Major “Alfie” Bake worked in the library with Mr. (“splendid”) Watt. He was also the Chairman of the hockey team and had been so long before I got there in 1972. He was an extremely positive individual. He wasn’t very tall. He had a deep hearty laugh which we heard often. Both Major and Mrs. Bake attended many of our formals in those years. My very first impression – and a very clear one – was noting a significant line of medals on his scarlet tunic. He had been well decorated during the Second World War which included the liberation of Holland. Always well liked by the players, he acted as the liaison of sorts between academia and the varsity hockey team. He was as valuable – at least to me – as any of my coaches or senior officers ever were. For all intents and purposes, Major Bake was one of two mentors I had at the college. The other was LCdr Padre Howie.
My family was not of military stock for the most part. At least not operationally with the exception of my nephew who has now served two terms in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. Just because someone had bars on their shoulders or rings on their sleeves didn’t necessarily mean that respect should automatically follow. And I had trouble with this concept in my earlier RMC years. With hockey having the longest season of any RMC sport (August to February), “duty away” was a common sign on the door to my room. First year was just a rehash of grade 13 for me so there wasn’t much effort on my part dealing with this part of the curriculum. To be blunt I was at RMC because I got the RMC Club of Canada scholarship. I was at RMC because I wanted to play hockey! Everything else was second place and I think Major Bake picked up on that pretty quickly.
I remember after many hockey practises, especially in the earlier years, having many good chats with him. He also joined us on many road trips too. It may have been that there weren’t many first years on the team – I think 10918 Gordie Brown may have been the only other – but Major Bake showed an interest in my development. First years had no leave privileges up until Christmas that I can recall. (Yeah, it wuz “tough” back then!) But “Alfie” would overlook these rules more than a few times, and take me back to his house for dinners. And Mrs. Bake was a wonderful cook. This was great fun and a welcome break, but when your CSL, 9735 Keith “Radar” Wilson is the goalie on the hockey team, and you’re in the Stone Frigate, marching across the parade square at nine or ten o’clock after practise was possibly something that Keith understood but never said anything about.
A note about Mrs. Bake’s cooking….she made chicken wings better than most /any I’ve tasted. And I’ve had more than a “few” post-game beer and chicken wing dinners. The recipe was supposedly only given to hockey players either after they got married or graduated; I can’t remember now. Pure oversight on my part but since I didn’t get married right out of RMC, I never asked her for the recipe. Major and Mrs. Bake would be proud though. My date beginning in 1973 – LCdr Rosemary Park – and now my perma-date to this day – and I are still together. Best line mate I’ve ever had.
Major and Mrs. Bakes’ Christmas parties were always great fun. After playing hockey for fifty three years now, I know something about team dynamics – work-wise and otherwise. Sometimes there just isn’t any chemistry and regardless of the talent of individuals, the net results of the unit are just not there. For the most part, I was fortunate to play with a good bunch. Guys like 11409 Wayne Russell, 10918 Gordie Brown, 11068 Les Falloon, 11093 Wally Istchenko, 10601 Dickie Mohns, 10161 Marc Ouellet and 9699 “CC” Ouimet; the latter three whom I played with in the World’s in Quebec City a few years ago. Rank or hierarchy can kill a team; hockey included. But the Bakes had a way of bringing us all together. They were kind. They were informal. They were an important off-ice component for us. Certainly for me, anyway.
Rookies on the hockey team had another function. I’ll forego the stories about Tiger balm and “shaving” that we had to undergo as new members of the “Reddies”. (Paladins, the dumbest name in hockey, is what they are referred to now. I digress) However, it was the duty of a first year hockey player to take Major Bake’s daughter, Judith, to the Christmas Ball. Judy was a great girl and accompanied her Mom and Dad to many of our home games. And to maintain my player status, and reputation – hers and mine – I was ever the gentleman. And over my time at the College, the Bake family were in many ways my own family away from home. In fact, LCdr and Mrs. Howie were much the same way too. Two wonderful families whose company I enjoyed for years. Both got to know my own Mom and Dad reasonably well too.
I was in Applied Science in second year, largely because my older brother was an engineer. I had no idea what I really wanted to do “when I grew up”. But it was painfully clear that by Christmas of second year, I had absolutely no interest in “Apple Sci”. I remember what transpired quite clearly. Before I found out my final marks, it was both Major Bake and LCdr Howie who spoke to me and told me that I’d failed. Both convinced me to stay at the College because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to. But it was only after their intervention that I changed my mind to stay.
With Major Bake, it was through several conversations. But I first found out in a conversation with LCdr Howie in a rather unusual fashion. I was on 2nd phase MARS on the HMCS Mackenzie. LCdr Howie was a friend of the Captain at the time. He took me into the XO’s cabin and told me the news. I believe that it was largely on the recommendation of these two men that I was allowed to stay at RMC. For a twenty-year old, that was a big deal. I know others in my year weren’t given the same option. But these two men believed I was worth salvaging. When I won awards in third and in fourth year for combined academics and athletics, as well as the Tommy Smart, I have often thought in retrospect that these awards were partly theirs; an apt justification for their decision about a 20 year-old kid several years earlier.
Your marks had to stay at a reasonable level if you wanted to play varsity hockey. Being an RETP cadet, I certainly knew the importance (it took me my first two years to figure it out!) of good academic standing because private sector interviews would begin well before the end of fourth year. Major Bake came to the rink one night during our practise. I was expecting my mid-year marks for third year. He leaned over the boards, looked directly at me, and said something like “Oh you really did well” or something to that effect. I could have skated all night after hearing that. I never recall the conversations with my Squad bosses or any of my profs having the same impact as Major Bake or LCdr Howie. It was usually Major Bake who let me know how I was doing long before getting any formal receipt of a transcript. That was the way Major Bake dealt with many on the hockey team. He took an interest in all aspects of your development.
I regret not staying in touch more often with Major Bake or his family. I had gone back to the College reasonably often following Grad as I started my business career in Toronto. It wasn’t long after I left that Major Bake retired from the library. We did correspond a bit over the years as I did with LCdr Howie but disappointingly, not to the degree I should have. I haven’t pulled out my RMC year books in a long, long time. But I did the other day. He is in all our team pictures. It makes me feel good. Men like him and LCdr Howie are rare. I was fortunate to have both help guide me in my early years.
10950 D.M.Hall [email protected]
Ed: David M. Hall, CMA, FCS is a Portfolio Manager for Burgeonvest-Bick Securities Limited in Toronto. We asked him to recall his thoughts about a fine gentleman, Major Alfie Bake. If one’s memory discards or embellishes certain issues, then this is the prerogative of the writer. But after almost 40 years, some latitude is to be expected. David is not sure why or how certain anecdotes come to mind now. It’s been a long time. That being said, the fact that he would remember so many positive attributes about a significant person in his early stages of life speaks well of his friend and… of David .