The 2006 Trip
|College Number||College of Entry||Grad Year||Name||Job|
|4559||RR||59||Bill Hewson||whale spotter|
|H4860||RMC||60||John de Chastelain||bagpiper|
|5780||CMR||63||Bernard Laliberté||coffee boy|
|8725||CMR||71||Fergus McLaughlin||photographer & scribe|
|8788||RMC||71||Geoff Bennett||le bourgeois|
|15950||RMC||87||Brian Collict||bean counter|
|Monica Helm||great helmswoman|
Total funds raised for Athletics: $115,504
Gold: Class of 71 (3 paddlers) $58,231 plus $28,554 from an older Class Fund
Silver: Bernie Laliberté $6,187
Bronze: Tom Gee $4,912
After the success of the 2000 and 2001 trips, the RMC Club and Foundation were hopeful that La Chasse-Galerie would become an annual tradition. However, there was too much planning and expense involved for such a volunteer effort. More importantly, it would have been difficult to assemble a crew every year and to persuade donors, year after year, to contribute. Accordingly, I decided to run the trip every five years coincident with reunions of the Class of 71.
Thus five years would pass before a Chasse-Galerie crew once again lit up the underground cavern at the Elephant & Castle Pub. After paddle practice on Thursday, 21 September 2006, we gathered there in our black #2 uniforms. There were some veterans in the crowd: Jerry Holtzhauer from the first trip, who had “re-upped” as adjutant, Tom Gee the bosun and Bruce the cook.
Sadly, we had lost three Maudites in the intervening years: Stan Mitchell from the first trip and Ron Rhodenizer and Jay Kennedy from the 2001 team. Jay’s widow, Major Cindy Allan, had asked to join the crew and to paddle the Rideau in his memory. She invited her friend, Gwen Ament, an ordained minister and an excellent singer.
There were three other “civilians” on the team: Monica Helm, the wife of 8879 Jim Youngs, who soon become known as “The Great Helmswoman” or “Paddlin’ Madeline” for her enthusiastic technique; Andrew Bennett, my son, the fiddler; and Caley Mulholland, his partner, an expert whitewater paddler. Andrew and Caley kindly joined at my request when I was unable to find Ex-Cadets to fill the last two seats. They usually paddled together in the bow, setting the pace and inspiring the older folks astern.
As the senior Ex-Cadet on the crew, Bill Hewson received the plum job of whale-spotting. Whales actually roamed the Champlain Sea above present-day Ottawa a mere ten thousand years ago. There was a concern that at least one leviathan may have been left behind, waiting to flip the flying canoe and send us all to perdition.
The two recruits from the Class of 71, Fergus McLaughlin and Ray Hook, would distinguish themselves on three trips in their respective roles of photographer and bartender. Fergus brought a wide-ranging and original perspective to his job. In a previous life he had controlled the water levels on the Ottawa River and he had assembled one of the large carnivorous dinosaurs on display in the Nature Museum. Ray fit the jolly role of rum dispenser as if to the manner born, admirably filling the large shoes left behind by Rhodie.
Two generations of RMC hockey players were represented by Bernie Laliberté and Brian Collict, legends in their own time.
The entire crew was delighted to welcome a most distinguished gentleman – John de Chastelain, who became the first man since the fur trade to stand up in a big canoe on stormy waters and play the bagpipes, every hour of the day for an entire week. Among his notable official achievements, he had been RMC Commandant, CDS (twice), ambassador to the USA and he negotiated the disarmament of the IRA. He would go on to play the pipes on the 2011 trip and he would motivate another former Commandant and CDS, Tom Lawson, to do the same in 2016.
This was an eclectic crew. Five of the paddlers had never been to military college and four of them were women. The Old Brigade was represented by three gentlemen with two more waiting in the wings. This pattern of Old Brigade at one end, younger ladies at the other, and a clutch of Ex-Cadet gentlemen in the middle would endure for the remaining Chasse-Galeries.
