkroom technician before joining the staff of Royal Roads in 1964. Watling was an exacting artist who started his photographic business in 1941 while still a teenager. He routinely ran obstacle courses and hung out of helicopters to get the right shots of cadets.  

“These unique albums are the most requested items in the RRU Archives, often displayed during events such as Homecoming,” said RRU Archivist Caroline Posynick. “Now that they are digitized, the albums are much more accessible, and the public can flip through them at home on their computers. This will bring the experiences of cadet life into sharper focus for anyone interested in military heritage.”

The $16,000 project was partially financed by a BC History Digitization Program grant from the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. Matching funds came from the Friends of Hatley Park Society and RRU’s Military Heritage Fund, which are partner organizations in Royal Roads University’s heritage initiatives. Approval and support of the project was also provided by the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum as well as the Vancouver Island Ex-Cadet Club.

The photo album digitization is a companion project to the 2012 digitization of the military college yearbook, known as The Log, including editions from 1943 to 1995.

Military colleges at Royal Roads operated from 1940-1995 – from Royal Canadian Naval College (originally called HMCS Royal Roads)  to the Royal Roads Military College – on the present site of Royal Roads University. The college began as a naval training centre and later expanded to train cadets from all three parts of the military. The College delivered short-term training for naval cadets from 1940-42. After 1942, cadets studied at Royal Roads for two years. Beginning in 1977, RRMC offered a four-year degree program. The first women were admitted to the college in 1983.