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  • Chasse-Galerie – The 2016 Trip – Special in many ways – Part 10

Chasse-Galerie – The 2016 Trip – Special in many ways – Part 10

The 2016 Trip

Compiled by – H8788 Geoff Bennett

Crew Members

College Number College of Entry Grad Year Name Job
5893 RR 63 Tom Gee bosun
8684 CMR 71 Peter Holt chanteur
8710 CMR 71 Chuck Lemieux facilitateur
8725 CMR 71 Fergus McLaughlin photographer
H8788 RMC 71 Geoff Bennett le bourgeois
8833 RMC 71 John Leggat bean counter
8836 RMC 71 Clark Little adjutant & weatherman
8926 RR 71 Ray Hook bartender
9143 CMR 72 Bruce McAlpine cook
12192 RMC 79 Tom Lawson bagpiper
M0288 RMC 83 Roxanne Rees sous-chef
15012 RMC 85 Tom Norris bagpiper
15566 RMC 86 Helga Grodzinski publicity
22461 RMC 02 Claire Bramma medic
WH25917 Sheila McLeod guest of honour
27173 RMC 18 William Carpentier aide de camp
27639 CMR 20 Andréanne Tremblay aide de camp


Total funds raised for Athletics: $165,198

Gold: John Leggat $21,872

Silver: Geoff Bennett $14,358

Bronze: Peter Holt $13,963

On 14 January 2014, H25917 Major Danny McLeod passed away at the age of 92. In a way, this sad event was the beginning of the final Chasse-Galerie. In 2011 I had publicly committed to run one more trip when my classmates and I joined the Old Brigade in 2016. To honour Danny’s legacy I wanted this trip to be special in several ways. Most importantly, I was determined to set a fundraising record.

Two paddlers from the 2011 trip, Roxanne Rees and John Leggat, independently came up with the idea of matching donations. Ray Hook and I took the suggestion to heart and decided to search for fifteen matching donors. Each donor would be assigned to one of the paddlers and would agree to match dollar-for-dollar whatever funds that paddler managed to raise, up to a limit of $5,000. Therefore, if each of the fifteen paddlers raised $5,000 then the total, including matching donors, would be $150,000.

Beginning in late 2014, Ray put the plan in motion. He approached a select group of classmates and asked each of them for one final donation to commemorate our entry into the Old Brigade. It took a year but eventually we signed up fourteen major donors including my brother, Rick, who donated in memory of our father. Despite our best efforts to widen the net we never could get the fifteenth, so fourteen would have to do.

I had a concern. In 2011 the average raised per paddler was $3,900. With fifteen paddlers and fourteen major donors this same effort would result in an expected 2016 total of $113,000 – less than the 2006 trip. We needed to reach for the brass ring. Accordingly I asked each paddler to aim for $5,000.

Nine stalwart veterans rejoined the crew. Tom Gee would be the senior Ex-Cadet, the “bosun emeritus” on his fourth voyage, finally claiming the “Ancient Mariner” title held by Stan Mitchell ever since the 2000 trip. Peter Holt would sing again, much to the delight or chagrin of his crewmates. Bruce would wear his pink-striped cook’s apron and serve up cappuccinos for the fourth time. Signing up for the third time were Fergus the photographer and Ray the bartender.  John Leggat, Roxanne and Claire cheerfully reclaimed their seats and their customary duties.

New recruits were just as quick to sign up. Clark Little wanted to reconnect with RMC and to relive the adventure of a post-grad canoe trip on the Rideau. He had the critical jobs of forecasting the weather and assigning beds to roommates. Classmates Helga Grodzinski and Sandra Sukstorf were looking forward to the adventure together but then a family emergency forced Sandra to step down. Her place was ably filled by Chuck Lemieux, le facilitateur, who arranged for the Commander of the Army to take the salute. Helga managed the media and all the modern voyageur stuff – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

John de Chastelain graciously declined the offer to play the bagpipes but agreed to help find a replacement. Former RMC Commandant and recently retired CDS, General Tom Lawson is also an excellent piper. To the delight of the team, Tom willingly submitted to our entreaties and agreed to sign up, thus continuing the tradition. However, being recently retired, Tom was much in demand for speaking engagements. Knowing that we would lose him for a day in the middle of the trip, I went looking for another piper to fill the gap. Tom Norris hadn’t played for years; his pipes were in disrepair and he couldn’t get time off. However, at the last minute all those concerns disappeared and he agreed to join the crew in Smiths Falls. The two Tom’s overlapped for a day and played side by side in the canoe. The duets worked so well that we asked Tom Norris to stay on when Tom Lawson rejoined the crew.  And thus, for the first and last time, we had two pipers salute the Commandant when we arrived at RMC.

