Number X in our series on former Military Colleges Commandants
XVI Comdt @ CMR – XXXIV Comdt @ RMC…
By: E3161 Victoria Edwards (RMC ‘03)
6496 BGen (Ret’d) Charles JCA Émond CD (CMR RMC ’65) is an Ottawa-based consultant and a member of the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) Board of Governors, which provides advice and recommendations on matters relating to RMC and reviews the strategic direction of the College. Rather uniquely, he served as commandant le Collège militaire royal (CMR) de Saint-Jean (1991-1994) and, with the amalgamation of the military colleges, the Royal Military College (RMC) of Canada (1994-1997). He holds a Bachelor of Science from RMC and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Ottawa. As a CF pilot, he taught flying on Tutor jets and then flew tactical helicopters commanding 403 Training Squadron in Gagetown, NB and 430e Escadron in Valcartier, QC. As Base Commander CFB Lahr in Germany, he commanded 3 Wing, a combined CF-18 and USAF F-15 fly-in wing assigned to NATO operations.
Flashback: The closing of the Collège militaire in St. Jean, Quebec and bilingual nature of the military college system once there is consolidation at Kingston.
Hon. David Michael Collenette (Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs): Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House today to provide information to my hon. Colleagues on a subject we all care about, and that is the opportunities the Department of National Defence will provide young Canadians to receive officer training in the Canadian forces, in a fully bilingual Canadian military college… The amalgamation of our three military colleges into a single institution has been dictated by both budgetary constraints and the operational requirements of the Canadian Forces. Since 1989, many years, both French and English have also been used for a long time in daily activities, alternating from week to week.
The plan national defence officials are presently working on is geared toward making the Royal Military College fully bilingual and creating an environment where young Francophones and Anglophones will be motivated to study to become bilingual officers of the Canadian Armed Forces. This plan will have an impact on the four pillars of the Canadian military college system, namely academic training, the military training plan, sports and physical fitness, as well as second language skills. It will apply to the directing staff and the officer cadets and affect administrative support and all aspects of the daily operations of the college.
As part of the rationalization of our military college system all academic programs that are retained will be offered to new entrants in both official languages. To meet this objective college commandants and principals are currently assessing Francophone and Anglophone staffing requirements, both military and civilian. Because the level of bilingualism demanded of the Royal Military College graduates has been raised, increased emphasis will be placed on the day to day use of both French and English at the college. Cadets who need to upgrade their second language skills will take summer language training in an appropriate linguistic setting.
The bilingual nature of the college will be enhanced by the simple fact that the cadet population at RMC will soon be 30 per cent Francophone and 70 per cent Anglophone, as compared to the current breakdown of 17 per cent and 83 per cent respectively.
As for the military staff, the commandant is already working with personnel staff in Ottawa to ensure that the staff composition of the college reflects its requirements. It must be pointed out that in July Brigadier General Charles Émond, who is the current Commanding officer of the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, will be taking on his new duties as commanding officer of our new centralized military college. In other words the commandant at the Collège militaire de Saint-Jean, Québec, Brigadier General Charles Émond, will move to the Royal Military College in Kingston to ensure the smooth transition to one college system and that the bilingual presence will be maintained. I draw this to the attention of members on the other side of the House, especially my friends in the Bloc Quebecois because they were most concerned about the consolidation into one college at Kingston. I have great confidence that General Émond, the commandant now at CMR, will be able to realize our goals in making the Royal Military College in Kingston a truly proud bilingual institution all of us will admire. Brigadier General Émond graduated from the Collège militaire royal and received a diploma from the RMC. We are counting on him to make our new college continue to reflect the National Defence vision of bilingualism among Canadian Forces officers.
E-Veritas: Please comment on the amalgamation of the three military colleges into a single institution.
BGen Émond: It may come as a surprise to some that the severe budgetary constraints that were negatively impacting CF operational requirements and that provoked the decision to amalgamate the three military colleges also led to the consideration of closing all three military colleges. Some key decision makers of the day had difficulty rationalizing the additional cost of providing the military college experience over the cost of sending officer cadets to various traditional universities across Canada.
As a result, in addition to dealing with the principal challenges of amalgamation, namely accommodating the larger student body from the closing institutions, integrating the array of academic programs, meeting the needs of the significant increased francophone population in Kingston and standardizing the military training, it was necessary to ensure that all of RMC’s deliverables were seen to be significant and cost-effective contributors to achieving the CF’s ab initio education objectives, as well their professional education and research objectives.
The amalgamation of the three military colleges occurred over a two year period, as both Royal Roads (RR) and CMR de Saint-Jean continued operations with about half of their student body for a final year. This allowed those who were in their final year of unique academic programs to complete them and by keeping second year cadets in place, to reduce the initial load on the Kingston facilities.
Amalgamation led to an immediate overpopulation at RMC. Rather than implementing a ‘living out program’, which in my view is counter-productive to achieving some of the goals of a military college, we used CFB Kingston as temporary accommodation and shuttled the cadets back and forth. While this arrangement was not without its challenges for both the cadets and the staff, it also created a certain special spirit, not unlike what the Stone Frigate has inspired over the years. It would be two years before the first new dormitory would be ready for occupancy, and even this did not address the whole of the accommodation problems.
RMC’s principal, H3948 Doctor John BJ Plant (RMC 1957) led the effort to rationalize the academic programs. While the two closed colleges had delivered a number of programs similar to RMC’s, each college had been given the mandate to deliver some unique academic offerings, such as Earth Observation Sciences, Space Sciences, Software Engineering and Business Administration. Most of these programs were retained in whole or in part. In some cases, the larger class sizes or extra classes required were absorbed by existing faculty. Other programs needed new facilities and staff, especially with the new programs at RMC and with the arrival of the large cohort of francophone officer cadets. Several members of the teaching staff from the closed institutions took up positions at RMC.