The Ottawa departure was particularly festive. Before leaving, Andrew played our signature voyageur song “V’la l’bon vent” on the fiddle. John warmed up the pipes and a large crowd milled around. Senator Joe Day, who would take the salute, showed up early, met all the paddlers and reminisced about the night at Melody Lodge six years earlier. In the stern flew Canada’s WWII battle flag, on loan from Don Gates who was unable to join the crew.
The piper did not fall overboard and the salute was flawless. The crew looked sharp in red shirts and matching black Maudite caps, now a collector’s item since Unibroue doesn’t make them anymore. On previous trips the canoe had sailed past the reviewing stand and performed a simple “Eyes Right!” The addition of a piper changed all that. John piped during the approach then nimbly sat down before the command to “Halt!” Paddles dug in hard and the canoe stopped dramatically. “Port forward, Starboard Reverse!” turned the canoe to face the reviewing officer. The piper stood up again while two paddlers kept the canoe in trim fore and aft. “Présentez Armes!” triggered a tune from the pipes and the familiar 1-2-3 cadence as the crew stamped their feet 2-3, raised their paddles 2-3 and stamped their feet again 2-3. The helmsman raised the big paddle and saluted. After “Order Arms!” and the college cheer, the crew turned the canoe to port and paddled away to the cheers of the crowd.
The big canoe, the red shirts and the bagpipes echoing among the buildings were a fine spectacle for those watching from the bridges and the walkways in downtown Ottawa. John quickly got the hang of playing the pipes while standing in a moving canoe and he alerted each lockmaster to our imminent arrival. This was so much better than an air horn, although his seatmate Jerry complained of deafness in his left ear.
A young orca appeared in the canal just before Hogsback, illustrating the wisdom of having a whale-spotter on board. Unfortunately, Bill was basking in the glow of a sunny morning on the water and was the last to see it.
In Manotick ten of the crew stayed at the Larocque’s B&B for the third and last time before Henri and Kathy retired. Five stayed at 5790 Al Barden’s home on the river. We all paddled to Kelly’s Landing for supper, formerly the Shoreline Restaurant or Scully’s, but still with the same riverside ambience. Returning at night was a challenge, even with lights on the canoe.
The next morning dawned gray, cold and drizzly but our departure was brightened by the presence on the dock of Wendy’s mother, Joan Harmston, an English war bride. Her husband Ted, a D-Day vet, had passed away a few years earlier. At the same moment, Kathy Larocque alerted us to a widowed Dutch war bride on the other side of the river who was waiting to see us paddle past. It must have been a rare and memorable sight for the two elderly ladies in the gray dawn, to watch the long canoe glide by and to hear John de Chastelain play a highland tune on the pipes.
It was a pleasure, for the third time, to check into the elegant Sam Jakes Inn after a long pull on the water from Manotick. However, little did we know that the biggest test was yet to come, on the “easy” stretch from Merrickville to Smiths Falls.
In stark contrast to the previous day, the weather the next morning was clear and sunny with a bit of wind in the treetops. We donned the black #2 uniform with Maudite caps, presented a cheque to the Friends of the Rideau and then were honoured with a Metis smudge ceremony. Tim Armstrong, dressed in full Metis regalia, blessed us and gave me the “Hand of the Hunter,” which I have worn around my neck on every trip and at every Legacy Dinner since then. Tim represented the Rideau Round Table, from whom we rented the canoe.
We cheered and waved jauntily to the crowd as our piper chanted away. But I looked ahead with some trepidation to the end of the narrow channel. The trees swayed in the wind and whitecaps raced across the entrance. When we first turned into the waves it wasn’t too bad but then we passed the lee of a point and faced the full brunt of a southwesterly gale. In a small canoe we would have quit immediately but the big canoe has fifteen engines and a fairly small profile to the wind. We made steady progress but it was slow and hard. Normally we would have reached the Kilmarnock Lock by noon but after two hours of paddling we were still only halfway there and the engines were running out of gas. I called a halt at a hunter’s shack in the marsh.
We sat and relaxed for an hour or so. We ate lunch. Andrew played the fiddle. We watched from the screen porch as the wind howled, lightning cracked and the rain came pelting down. Surely, I thought, this will be over soon. At a break in the weather we trooped back into the canoe. I saw that the WWII flag was fraying around the edges, so we replaced it with the maple leaf and set off once more into the wind.