WH25917 Sheila McLeod was the guest of honour. During the trip she rode on a houseboat with Patrick and Deborah Hunt and joined us for Happy Hours and dinner. She had her own paddle and uniform and she joined the crew from Merrickville to Smiths Falls, then again on the final stretch from Kingston Mills to RMC. She even participated in the famous speed trial at Smiths Falls where the crew set a Chasse-Galerie record of 11.3 km/h.

There remained two seats in the canoe. Ever since the 2012 Legacy Dinner I had nurtured a plan. That weekend I was cornered by two cadets from the RMC Expedition Club, of which I was a Director at the time. I had met 25881 Curtis (Anthony) Matlock in 2011 when he helped me load the canoe back on the trailer. It was a gray rainy Sunday afternoon and there was no one around to help when we discovered that the trailer winch was broken. I walked into the Stone Frigate, called down the hallways and rattled on doors. Curtis and a few others came to our rescue. He went on to found the Expedition Club and it was in this position that he asked to meet with me during the 2012 Reunion Weekend. He had an idea. He suggested two canoes for the next Chasse-Galerie. One of them would be full of cadets, who would camp at the lockstations and cook their own meals. “It will be no trouble to get time off,” he assured me. I had never been in favour of two canoes but this idea held some appeal. What a marvellous sight it would be! We could mix the cadets and Ex-Cadets during the day and join together at Happy Hour. The fundraising potential would be much greater. And I wouldn’t have to worry about their room and board.

Curtis graduated in 2013. We lost contact but I kept his idea alive. When I discussed the plan with Rod McDonald and Jennifer Jordan of the RMC Foundation they foresaw some difficulties and recommended that I contact the Principal, 14458 Dr. Harry Kowal.  The answer was swift in coming: it would not be possible to allow fifteen cadets to take a week off from studies at the beginning of the academic year. However, one cadet was a possibility, provided that the cadet had good academic standing and was approved by the Principal and Commandant. I also contacted the Principal of RMCSJ, 10966 LGen Michel Maisonneuve, who was enthusiastic about allowing one cadet to join. After much discussion and an amicable meeting among fellow mechanical engineers John Leggat, Harry Kowal and myself, we hammered out an agreement. At RMCSJ, Michel said he would look after the selection process. At RMCC it was more complicated since it had to be handled by the cadet wing. Despite good will from both colleges, the process took a long time. There was a general lack of clarity and communication from the cadet wing and I had no control in the selection of my future crew members. I had thought that many cadets would jump at the chance to spend a week on the water with a group of retired generals and other accomplished Ex-Cadets. However, in the end there was only one candidate from RMCC, 27173 William Carpentier, who fortunately was approved by the Principal, and there were three from RMCSJ, of whom 27639 Andréanne Tremblay was selected. By the time this happened, the 2015-16 school year was ending; the cadets were headed off to summer training and there was precious little time for fundraising. I knew that neither of them could raise $5,000. I was happy finally to have two cadets in the crew but I was concerned that the team would fail to meet the fundraising target.

The matter of the cadets’ expenses was not finally resolved until after the canoe trip. This too was subject to a rather complicated approval system straddling RMCC and the RMC Foundation. In the end, I paid all their expenses in advance and was reimbursed for everything except the cadets’ share of Happy Hours!

Although they never swung a paddle, the members of the road crew were indispensable. Wendy cheerfully and loyally catered and delivered, as she had done on all the trips. In 2006 and 2011 she had the help of Jamie Rosequist. This time, Elaine Hook rode shotgun and provided the van. The pair of them looked after the onshore logistics all the way from Ottawa to Kingston and joined us most evenings. Other helpers on the road were Nadine Delbeke, who drove the suitcases to Kingston and who actually did paddle the canoe from Dows Lake to downtown, and 8946 Bill Mitchell, who took photos en route.

There was another major innovation in 2016 – houseboat escorts. This was the idea of classmate and former submariner 8927 Patrick Hunt. The houseboats would be rented and piloted by members of the Class of 71 and they would escort the canoe all the way from Ottawa to Kingston. This would have several benefits to the canoe crew, especially in the event of bad weather or a medical emergency. It would also mean a lighter load in the canoe and a safe place to store lifejackets and paddles at night. At the Bennett cottage the boats would provide beds for half a dozen paddlers, thus alleviating the cramped conditions ashore. During the day, we agreed we would sail separately except for a single following “duty” houseboat. However, in the evenings we would all get together for Happy Hour and dinner. In order for the houseboats to make the one-way trip, they actually had to pick up the boats in Smiths Falls, pilot them to Ottawa before the canoe trip, and then after the trip they had to sail back up from Kingston to Smiths Falls, essentially travelling the Rideau in both directions. The five boat crews were Patrick and Deborah Hunt with Sheila McLeod, 8933 Pete and Chris Kendell, 8921 Ron and Brenda Harder with 9012 Mike and Dawn Wrenshall, 9005 Ken and Anna Wilkie, 8855 Mal and Roberta Palmer. Not only did the houseboat flotilla provide tangible benefits to the paddlers, but the family atmosphere and the congenial company added immeasurably to the pleasure of the trip.