With amalgamation, the francophone population at RMC essentially doubled, going from approximately 17%, predominantly in 3rd and 4th year officer cadets, most being fully bilingual by then, to almost 30% spread across all four years, with many first year officer cadets having only limited English language skills.
There was a lot of overt skepticism in the Quebec media about the capacity of RMC and the City of Kingston to meet the linguistic and social needs of this larger francophone community. This led to intense media interest.
In the day-to-day life of officer cadets prior to the amalgamation, RMC was not without a bilingual tradition. RMC had been delivering a number of academic programs in French for many years and had a reasonable capacity to deliver military and support services to Francophones. All officer cadets undertook second language training and since 1989, it had been the practice to have officer cadets alternate the use of French and English weekly when carrying out their official daily duties. RMC, however, still projected a dominantly English persona, in the same way that CMR de Saint Jean projected a Francophone persona, reflecting the linguistic makeup of the majority of their respective staff and student bodies and their host environment. This linguistic persona was also reflected in each institution’s name, RMC’s (and Royal Roads) being in English, and CMR de Saint-Jean in French, regardless of the fact that all three were federal institutions, each with a bilingual vocation.
However, with amalgamation, it was clear that RMC had to take bilingualism to a much higher level and project it in every aspects of its image. Such a transformation is never easy, nor quick. Giving the front gates of the now RMC / CMR a bilingual name was easy, though surprisingly not without controversy. Skill sets, however, do not change overnight, nor do attitudes. One can more quickly adjust to new staffing requirements with new hires in growth areas or by replacing key leadership persons. Having existing staff acquire new language skills, however, takes more time. It was neither realistic, nor needed that every member of the service team, be they a waitress, a supply clerk or a lab technician, be bilingual. It was critically important, however, that everyone understand the importance of making every reasonable effort to accommodate the needs of both linguistic communities equally. 4058 LCol Gilles Langlois (CMR 1958) showed great leadership in encouraging his personnel to do so within the Administration Wing.
If RMC was to have any chance at increasing its capacity to deliver services in French in both the near and long term, then those Anglophones who were in positions of leadership or directly involved in providing services had to be encouraged to use and improve whatever French language skills they already had or to begin to acquire this skill. For many people, this meant having to step outside of their comfort zone. As a service provider, RMC’s client base had changed and the onus to adapt was clearly on the staff, not on the student body to adapt.
Language skills must not only be acquired, they must be maintained. Language skills decay as quickly as physical fitness when you do not exercise regularly. The language of the day policy that the officer cadets were expected to follow was one of several tools to promote the use of both official languages. Ideally, officer cadets and staff in leadership roles would take the initiative on their own to deal one on one with their personnel in the most appropriate language or, on more formal occasions, to use both languages. The perennial challenge has been to get Anglophones to exercise their French; Francophones have more than enough incentives to use English.
Just as I had done while Commandant at CMR de Saint-Jean, my office meetings followed the same language of the week policy we asked the officer cadets to follow. My purpose was both to reinforce the image to everyone that we were a functionally bilingual institution and to give those in leadership positions at the College who met with me, the opportunity to make use of the investment that had already gone into their second language training. It was immediately obvious that my meetings at RMC would have been very short and unproductive if everyone around the table had been required to speak French during French week. I made an adjustment and only insisted that those who could speak French do so. This allowed the Anglophones to be exposed to a passive language learning experience, speaking English whenever they wished, which initially was most of the time, until they felt confident enough to use their second language. While I am sure that this practice helped most to reactivate their French language skills, it was understandably resented by the few it excluded because they did not yet have enough language skills to even cope in a passive French environment. Interestingly, this practice was also a bit of burden for the Francophones. I had to frequently remind them to speak more slowly and to choose their words more carefully in order to facilitate communications. Combining business with promoting a second language learning experience has its challenges! However it was certainly my impression that the required business of the day got done and that this regular exposure to French did indeed help people, such as Dr. Plant, to grow more confident of their second language skills and to more readily use French in private exchanges and more comfortably in public activities.
Not surprisingly, the amalgamation of the three military colleges generated some negative feelings among the officer cadets. Many officer cadets from the closed institutions seemed to harbour a sense of betrayal. Their College had been closed. Half of their friends were left behind. Their sports teams and social groups were broken up. A number of their traditions had been discontinued.
Surprisingly, even officer cadets from RMC seemed put off. Their facilities were now overcrowded, as were some of their classes. They also had to carry the added burden of the increased emphasis on bilingualism and the challenge to some of their traditions. When it came to change, officer cadets, to my surprise, seemed more conservative than the staff. The cadets had had a positive experience and, not surprisingly, they wanted to retain it exactly as it was. They may have also felt that they owed it to the alumni to resist any change. Obviously with amalgamation, that was not possible, nor was it necessarily desirable. Each college had elements that seemed worthy of being kept.
The Military staff, under the leadership of LCol Marquis Haines and CWO Len Beaune, along with the capable involvement of the officer cadets appointed to leadership positions, engaged the cadet wing in discussions to choose the best of these aspects of college life (dress, deportment, social activities, etc) to be retained. The worst was over very quickly, allowing everyone to focus on the more important objectives of making their time at the college a productive and enjoyable building block towards their future as officers in the CF.
I am sure that many of the officer cadets of the day will remember the new theme parties, featuring Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the West, or the well received French play put on by the officer cadets, ‘Les Belles Soeurs’ by Michelle Tremblay, which included both Anglophones and Francophones in the cast and on the production side, or the much enlarged choir and band that amalgamation made possible.
Amalgamation also was a big boost to RMC’s varsity teams. Many football players from CMR de Saint-Jean quickly adapted to rugby reinforcing the skilled arrivals from Royal Roads. There was even enough interest to get a women’s rugby team going. The hockey team lost a rival but gained more than a few extra lines.
