From the Archives: Military College Memorials

Jenny Seeman

The annual Homecoming weekend at Royal Roads is usually such an exciting time for the archives. With so many ex-cadets on the grounds, the echoes of boots marching along the roads and the whistles of referees on the sports fields can almost be heard in the September air. Moving online, Homecoming will be a bit different this year, but there are still many features on the campus at Royal Roads University that remind us of the Military College that was here from 1940 to 1995. Most obviously, several of the buildings still in use today were originally constructed to accommodate cadets, staff, and the teaching or recreational spaces needed. There are also more decorative objects that point to our military heritage. The ship’s mast within the walled garden is the centrepiece of the Memorial Plaza, where ex-cadets and former military college staff can install personalised paving stones. Additionally, the cenotaph in the centre of the Italian garden was installed in 1972 by the class of 1946 to remember former cadets lost at war.

The museum and archives collections abound with military college memorabilia, collected over the 55 years of military education and retained onsite to help share the college’s history, but there were also some larger scale objects around the site that were removed when the college closed. At the entrance to the old parade square (now parking lot 3), there is a hexagonal concrete plinth which once supported a naval gun turret that pointed out to the lagoon and the ocean beyond.

 The gun turret forms a fitting backdrop during the sunset ceremony, 1995

Nearby, a Sherman tank was also displayed. To complete the representation of all three branches of the military, a CF-101 Voodoo fighter jet was displayed at the top of the hill near the upper playing field. You can still see a triangle of concrete behind the bus shelter which formed the supporting base.

The CF-101 Voodoo fighter jet on the day it arrived at Royal Roads

Getting the Voodoo jet to Royal Roads was not an easy task. The jet itself was very heavy (around 21,000lb) and had just been retired at its base in Comox. It was to be airlifted to Royal Roads slung under a Chinook helicopter which required careful planning to manage safely. As described by the helicopter pilot, Ross Wuerth, himself a graduate from Royal Roads Military College: “Any load that has aerodynamic properties poses significant danger because it can “fly” and twist and spin, and potentially strike the helicopter, which would be catastrophic. We spent a full day in Comox test-flying the load, varying the fuel load, configurations, speeds, bank angles, and rates of turn until we were satisfied this could be accomplished. We even tried strapping mattresses and 2 x 4-inch boards onto the wings to spoil the jet’s aerodynamic lift.” The journey was accomplished successfully with two refueling stops along the way and using a shoreline route that purposely avoided any built-up areas. It must have been spectacular for onlookers to see the helicopter and fighter jet en route, and the arrival at Royal Roads a major event for the cadets at the time.


Scenes from the journey from Comox to Colwood, 1990

The Voodoo was not the only jet to be displayed on site. As if the castle wasn’t enough, from 1967 to 1972, a 1950s Mark V Sabre aircraft was displayed on a 15ft concrete pedestal on the lawns above the parade square, creating an even more dramatic backdrop for parades. Although it was removed from Royal Roads due to safety concerns, it can still be seen today at the Army, Navy and Airforce Veterans’ museum in Sidney, BC. 

Cadets on parade in 1969

The three branches of the military are still represented on campus in a smaller, but still striking art installation in front of the security offices at Millward Building. Sculptor Jay Unwin was commissioned by the ex-cadet club in 1990 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the military college. According to the artist, the silhouettes of three figures standing shoulder to shoulder represent “the trimorphic concept of Truth, Duty, and Valour, as well as the three branches of military service in this country. The three figures, in turn, support a stone, which symbolically represents the serious nature and weight of the pledge which every cadet chooses to accept with enlistment.” Although the piece was commissioned in 1990, it did not arrive on campus until 1993 when the Millward Wing was completed. Tragically, Jay Unwin was killed in a car accident in 1996 and his family later donated another of his sculptures to Royal Roads University. The sculpture, ‘Prometheus and the Vulture,’ depicts the story of Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. In punishment, he was bound to a rock where a vulture ate his liver every day, only for it to regrow and be eaten again. Although a gruesome story, Prometheus is said to be a symbol of hope and inspiration. 

Detail of Prometheus and the Vulture

From cenotaphs to statues, and a superb collection of photographs in the archives, there are many inspiring ways to remember the military college here at Royal Roads. Best wishes to the ex-cadet community this Homecoming weekend!

If you have any Royal Roads Military College stories or memories to share, or archival material to donate, contact Jenny Seeman in the archives.