One final, very successful innovation was the use of the Bytown Museum in Ottawa for the pre-departure dinner. The Museum is located in Colonel John By’s 1827 Commissariat, the oldest stone building in Ottawa. We had used it before as a gathering place on all the Chasse-Galerie trips. On this occasion, the Museum blocked off the entire second floor, equipped it with a bar serving wine and popular Ottawa craft beer, and served a buffet dinner for 44 people. We invited all former Maudites and their spouses in the Ottawa area to join the canoe and houseboat crews. Surrounded by all the Rideau history on display, as well as Fergus’s videos on a big screen, the venue and ambience were superb. Even better was to look around and see good friends from every canoe trip since 2000.

With Sheila McLeod at my side, I was able to announce that the crew of La Chasse-Galerie 2016 had indeed broken a fund-raising record. On the eve of the trip the total had reached $160,000, well ahead of both the 2006 total and the $150,000 target. Most of the crew came close to or surpassed $5,000; five paddlers raised significantly more. The fourteen major donors ponied up $66,000 of the total. By the time the last donation arrived in November, the total peaked at $165,198. The RMC Foundation was especially pleased because these were real donations, unlike the pledges of previous trips. As a personal gift to paddlers and major donors, I handed out copies of Ted Nurse’s biography of Danny McLeod, “Always a Leader”. Each book had been signed by the author, by Danny (a year before he passed away,) and by John de Chastelain, who wrote the Foreword.

Early the following morning, 16 September 2016, the crew showed up in full #1 uniform. The bagpipes and all the paddles were present and accounted for. The carved ceremonial paddle was ready although we now had a strong new stern paddle – flashy red with an RMC decal – with which to steer the canoe to Kingston. The paddlers sat expectantly in position as I prepared to cast off. I looked at the familiar faces and remembered my favourite poem, “Ulysses” by Tennyson:

My mariners,

Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me –

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads…

Among the crew were eight members of the Old Brigade and two cadets, spanning 57 years of military college history. There were eleven men and four women. Eight had started at RMC, five at CMR and two at RR. Five were retired Generals or equivalent. Four were serving in the Armed Forces. Conversations in the canoe flipped easily from English to French. This crew was truly representative of the Canadian Military College community.

When I shouted “Give way together!” first voiced by Stan Mitchell in 2000, these further words of Tennyson rang in my head:

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars…

Within minutes we turned to face 15706 LGen Paul Wynnyk, Commander of the Canadian Army. Two uniformed members of the houseboat crew formed a Guard of Honour for the General. Despite the early hour of 0745 there was a good crowd in attendance. After the customary bagpipe salute and cheer, we were off!

Well, almost. William had an unfortunate start. Within minutes of our departure, he looked around his seat in a panic. He had left his bag on the dock. Someone helpfully suggested that the Ottawa bomb squad would blow it up. Helga texted Wendy, who told Elaine, who immediately ran to the dock and found it. They delivered the bag to a suitably chastened William at Hartwells Locks. Peter put a hand on his shoulder and told him about the time he left his paddle behind and had to walk the plank.

The sun shone all the way to Kingston. Al Dunlop once again supplied the home-made wine with Chasse-Galerie labels; Dave Bindernagel bought the Pusser rum in memory of Don Gates who, sadly, had passed away in 2012. Big festive dinners brightened the end of every day: large gatherings at Swan on the Rideau in Manotick, the Legion in Merrickville and the Air Force Association in Smiths Falls. In Manotick the men stayed at the homes of Ex-Cadets 4837 Harvey Neilsen, 8790 Jean Boyle, 8916 Peter Gartenburg, 15012 Tom Norris and 15148 Greg Matte. The four ladies enjoyed a night at the Country View B&B. They did the same again the next night at the 1840 B&B in Merrickville while the men stayed at the Millisle B&B and in the homes of Ex-Cadets 6094 Al Hardie, 8319 Greg MacDonald and 8985 Randy Stowell.