Trying to standardize the different dress and deportment issues that each College held as sacred probably involved the least enjoyable effort to find a comfortable common solution.
As regards RMC meeting the return-on-investment expectations of some DND/CF leaders, I do not think that there was ever any question about the quality of the RMC education, only its cost. Nor do I think that there were concerns about the effectiveness of the second language training program. While CMR de Saint-Jean had unquestionably produced some of the more bilingual Anglophones because they were in a virtual immersion situation, the cadets from the other colleges clearly entered the CF with a solid grounding in their second language.
Surprisingly, during my time as Commandant, some concerns arose regarding the conditioning of officer cadets for summer army training. The focus at each military college had been on passing a physical fitness test that was more demanding than in the CF and on high-performance varsity sports. I guess it was thought that this was enough. However, little attention had been paid to the specific training needs for each classification, such as preparing army cadets for carrying a rucksack for 15 kilometres within weeks of the end of classes. Solving this one was easy, but dissipating the impression that army reservists (many of whom trained specifically to meet this challenge) were fitter than RMC cadets took much longer.
Other than the cost of running the military colleges, the biggest complaint from the environments was the perception some had that four or five years in a military college was not necessarily improving retention rates or general military performance levels above those entering the CF through other plans.
The RMC experience has four objectives, or pillars as they are sometimes referred to. Approximately two-third of the time at RMC is devoted to academics and formal language training, leaving only one-third of the time for physical fitness and the military pillar. The military pillar at RMC accounts for only half of the time devoted to military training while at university, the other half being the responsibility of each environment and done during the summer months.
What was unclear was how what we tried to do well at RMC in terms of common military training tied into what each environment wanted to achieve. During my time as Commandant, we began to engage the environments in defining how RMC’s military training objectives could be harmonized to their objectives. One initiative that officer cadets might recall was the “Base Defence” exercises that were introduced as a general military training vehicle. I still remember having to explain the importance of this exercise to my frustrated wife who in the course of one exercise when returning from groceries shopping was politely but firmly kept from entering a security zone that had been established around the Command’s residence for some 30 minutes.
Like some other Commandants and Director of Cadets before me and with the benefit of having already had three years of exposure to the military colleges, I felt that the military pillar was ill-defined in terms of meeting CF needs. Part of the problem seemed to stem from the fact that we were a tri-service institution. Part of the problem was that RMC’s military training objectives were not as defined as our academic learning objectives. Much of what was done at RMC was traditional, passed on from year to year with minor variations. RMC was able to leverage the fact that cadets were in residence by weaving many military training objectives throughout all aspects of officer cadet life from the moment the cadet experienced recruit training to experiencing leadership responsibilities through bar appointments that further developed their management and leadership skills. However, little of the military training being received at RMC was actually defined in terms of learning building block that could actually replaced training that cadets were scheduled to receive in their classifications or environments. Moreover, despite this investment in time, cadets from the military colleges were not consistently as a group outshining candidates from other entry routes in either attitudes or acquired skills when they undertook summer training. Part of the problem may have been that cadets were going from one “pressure cooker” to another without enough decompression time to freshen them up to face this new challenge. Another part of the problem seemed to be the persistent expectation that given the investment in time and money being made by the CF in the military college system, that RMC cadets should all be that much better. Clearly, more effort had to be made to deliver what each environment needed and for each environment to understand RMC’s limitations. An effort to establish the best forum for such a dialogue was begun.
Doctor Plant and I also remade the argument that the worth of RMC should not only be judged on the basis how well RMC served the interests of the Canadian Forces, though this must remain RMC’s primary focus. This calculus must also consider how RMC’s alumni have contributed disproportionately to Canada when they leave the CF, regardless of how many years they served the CF. A number of military college graduates have and continue to contribute to Canadian society as “Captains of Industry” and as highly capable public servants across many ministries.
We also tried to demonstrate that RMC was cost effective and could be even more so in meeting the learning needs of the CF. We sought to add value and maximize benefits for the Canadian Forces of RMC’s in-house undergraduate and post graduate training by expanding the learning extension programs. 5992 Doctor James (Jim) Barrett (CMR RMC 1964) fought tirelessly for the necessary funding to expand these programs to other bases across Canada and abroad (at the time, CFB Halifax or CFB Valcartier).
RMC also made headway in offering academic credits for professional learning. RMC had just repatriated the Army’s technical staff course, and the concept of receiving some academic credits from this professional learning was integrated into the initial planning. Since Canadian Forces personnel spent a quarter of their time studying, the primary goal I put forward was for RMC to assist in recognizing the legitimate post secondary academic work that military and selected civilian personnel were doing in professional and military courses and at staff colleges, understanding that in some cases, RMC would have to promote more intellectual rigor into these programs and the efforts of the students to ensure that the appropriate standards were achieved. The second objective was to improve the interface between RMC and all other CF learning institutions so that RMC was seen as a more valued member of the professional development team. RMC had a lot of intellectual resources that could be leveraged to help CF learning. We also began to think about ways of assessing and validating the academic programs at RMC to ensure they were the most appropriate ones to ensure a successful career in the military.
e-Veritas: Comment on the change of the name for RMC’s sports teams and the selection of a mascot.
BGen Émond: When the name RMC Redmen” was first adopted, English was Canada’s only official language and officer cadets were all male. It struck me as inappropriate for a bilingual, co-ed institution, which RMC had become over time. I can only surmise that no one had considered these linguistic and gender issues as important enough to challenge the well established and understandable support for the existing name among the majority of cadets and alumni. As we considered making changes to the name, I also found it interesting that the name “Redmen” was not even unique to RMC, as McGill University also uses the name for its male sports teams.
The process of finding an alternate name which would better reflect today’s RMC/CMR was undertaken by the officer cadets together with the Physical Education and Recreation Instructor (PERI) staff. They were given the following guidelines: the name should be gender-free (or incorporate both gender names), usable in both language with as little alteration as possible and evoke RMC’s military mission.
