Article by 15684 Lawrence Fogwill
Shayne Holowatuk was a cool dude, everyone thought so. I don’t actually remember the first time we met, or spoke, but I do recall seeing him for the first time, in Chilliwack during CFOCS 8206. He was very tall you see, about 2 inches taller than me and I am almost 6‘1“. But that is not what stood out. What stood out, from seemingly a mile away, was his name: all capitals HOLOWATUK. It was HUGE from a distance. Our last names were all hand printed on white name tapes that we stuck on our helmet front. His was a long name, in large font and it stood out and I remembered it. I had been accepted into ROTP for RMC Engineering. However, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s imagination at the time, we were to become roommates and best friends at RRMC later that fall in 1982, but not before some odd happenstances.
You see, CFOCS ended poorly for me even though I had done quite well and had high marks for leadership. The problem was that I had spent the previous year at the University of Saskatchewan in first year engineering (or should I really say that I spent most of that year in the bedroom of my second-year-Law student/girlfriend, and thus skipping a lot of early morning classes: Can’t do that in engineering and expect to survive). I should have withdrawn (as I’d already been accepted to MILCOL based on my high school marks), and I didn’t and was suspended academically for the following school year. When the MILCOL system found out about the academic suspension, it was game over, even though I was top 10 in my company at CFOCS, didn’t matter, goodbye. So, I was sitting at home in Saskatoon the next evening, with my mom, watching a television program about the Royal Military College of Canada (no kidding) and we both cried and she was very sorry. I don’t recall exactly how poorly I felt, but I suppose that it would have to have been close to lifetime low at that point.
Long story short: I got a call the next morning just after 8 AM from the University Liaison Officer to RRMC, who knew what had happened to me. A First-Year cadet had a nervous breakdown on Day Two (yesterday) at RRMC, and there was still time to join that first-year class at RRMC. He asked me whether I still wanted to go, and if so, that I had to re-enroll that morning at the local recruiting center and be on a flight the next day to Victoria. From the phone call to the flight departure was approximately 24 hours and I arrived in Victoria airport the next evening. I was picked up at the airport by my two recruit section commanders Mr.’s April and Corkum, who were deeply twisted at the time, like we all were, and welcomed me with a harsh and cold reminder that I was nothing and nobody and just pissing them off by being here and alive. (I could fill this story out under a separate cover, suffice to say both are fine gentleman who turned out quite normal, and I do have good memories).
Shayne Holowatuk had already been making a name for himself quickly and early with everybody and everything. Highly athletic, he came 7th in the recruit cross country run, even though he was 6’ 3”. He joined the College basketball team, and was a starter as a rookie. He was very focused on his physical fitness and pumped off 200 sit ups before supper every day. Beyond being a cool dude and good at just about everything, his fitness level took off, and on the first opportunity, joined the 400 club and scored just under 450, if I recall correctly.
It should come as no surprise to the reader that Shayne was also very smooth with the ladies, and he was a good-looking dude to be sure. My bona fides in this department were solidified when my second-year law student girlfriend flew out and showed up for the Christmas dance looking smoking hot. So, Shayne and I would go out, downtown Victoria, you know, looking to enhance the College public relations with the locals, as it were. The night I turned 19 in November we were downtown in No. 4’s, which you would think would restrict our action, but it did not at all, and we found ourselves surrounded, well supplied, and listening to Michael Jackson’s thriller. One of those things about Shayne was that he had identified that MTV, which was brand new and only months old, would be massively huge for people down the road, and it was. We were on top of the world. Later, I recall us both choosing our MOC, and we both had selected Armoured first. Of course, he got his wish, and I ended up slotted with the military engineers which turned out to be the very best for me. In March, when the Queen visited the College, he would likely have joined me and only 6 other First Years on the honour guard (due simply to being tall both), if he was not already a drummer in the Band.
By the end of that first year, Shayne had been appointed the CFSO (Cadet Flight Sports Officer) and would take up that position in September on our return back to the college. (For the unwashed, this was a big deal, the highest rank really for second Years, and was basically Flight 2i/c). All the Anglos we are now on their way to Saint Jean Quebec for a summer to French language training at the Megaplex and we all bunked at CMR. The night before our departure from Victoria, we had a massive bonfire and all-night party down on the spit, and again we were on top of the world. We bused to Comox the next morning and the entire class flew direct on a CF 707 to Montreal. We sat in the first row with Kev, on top of the world.
Shayne Holowatuk was very responsible and mature. The first night we were in Saint Jean, we sent a recce party out to get beer and the boys returned promptly with several cases. Our evening was set, there was about 6 or 7 guys hanging around one of the lower level rooms that looked out over the sports field and running track, and we all grabbed a beer, except Shayne. Shayne, of course, wanted to go for a run before supper, as he was feeling “fat” after exam routine. So off he went. For a run.
Shayne Holowatuk was a good roommate. He was good to me, he was good for me, he taught me things that I should already have known I guess, but did not. He was a good friend; he was my best friend. We had moved in together in the fall, not right after recruit term, but on a later move about November timeframe, if I recall correctly. Shayne always stayed up late, usually till about midnight. Whereas I needed my sleep, and always needed to in bed shortly after 10 every night. I was bottom bunk, and even though Shayne would try and be very considerate and quiet when he climbed into the top bunk at midnight, I would invariably wake up briefly, look at the clock and go back to sleep again. As second semester wore on though, through February and March, I noticed that he was going to sleep a little earlier than midnight. By April he was going to bed by 11 or so every night, and during exam routine, we were going to bed at around the same time, around 10:30. We never thought much of it.
So, Shayne went for his run. He came back after 1 mile, 4 times around the track, and said “something is wrong”. He said he shouldn’t feel this tired and we both agreed. And that he was going to go to the MIR the next morning and get it checked out, and to shut up and grab a beer. He was diagnosed with mononucleosis , which was no big deal, and to be expected I suppose, as we were both being lads, and it was known as the kissing disease at the time. Yes, Your Honour, Guilty as charged. He was quarantined immediately, and flown home the next day, as you would expect in a highly contagious disease scenario, where a lot of cadets were closely packed together. (It’s similar to how you deal with COVID 19, which brought it all up for me.)
He wrote a letter a few weeks later. There was no phone call, as we had no phone number. It was leukemia, not likely survivable, and he was very bitter and angry about it, feeling as if his life was stolen from him.
For reasons I’ve never completely understood, what happened after, in terms of the sequence of events, (when I visited him at University Hospital in Saskatoon and at his home in Yorkton); I don’t fully remember the details. It was all a bit blurry. I recall clearing out his locker, sifting through his personal items, that which had to be returned to stores, and that which we would send to him at his home. I kept his CF tie and MILCOL lab coat. I was measured for his coffin at one point, by my second-year squadron commander, a conversation I’ve obviously never forgotten. Never quite understood the need for that request and I have some questions still.
I transferred to RMC for third year, to complete my engineering degree. Shayne died, and was buried during Christmas exam routine in 3rd year, in his scarlets complete with crossed swords and bats. There was no real question of me going to the funeral, RRMC had continued taking the lead and medically supporting him in the last stages of his life (or so I thought) and I was now in Kingston, at RMC by then, and in the middle of exams. Those were different times. Many years ago.
I wonder, sometimes, where he would have ended up had he lived. The Class of 86 had a lot of talent (including a CDS, and VCDS, although most had it the other way), as I suppose as they all do, and he had already shown some real strength in that group. So, sometimes, I wonder.