Upon leaving Manotick at the start of the longest day, William took to the stern as if to the manner born and brought us to Rideau River Park in time for coffee break. 8718 Don Mackinnon, a savvy local resident and member of the Class of 71, met us at the dock with a bottle of whiskey. Many miles later, just before Merrickville, Al Hardie and family gave us an unusual welcome: they fired “artillery” from the starboard shore, driving us toward their dock on the port side. The Merrickville dinner was free, courtesy of Randy Stowell and the Legion. The mayor showed up in top hat and livery collar; toasts and speeches ensued.

The following morning we gathered by the blockhouse in full #2 uniform for the ceremony with the Friends of the Rideau. The town crier was there, along with Vic Suthren, a board member. In my cheque presentation speech, I chose to focus on the legacy of the First Nations. We had left Algonquin territory in Ottawa and were travelling through the traditional lands of the Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our canoe was a creation of the First Nations and our paddles were designed by a Kwagiulth artist. I was surprised and delighted when Vic replied in the Anishinaabe language.

We had an invitation for lunch at the heritage home of 7943 Bill Lye, so we paddled through Kilmarnock and straight on to Edmonds. We tied up at Bill’s wooden dock while the duty houseboat continued to his neighbour’s metal dock just below the weir. While we were enjoying a jolly lunch with Bill and his classmates, Ray Hook decided to check on the rum supply. The crew had been particularly mutinous on the Long Reach to Merrickville, calling for “Rum!” on several occasions. We had been playing juvenile tricks on the bartender, hiding the rum and so forth, so he had taken to storing the precious cargo on the houseboat out of harm’s way. As he and Deborah walked down to the shore for a quick check they noticed that the wind was blowing hard from the south towards the base of the weir. To their horror, they found the houseboat crushed against the metal dock, which was rapidly crumpling and disappearing below the water. The thundering weir was a mere hundred yards away – downwind. Deborah stayed with the boat while Ray ran back to get help. The house emptied in pandemonium. William was the first to arrive. He took one look at the situation, jumped in and untied the boat from the dock. Then he maneuvered the mangled dock towards shore where the rest of us pulled it in. Deborah and Patrick sailed the houseboat to safety at Edmonds Lock. The rum was saved. Crisis averted, we all had a good laugh, fixed the dock as best we could and congratulated William on the rescue. After we left, Bill Lye repaired and re-installed the dock before his vacationing neighbour returned.

William figured prominently in two more escapades that same day. At Old Slys some young boys were swinging from a rope beneath the old railroad bridge and flying high through the air into the water. William joined in the fun while the canoe locked through. Deborah Hunt snapped a photo of William in mid-leap. After the trip, Fergus’s daughter Melanie photo-shopped William dangling from the flying canoe in the iconic “Maudite” painting.

There is a swing bridge at the top of Old Slys but we decided to go under rather than wait for it to open. Normally a few of us would remind the helmsman to take down the flagpole from the stern. But we all forgot. Of course, this had nothing to do with the rum ration a few minutes earlier. The pole struck the bridge with a sickening series of cracks as it hit the various girders. On the far side it popped out and launched itself. We could have backed up to get it but William jumped in the water, for the third time that day, and retrieved the pole and the Canadian flag.

As we paddled the last stretch through the basin at Smiths Falls, Bruce saw the posted 10km speed limit and challenged the crew to surpass it. Andréanne, who was steering, deftly pulled out her cell phone with one hand and switched it to GPS mode. Then we shot off at full speed, all engines straining to the maximum. Sheila McLeod, who had paddled all the way from Kilmarnock that morning, pulled as hard as the others. Andréanne steered the canoe and watched her cell phone at the same time, waiting for the speed reading… 8, 9, 10 then 11.3 km/hr! The canoe yawed wildly towards the starboard bank. She grabbed the paddle in both hands and turned us hard to port. As we caught our collective breath, someone expressed disappointment that the police were not there to ticket us for speeding. However, roving photographer Bill Mitchell captured the event on video for posterity.

That evening, by unanimous vote of the four ladies, Tom Gee claimed the single room at the Colonel By Inn. William left for two days of air crew testing and piper Tom Norris joined the crew. Three retired Air Force generals – Tom Lawson, Peter Gartenburg and Clark Little – gave stirring speeches at the Air Force Association dinner, surrounded by photos of aircraft they had flown. Clark also delivered a detailed weather report and told us that rain or sunshine were equally likely. Probably thanks to Clark we managed to avoid bad weather all week. The only brief sprinkle hit us on arrival in Smiths Falls as we scampered to shelter in the hotel – all except Bruce, who got soaked while gallantly moving coolers between houseboat and car.