It quickly became apparent that some obviously attractive names, like RMC “Sabres” were already taken. In due course, the name The RMC “Paladins” was proposed. The name was original but not exactly mainstream. Some cadets were familiar with the name Paladins through the game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ or as the hero with a chess piece knight on his business card in a 60s TV western. The name Paladins was unisex and representative of the profession of arms, evoking as readily a King Arthur or a Joan of Arc. Paladin was also invariable linguistically. The image associated with the name, a knight, was simple and easily identifiable with the military. The new name could also easily be incorporated into college chants and songs.
Still being a bit sceptical about whether the name Paladin would be accepted, we decided, as I recall, giving the new name a one-year probation to test its degree of acceptance. RMC initially used a knight on a horse as a logo figure but this has since given place to RMC’s well-known clenched mailed fist.
Mascots had been popular in the university sports scene. While I was Commandant of CMR de Saint-Jean, we had designed a mascot and the officer cadets seemed to enjoy its presence at games and other activities. It was suggested to the RMC officer cadets that they consider acquiring one for RMC. Since this initiative moved more independently and more quickly than the change of name for the sports teams, the officer cadets decided on a polar bear as a mascot. When the mascot was designed, not surprisingly, they decided to dress the bear in a scarlet uniform and pillbox hat. The cadets also decided to give the bear a rather fierce look (Most mascots have a friendly look and use gestures to show their mood.). The mascot was used a lot and accompanied us down to West Point for the annual hockey game. The mascot (officer cadet) got so enthusiastically engaged in supporting our team at one point that he/she ended up with a 10 minute bench penalty!
Unfortunately, when it came time to giving the bear its first dry cleaning, the bear’s fur went from straight to curly and the mascot began to look more like a fierce sheep than a polar bear. This apparently put him on the benches for good. (ed. The RMC polar bear is currently featured in the RMC museum colouring book. 5611 LCdr (Ret’d) Gerald GL Stowe (RRMC RMC 1962) makes up teddy bears with RMC pillboxes and tunics for sale in the Panet House gift shop.)
e-Veritas: Have any other members of your family attended a military college? If so, did they have any advice for you? Did you have any advice for them?
BGen Émond: Well, my father was one of the initial Squadron Commanders at CMR de Saint-Jean upon its opening in 1952. So I lived on campus for a while as a young boy, seeing a lot of the military college activities. My sister was also dating an officer cadet at the time, Malcolm Comyn (they eventually married). Did any of this prepare me for my first day at military college? Not at all! Malcolm, who by then was my Squadron Training Officer, did steal a private moment once during my recruit term to give me some words of encouragement, but like most everyone else, the advice and support that I needed came from the mutual support of those immediately around me and from the staff and faculty that I was most directly in contact with.
e-Veritas: What skylarks do you recall?
BGen Émond: To be honest, I would personally feel very uncomfortable about giving official encouragement to the cadet wing to initiate skylarks. While I readily support the Commandant’s goal to increase the ‘fun factor’ at RMC, I would prefer to leave the initiative to conduct a skylark entirely to the cadet wing and have it remain as an exception rather than an expected activity. While this might seem harsh, my experience as Commandant has left me with a simple litmus test for what I feel should be encouraged as part of the official activities at RMC and what should not, namely, would this activity or behaviour be the sort that you would want a young officer in a leadership role to encourage within their new regiment, ship or squadron. Skylarks are by definition mischievous. The best skylarks come as a surprise and demonstrate ingenuity without causing undue embarrassment or expense. The worst skylarks can sour the atmosphere and undermine discipline and cohesion. Many are in between. Officially promoting skylarks seems too risky a training vehicle for displaying initiative to me.
That being said, here are some of the skylarks (and variants) I experienced as Commandant. A group of cadets at CMR de Saint-Jean painted a vintage (khaki) tank pink during Army week. To their chagrin, the perpetrators found out that there was a significant difference between water-based paint and water-soluble paint. While, they did achieve their desired goal of one-upping their army classmates and did not cause any permanent damage, their prank was costly to them in time and money – though they probably felt that it had all been worth it! At RMC, “Bruce” seems to a ready prop for skylarking activities on a regular basis. And in the distant past, I recall tales of the Director of Cadets’ Volkswagen, I believe, being disassembled and reassembled inside or on top of the MacKenzie building. Now that is quite a feat, but then again, a VW Beetle was more easily taken apart than most of today’s cars!
Initially as a skylark and then it became a tradition, the officer cadets at CMR de Saint-Jean would dress up in Halloween garb making it a fun day for everyone. Another skylark that became a tradition was to make sure the Commandant and his spouse were awoken (after only a few hours sleep) at day break after the Graduation Ball to join the “surviving” officer cadets and their dates for the official picture and for breakfast.
I recall one “positive” initiative (though I would not call it a skylark) that demonstrated imagination and group pride. When Commodore Basil Moore, the senior serving naval officer from Newfoundland, came to CMR de Saint-Jean for an official visit, I asked the Wing training officer, a fellow Newfoundlander, (Cadet John Pumphrey (CMR 1991), as I recall) to make the moment special by assembling an the honour guard composed entirely of Newfoundlanders. Contrary to normal parades, Honour Guards do not include a band. Yet as the Honour Guard commander escorted Commodore Moore toward the guard to start his inspection, each member of the guard began to softly whistle the ‘Ode to Newfoundland’. Commodore Moore spoke to each cadet at length and the music continued throughout. Obviously this sort of initiative made everyone proud of the cadets, the institution and their country.
e-Veritas: Who was your roommate in first year? What do you remember liking about him/being irritated by him? Who have you remained friends with who you met from the military college?