The wind and the rain blew up again. We fought our way to Kilmarnock Lock and I checked the time. We were now too late to pass the next few lockstations before closing time. The weather showed no sign of abating and the crew looked miserable. So I phoned the cavalry for the first time since 1999 – not Wendy, but Tim. He showed up in short order with a minivan and took the first load of people to the Colonel By Hotel in Smiths Falls. Another van arrived and then Tim returned to pick up the canoe with a trailer. By 5:30 everyone was enjoying Happy Hour, clean and dry, and the canoe was tied to the dock beside us. After five Chasse-Galerie trips, I can now say that this innocuous bit of marsh was the only stretch of water that ever stopped us.
The rest of the trip passed in a jolly but less dramatic fashion. The pipes and the fiddle were hugely popular, as were Wendy’s lunches, Bruce’s cappuccinos and Ray’s rum tots. The family atmosphere at the cottage made it the best stop on the trip. Another orca was spotted in the Big Rideau Lake but Bill failed again to see it. Wendy and Jamie decided not to bother laying out the inflatable whale again. Tom, Ray and I demonstrated paddle drill in all seriousness at the Opinicon Happy Hour but clearly at least one of us had too much to drink. The audience dissolved in tears of laughter.
On our way to the Opinicon and Chaffeys Locks, we passed through a narrow channel with cliffs on both sides. John decided to play the pipes and the music echoed in a satisfying way – and then continued to echo long after he had stopped playing. Puzzled, we looked up and around. At the top of the cliff stood a lone piper in full Scottish regalia. 5797 Al Clarke, a classmate and friend of several paddlers, knew the exact timing of our itinerary and wanted to surprise us. When John started to play, Al couldn’t believe his good fortune and so he joined in the tune.
On three more sombre occasions, we remembered our fallen comrades from previous trips – Stan, Jay and Ron – with a simple ceremony and a lament on the pipes. Cindy struggled with her loss but enjoyed steady support from her team mates and Wendy.
The River Styx was miserably wet and cold. By the time we reached Kingston Mills, Bernie and I were suffering from hypothermia. Bruce’s soup and coffee cured that, along with extra clothing supplied by Wendy. The rain poured down as we donned our ponchos and clambered into the canoe for the final stretch. Ray cheered us up by uncorking the final bottle of rum.
We were still in a good mood by the time we reached the HMCS Cataraqui dock, where we picked up Danny McLeod and outfitted him with a paddle and the #2a uniform (black Maudite shirt with red RMC cap). We deemed it was too wet for the full #1, because we would be needing dry red shirts for the Legacy Dinner skit. Don’s frayed WWII flag reappeared at the stern. The cadets lining the shore wore their best rainy day uniform too – the navy blue #4 with white belt and wedge cap. The Commandant, E1607 BGen Jocelyn Lacroix, met us before the salute and averred that the Chasse-Galerie legend and the fundraising venture were “very cool.” Then he and the RMC piper jumped down onto the wet rocks and took up saluting positions right in front of the canoe.
At age 84, Danny paddled around Point Frederick with us and became the oldest person to do so. At the Legacy Dinner in the Senior Staff Mess he and Sheila were guests of honour at our table, where they were joined by two of his best friends: Bernie Laliberté and Bill Oliver with their wives. At the appointed hour, we all stepped outside to grab paddles and shirts, then marched in behind John and his bagpipes. After the speeches, we marched out again, this time led by Andrew on the fiddle playing “V’la l’bon vent.”
This was the first canoe trip to raise money for the Danny McLeod Athletic Endowment Fund. It was a resounding success, far exceeding the expected total. The RMC Foundation had challenged us to raise $50,000. We had set a trip goal of $100,000. In the final tally, the Class of 71 contributed $58,231 to commemorate its 35th Reunion plus an additional $28,554 from earlier campaigns. The other paddlers raised a healthy $28,719 for a grand trip total of $115,504.
As we paddled our way down the Rideau
Four knots was our average speed-o
The crew was first rate
And the spirit was great
For Truth Duty Valour’s our credo
– Bruce McAlpine