BGen Émond: 6362 Major Peter S Jackson (CMR RMC 1965) was my roommate during my recruit year. Peter was a great roommate and came to the college with some previous militia experience. He was much wiser in the ways of the world than I was at the time – and probably still is! I recall my first charge. It happened that very first night. Peter had been delayed with train problems. All the recruits in the section had been briefed on how to make our beds and otherwise prepare our rooms for the next morning’s inspection and then it was lights out. Peter arrived about an hour later. Trying to make sure that he would pass his first inspection, I decided that I would show him how the corner of the bed sheets had to be folded and a few other things. I had no sooner begun when the door opened and we were asked to explain why we had defied a direct order to turn off the lights. Not surprisingly my explanation fell on deaf ears! As we later both considered our first charge, Peter explained his background and the likelihood that he would be ready for the inspection without any further help from me.
6595 Major (Ret’d) Bruce Bowles (RRMC RMC ’65) was my first roommate at RMC in third year. He was as good a roommate and especially tolerant. At the time, I didn’t study well without some background noise like music, and he couldn’t study with music on. I really should have been more considerate. I guess it is never too late to apologize!
6703 Mr Al Wilson (RRMC RMC ’65), a gunner was my second roommate and a very congenial person. I had the honour of serving as his best man when he married Kaye after graduation.
Although geography may have separated us over the years, I was bonded for life to the cadets in my first year at military college (Prep year CMR and in particular, Cartier Squadron and those of my section). I am sure that this is the same for all officer cadets. I still occasionally think about those that left early and whom I have not seen since. I later forged connection to cadets who were involved in similar pursuits to mine, academic programs, sports teams, professional training and the pilots I trained and flew with. In Ottawa, my class, whose careers are winding down professionally, gets together periodically. 6604 Doctor James “Jim” Carruthers (RRMC RMC ’65), a great guy who I didn’t know particularly well through military college since we had originated from different campuses and we were in a different academic program and difference services. Jim, or “Fats” as he was affectionately nicknamed long ago, has taken the initiative, along with Hugh Spence (the Class Secretary) to organize class get-togethers. I have gotten to know many classmates better these get-togethers, and during class reunions every 5 years, over my years of service and in the various cities I have lived in. It amazes me how many fantastic people have attended military college and how we do not always take the opportunity to get to know those that are on the periphery of our personal interests. Because people change and grow through life experience, it is especially worthwhile revisiting some relationships that might not have appealed to you initially.
e-Veritas: How did cadets wake up at RMC while you were Commandant?
BGen Émond: Most with difficulty, I would say! During my cadet years, cadets were expected to be out of bed and the door open and the room prepared to a presentable standard at a certain time. Senior cadets had privileges that allowed them to keep their doors closed. More recently, other than during the recruit period, as I recall, there wasn’t a universal policy on when or how the cadets woke up. They were expected to have their breakfast and to get to parade or class on time.
e-Veritas: What skill did you learn to do as a cadet that you still do well?
BGen Émond: Well, I scan till fold the bed sheets at 45 degrees! Probably more than anything else, I have been imprinted with the importance of maintaining a performance level across the broad four pillars that we were exposed to with the military college system: (military (professional), athletics (physical fitness), bilingual (who said two languages are sufficient), and academic (learning – you are never to old to learn new things). The Military College experience inculcated the importance of maintaining this multi-faceted approach, the responsibility to set growth goals and the confidence that I could achieve them over time.
e-Veritas: How did cadets impress each other?
BGen Émond: I was one of the youngest in my class, having joined the Prep year at 16 and graduating at 21. To be honest, half the time, I felt as though I was barely keeping my head above water while many of the others around me seemed to be swimming with ease. I was pretty impressed with them. I had had very little organized sports in my upbringing but wanted to become an athlete. While I had done very well in High School, university was not an easy transition. I was not sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to do everything, to be as involved as possible. Many of my fellow cadets seemed to have a level of confidence and clear thinking that I only attained several years after I graduated.
When I returned as commandant, I was able to see some of the same dynamics. I was continuously impressed at how gifted, hard working and effective a great number of the cadets were. They were ready to take on the world and the military college experience was seasoning them by giving them opportunities to put their many skills to the test. There were others, however, somewhat like I was, for whom the military college was a demanding and sometimes confusing learning experience, where mere survival seemed at times like an amazing success. These cadets were making up for their skill deficits and building a solid base for future performance, giving them, assuming continued efforts and opportunities, the ability to could catch up with the best.
e-Veritas: Where did you live? What do you recall liking about/being irritated by the housing?
BGen Émond: As a cadet at CMR, I lived in the Cartier dormitory. I recall thinking, during my recruit year, how strange a place a military dorm was, because who in their right mind, in mid-winter, would have stitched up his “extra red blanket so that it would be easily put at the foot of the bed for morning inspection) and chose to sleep on top of their already made bed with only his winter great coat for cover so as to be ready to next day’s weekly inspection.
In RMC, I lived in Fort Haldimand in 3rd year. After enjoying the luxury of a single room during my last year at CMR, I was back into sharing a room. Some cadets complained about the chlorine smell from the pool. (Ross McKenzie: The pool was closed when the new sports centre was built in the mid-1990s. In the recent renovations to Fort Haldimand dormitory the pool was filled in and covered with a concrete slab. The pool area has been divided up into two stories and is now used for laundry rooms and storage. The new Museum Storeroom is in part of this space.) I moved to Fort LaSalle in 4th year and had the luxury of a single room. My room, however, faced Yeo Hall and most early mornings I was serenaded by the RMC Pipes and Drums practicing their repertoire.
My wife and I lived in the Commandant’s residence at RMC and CMR. Although the Commandant residence at RMC was more than six thousand square feet in size, five thousand was really only used for official social occasions. We basically lived in the sunroom, the kitchen and the bedroom. However, both houses were on wonderful historic sites by the water, something most people can only dream of.
e-Veritas: What do you recall driving cadets crazy on campus?
BGen Émond: During the two months of my recruit period, it seemed that we were served a quarter chicken almost every second day. The section leader senior would sit at our table to make sure that we were sitting properly with our backs straight, using only our knife and fork to dissect the bird, not an easy task at first for most and frustrating for hungry cadets with little time to spare. When we were served a quarter chicken at our first recruit dinner and ball, I finally understood there had been method to the madness we had endured and without thinking, showed off my newly acquired skills, wondering why my date did not appear to be hungry for her chicken. It only occurred to me near the end of the meal, that dinner manners have their place but not at the expense of making your guest uncomfortable. I picked up a wing to chew on and then, finally so did she.
As Commandant, I found that it is strange that the cadet military system seemed to be reinforcing the impression that with higher seniority and rank come greater privileges, whereas upward mobility in the military really confers greater responsibilities. When after 1st year, cadets no longer have to go out in uniform, can stay up later, and have more free weekends, we were not necessarily stressing the added responsibilities that came with these new freedoms, namely to do the right things on their own. I felt very strongly that future officer needed to understand that as officers they would have many more privileges and more discretion than the men and women they would lead but that these privileges were not rewards for being smart or working hard, but just enablers to allow them to use these capabilities to more freely and capably carry out their responsibilities. I recall one year, in discussions with the Military Wing, making it a requirement that all cadets wear their uniform in town for the week leading up to Remembrance Day (This was the 50th anniversary of the end of WW2. (The staff was encouraged to do so as well.) We later discussed why so few cadets (and staff) went out in military dress during the evenings that week. One factor apparently stemmed from identifying the wearing of a uniform in town with being a first year cadet, rather than a source of pride that you earned. There were many other factors, of course, but it was clear that some policies can engender the wrong attitudes. I should say that this attitude about wearing uniforms to town, seemed to have changed when later, cadets went out in CF uniforms.
e-Veritas: How were cadets punished?
BGen Émond: During my recruit year, senior cadets administered minor punishment to other cadets by giving us extra room inspections (this could become a vicious circle), cutting of leave privilege, and most commonly, running circles around the parade square in military kit and weapon. During my recruit year, our section perceived that one individual seemed to be rubbing some seniors the wrong way and getting an unfair share of punishments. He had to line up for morning circles and evening inspections for weeks into the future and was having difficulty finding the time to study and rest. As a group, the section felt very strongly that this guy was worth saving and I am very proud that as a group we spontaneously lent a hand to get him through this difficult period. We collectively farmed out tasks, such as shining boots, pressing trousers, polishing brass, cleaning floors and dusting in order to lighten his load. 6352 Commander (Ret’d) Vilnis Auns (CMR RMC 1965) went on to become a much respected, but still fiercely independent senior officer.
As Commandant at CMR de Saint-Jean and RMC, the punishment process administered by cadets was more formalized and cadets were no longer doing circles in full military kit. The new process enabled cadets to be exposed to valuable training since as officers they would be expected to administer similar semi-judicial processes. Although most infractions in cadet life can be dealt with in a summary manner, there were occasions where the behaviour of cadets crossed the line into more serious stuff. At CMR de Saint-Jean, a cadet introduced a pyramid sales scheme he had heard of from another university. Pyramid schemes are illegal and this led to the court martial of several cadets and many other lesser disciplinary proceedings. A pyramid sales scheme rewards the first person in at the expense of the many others who are subsequently recruited. Over time it is not sustainable. It does not take a genius to see that a pyramid scheme is unethical and immoral, not exactly the sort of thing you would expect an officer to introduce on board a ship, a regiment or a squadron.
As commandant, I noted that binge drinking seemed to be more prevalent than what I recalled when a cadet and of course the misuse of alcohol is much less tolerated in today’s society. With the help of professionals, we developed a plan to help sensitize cadets to these issues. Similar to the formal course on harassment, the staff and cadets put on awareness programs about problem drinking and the potential consequences of misusing alcohol. The College is a high pressure environment and so is the CF. Inevitably, most cadets, like most of Canadian society, at some time will turn to alcohol as a way to unwind. At the time, CMR was known for throwing amazing parties in terms of the size and quality of music. Student and staff security patrol were on site to deal with people who crossed the line. Don’t stop legitimate fun, stop the problem people. When staff identified cadets with a drinking problem, we provided counselling and probation. Some however did not escape disciplinary charges.
e-Veritas: What do you recall about your commandant when you were a cadet? Do any other staff or faculty stand out in your memory?
BGen Émond: CMR RCNC94 Commodore JP Côté (RRMC 1942) was my commandant at CMR. His son 7112 Marc Côté (CMR 1965) was a member of my recruit class although he not in the same squadron. Your view of a commandant changes a bit when he is a classmate’s father. 2364 Air Commodore Leonard J Birchall (RMC 1933) was my Commandant at RMC. He was an iconic individual, a World War II war hero in aviation circles. I think for most cadets, and this was the case for me, a commandant is a rather distant figure, who has less impact cadets than their squadron mates. That being said, both my wife and I made every effort to get close to the cadets and to be socially approachable to the military and civilian staff. Many members of he staff did the same. I found it very enriching getting to know so many cadets and I am still in awe at the qualities and energy so many of these cadets displayed. Frankly they were as much an example to me as I might have been to them.
e-Veritas: Did you play on a RMC team/were you a fan of any RMC sport teams?
BGen Émond: The high schools I attended did not have any formal sports programs, so I came to CMR without much of a sports background. I swam and ran and skated on my ankles and that was it. I was interested in sports however. My quick reflexes, long reach and a shortage of players got me on the Soccer team as a spare goalie in my recruit year. With constant training, I went on to play goalie on the CMR and RMC varsity soccer teams. Also during my recruit year, my section commander at CMR, Doug Knight, who headed the Fencing Team, offered our section an easy choice – we could all ‘volunteer’ to join the fencing team or risk being available for more room inspections. After a whole year of good coaching in the fundamentals of fencing, we all did quite well in competition and those that remained with fencing, especially because of the high level of competition in the Montreal area, got even better. Fencing, especially with the epée, became a gold medal sport for me at CMR. I also leaned to ski at CMR. I was taken under the wing of a cadet who was a qualified ski instructor and a few of his friends. When I discovered that RMC did not have any fencing coach, I decided to try out for the RMC alpine sky team. The only opening was in Alpine/Nordic combined, which involved ski jumping off the 30 meter jump. I was the only volunteer. I remember my first qualifying jump as my coach stood impatiently at the bottom of the hill. I let a few other skiers go ahead of me and watched several of them make the sign of the cross before going down the “in-run” to the take-off ramp (the jump). I recall the coach pointing to his watch. I finally went down the steep chute dragging my fingers in a futile attempt to slow me down. I managed to time my jump properly and get some decent distance, if not any style points – and there were no hospital bills after landing. The team trained at Camp Fortune in Ottawa and competed in Quebec and Ontario. I got a lot better with time (and more so after I graduated). I still remember the fear factor of doing a half-downhill race in competition at Mount Orford, Quebec. I was not trying to go as fast as I could, which is what racing is all about; I was just thinking about surviving the run. RMC didn’t have any professional downhill skiing coach. We had the occasional clinic and 6541 MGen (Ret’d) Fraser DF Holman (RMC 1965) a fellow classmate mentored us.
e-Veritas: What do you recall about social aspects of cadet life at RMC?
BGen Émond: I found that there were more social opportunities at CMR de Saint-Jean since for the majority of the student population, the academic programs were not as crammed as the last two years of the engineering programs at RMC. With amalgamation, a number of these activities were re-started at RMC: Theme parties, theatre, concerts, comedy night. These were wonderful, events. They allowed gifted cadets to showcase and develop their special talents and they provided a vehicle for many cadets who worked behind the scenes to learn broad organizational skills. The Graduation Ball in many ways served as a training vehicle. Senior cadets were responsible for strategic decisions, such as selecting the theme and overall budgeting issues. More junior cadets would assign tasks and manage the budget. Junior cadets would lead small teams in carrying out the menial work. The Balls and other events would develop time management, planning and organizational skills and were a good vehicle for learning the fundamentals of military (organizational) skills and building class pride.
We also held a few activities whose purpose was to bring city and governmental officials to the College, such as the Commandant Garden party. The garden parties were a somewhat nostalgic event, held on the lawn of the large historic residence. The special challenge of a garden party is the unpredictable weather. We had only a modest budget of non public funds so they were not as grand as they might have been in the past but they did serve the purpose of showcasing our cadets’ musical traditions and providing opportunities for cadets and staff to meet with the city’s elected officials and senior administrators and representatives from other local academic institutions.
Events do not always go as planned. I recall a Graduation Parade when a storm played havoc with our well organized routine. The graduation parade was moved at short notice from the parade square to the nearby arena. Just when the cadets and the large audience had finally re-established themselves in the arena, the power went off throughout the college, leaving them in the dark. We were considering the obvious decision of cancelling everything, but outside, the rain had stopped. While it was still a risky move, after some urgent discussions, we chose not to disappoint the graduating class and their guests and asked everyone to come back to the Parade square. During this time, the recruit year class, which represented half the members on parade, had to leave because their transportation for summer training could not be rescheduled. The most impressive challenge was given to the Chief Warrant Officer Len Beaune and the cadet wing commander who were given fifteen minutes to consider whether they could recast the event into a mini parade. They carried it off as if it had been planned for weeks.
The West Point weekends were also important events at RMC. I enjoyed meeting our “American cousins” and the competitive spirit the games provide. Like any cadet, when I competed in sports, I strove to win. However, while we keep a record of wins and losses over the years with West Point and other traditional sports rivals, the most important thing for me was not ultimately who won a year’s match, but that each cadet played their best, represented the college and country with pride and demonstrated a behaviour on and off the ice that the CF would be proud of. Their behaviour on the playing field should never undermine the building of a relationship together as colleagues in arms, which is the whole point of setting up these friendly competitions in the first place.
e-Veritas: Please comment on big changes at RMC?
BGen Émond: Other than the amalgamation, the last big change for the military colleges was the enrolment of lady cadets. It happened before my time as Commandant, but I had seen aspects of the issue when women were first introduced into otherwise restricted career fields in the CF. By the early 90s, the presence of lady cadets at the military colleges was well established, even though not all attitudes were perfectly aligned. I recall once when my Director of Cadets at the time, 12966 Brigadier-General Marquis J.M.M. Hainse (CMR 1982) presented the slate of cadet appointments for approval, he noted that the selection process for one particular term had given two thirds of the senior appointments to lady cadets, the reverse of the usual bias in favour of males. While we were satisfied that the selection process had been fair, we wondered whether there would be any negative reaction to this outcome from the cadet wing. As it turned out, the cadet wing seemed to take it in stride. In my experience, cadets respect performance, and these lady cadets had strong aptitudes, which were known and respected and they delivered good leadership, not unlike what you would expect from any male cadet. I had heard from several sources that women initially faced a greater struggle for acceptance. However, during the time I was Commandant at both CMR de Saint-Jean and at RMC, women, while still a minority, were more than holding there own. That being said, there were still occasional issues of inappropriate behaviour. At one point, we established for a short time a cadet ombudsperson for women’s affairs. This person was empowered to leapfrog the cadet chain of command. A female officer (at the time, LCdr Joanne Thibault, the PERI officer) was also given a specific responsibility to oversee women’s affairs within the cadet wing. A ‘women’s only meeting room’, the Athena Centre, had been created at RMC at the initiative of a member of the academic staff before my time to give lady cadets from all years a private place to exchange freely on issues of concern. While there had been initial enthusiasm, by the time I arrived, interest in using this forum had significantly diminished. My sense was that the problems women were facing by then had either diminished sufficiently or that they preferred other ways of dealing with their concerns. (Ross McKenzie: As it wasn’t being used for its intended purpose the Athena room was doubled up as a language testing centre for the Registrar’s Office-then slowly it was taken up with dead files from the Registrar’s Office. Today the space is a storeroom for the Registrar and no longer named the Athena Centre.)
e-Veritas: Do you have any practical tips to share?
BGen Émond: Cadets enter the College with different strengths and weaknesses. Some cadets are mature beyond their years, with already tested leadership skills, while others are still growing up. Some cadets are academically strong but not particularly inclined toward physical activities. Some cadets are already bilingual, even multi-lingual, while others have never quite developed their second language skills. The College will give each cadet an opportunity to progress and, where required, to catch up. The essential difference of the Military College system is the requirement that cadets develop and meet standards across all four pillars of their professional requirements. They also have the opportunity to get to know Canadians from across Canada and in some cases from other nations. RMC’s mission is to prepare cadets to assume a leadership role in the CF. Being a successful chief executive, whether it is in the military, or any other walk of life today, requires intellectual, linguistic, leadership, organizational, ethical, as well as physical strengths. All four pillars are important, as is balancing your professional and family/social life. Cadets should embrace every aspect of the College challenges that they can. They should not focus so exclusively on any one pillar as to be weak in other pillars. The skills cadets acquire at College will be the foundation for success later in life.
e-Veritas: Do you have any ghost stories from the military college(s)?
BGen Émond: Is that question meant to spook me! I had been told that the Commandant’s residence had been used as a former hospital and that the small hut in the back of the Commandant’s residence, once used to store ice, had occasionally served as a morgue. So for those who believe in ghosts, the Commandant’s residence might seem like fertile ground, but I cannot say that my sleep was ever disturbed by the plaintiff moans of long ago soldiers. (Ross McKenzie: Recent research has determined that the long held belief that the Commandant’s residence was originally the Naval Hospital was wrong. The original portion of what is now the Commandant’s House was the Surgeon’s House dating to about 1820 or a bit later. The small structure to the rear-sometimes thought to have been the “Dead house” was actually a Well House and it dates to the 1850s. Although new information corrects long held misconceptions there is nothing to say a doctor’s house can’t be haunted too!)
e-Veritas: What did you do with the cadet wing instruction manual you were issued as a cadet containing college rules & regulations?
BGen Émond: I had no idea that I would ever be coming back as Commandant or Director of Cadets, so I left it behind when I graduated.
e-Veritas: What did you see as your role as Commandant?
BGen Émond: All Commandants and Directors of Cadets face the “business as usual” executive-level strategic planning, financial and human resources challenges of the day. I have already mentioned some unusual challenges we faced as a result of the amalgamation. A Commandant’s emphasis on any particular pillar depends on their personal perception of where improvements are needed, either because the CF needs, demographics or some other factor have changed or to make minor course changes. Commandants from one element or from one professional background may perceive the state of the four pillars differently. I have heard that “putting the M back into the Military College” has been a cyclical issue for different Commandants over the years. The perennial challenge is that there is only so much time available in a cadet’s day and hardly enough time available to meet the existing needs of all four pillars, let alone, provide some discretionary time for other life pursuits – and let’s not completely forget the need for adequate sleep! So it is not surprising that there is cyclical tug of war as different commandants, principals, director of cadets try to nudge the balance between the academic and the other three pillars. Some commandant can draw on their earlier experience as a cadet, but this experience can be dubious as it is twenty years old and seen through very different lenses, moreover, some of the needs of the military may have changed. As with most commandants, we draw on our own personal and more immediate operational, training and staff experiences to gauge what the future CF needs will be and how this can best be achieved and bring this perspective to the table for internal discussions and with the representatives for education and training within the CF.
e-Veritas: What did you see as your role as member of the Board of Governors at RMC?
BGen Émond: The RMC Board of Governors, which was formed in 1997, provides advice and recommendations to the Minister of National Defence concerning all matters related to the Royal Military College. To ensure that Officer Professional Military Education remains at the forefront of policy, the Board works at improving lines of communication with both College alumni and the community in order to enhance resources for the operation of the College. Unlike the board of governors in other universities, the Board is not responsible for the financial management of RMC; this remains exclusively a departmental responsibility. The Board of Governors, rather, offer advice and perspectives on the general strategic plans and operations of the College. In particular, the Board of Governors was established to ensure that the CF officers whose mandate it is to run RMC had the benefit of a broad civilian perspective, as well as a broad serving and retired military perspective, to help guide their deliberations. The Minister therefore sought out civilians from different professional pursuits and from different regions of Canada who had shown an interest and a capacity to offer good advice on defence education and research matters.
As an example, someone like A129 Mrs Sonja Bata, who has just finished her term on the Board, could draw on her experience as a CEO of an international manufacturing organization, to offer views on RMC’s strategic planning process, how lady cadets should be treated (in the workplace), funding opportunities, research efforts, even RMC’s living out program. Dr. Jim Downey, the current Board’s Chair, together with Drs. Janice Stein, David Bercuson, Anne Irwin and Gerard Hervouet, all bring an invaluable judgement formed in different academic institutions, as well as a broad defence/foreign affairs perspective (you may have seen a number of them commenting on TV) that helps to guide RMC in its deliberations as to how best to educate future officers to meet Canada’s future defence needs.
As a former commandant and among several retired career member of the CF, I can offer insights into how the college might better contribute to the Canadian Forces, the thinking that went into different aspects of running the college from its linkages with other CF professional development institutions, to cadet-related issues such as the evolution of the military training program or a perspective on Francophone issues. The Board also includes senior serving representatives from the Naval, Land and Air elements of the CF because after all they are RMC’s principal clients.