On Monday morning, for the first time ever, two pipers stood in the stern of the canoe when we left Smiths Falls. It was a merry start to a gray morning as we passed under the black hulk of the old bascule bridge and entered the sinuous swamp below Poonamalie.  The sun burned through the cloud by mid-day and the wind died down. We had never seen the Big Rideau Lake so calm, literally like a mirror, without a ripple but for the canoe. That evening at the cottage, the houseboaters cooked a feast for everyone.  We all gathered on the deck, where Peter Holt and I recited, with maximum melodrama, a Robert Service duet. Then came the main act: accompanied by Ron Harder on the guitar, the boaters sang their new Chasse-Galerie lyrics to the tune of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. After a magical evening under the stars, they rowed in the stillness back to the boats. I thought of friends and family and all the good times.

Bruce got up early the next morning to ensure that everyone would smell the coffee and bacon. Tom Lawson had left the night before for a speaking engagement, leaving the capable Tom Norris in charge of the piping for a day. Glen Allen met us at Narrows Lock for coffee, as he had done on all the previous trips. We were also joined by H24263 John Cowan, a former RMC Principal, in his unique French cruiser. At the next lockstation in Newboro, Claire Bramma, a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Engineers, led us on a tour of the Royal Sappers and Miners Cemetery. Six soldiers died during the construction of this part of the canal between 1829 and 1831. The difficulties of blasting and excavating the Newboro channel led to the construction of a dam and a lock at the Narrows to raise the water level by several feet.

Under new management, much to our delight, the Opinicon at Chaffeys Locks was undergoing major renovations. We enjoyed Happy Hour in the huge Ponderosa cabin with a piano that was finally in tune. Tom Lawson rejoined the crew that evening, bringing the piper complement back up to two.

Another notable improvement the following morning was a breakfast menu that offered more than just porridge and prunes. Later on we passed through beautiful Jones Falls in perfect weather and enjoyed a Hotel Kenney lunch together with the houseboaters and Class of 71 mates 8687 Dick Jamer, 8610 Greg and Linda Barnes. The hotel had cancelled our reservation owing to a misunderstanding, so service was a bit slow. The paddlers were eagerly awaiting dessert when I looked outside at the headwind building up. I thought of the Brass Point Swing Bridge that we had to pass before 3:50.  I stood up with a heavy heart and told them that we had to get back in the canoe immediately if we wanted to sleep in a bed that night. There would be no lemon meringue pie. Oh, the wails of anguish! Later on, the senior officers commiserated about my difficult decision and “the loneliness of high command.”

William returned that evening to Melody Lodge, just in time for a long relaxing Happy Hour in the summer-like warmth. We signed all the paddles for the fifth and final time. Clark injected a bit of excitement into the gathering by setting the barbecue on fire. But the mood was mellow on the last evening of the last trip and the speeches at dinner were heartfelt. As we happily drifted off to bed, Bruce pre-cooked the bacon for breakfast.

We left Melody Lodge in a pink dawn and paddled through mist on the still water. The wind picked up later, making for a hard pull through the River Styx and onward to Kingston Mills. That put us slightly behind schedule and led to a bit of a rush to get the canoe through the locks and to finish lunch on time. Class of 71 people arrived to show their support: 8924 Bob and Pat Herbert by car and 8452 Brian and Joan Patterson by boat. Sheila donned her red shirt, ceinture flechée and Danny’s Old Brigade beret. There were now seventeen paddlers for the final run from Kingston Mills to RMC – the most ever.

Beyond the Cataraqui marsh the church spires of Kingston beckoned. Boats began to appear: photographers in a zodiac, scullers, pleasure boats, all the houseboats, even a fireboat in the distance. There was no time to stop at HMCS Cataraqui; we could see cadets in scarlets lined up beyond the Lasalle Causeway. The two Toms stood up to pipe us in, all of us in red shirts, nine of us in Old Brigade berets. The RMC Commandant, 16855 BGen Sean Friday, took the salute. We gave the old college cheer and the cadets joined in. Behind us the fireboat tossed up great plumes of spray. After donning lifejackets we battled the waves around the point to the dock behind the Stone Frigate. There we received a welcome unlike any other. The whole ALOY team (Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year) drummed us in. The Commandant presented each of us with college coins. Jim Tremain, who was an Old Brigader on the first trip in 2000, greeted every paddler. Then Elder Bernard Nelson welcomed us individually with a smudge ceremony. Paddle in hand, I paid homage to the legacy of our First Nations.

The rugby team carried the canoe up to Panet House where it remained for the rest of Reunion Weekend. That evening at the Legacy Dinner the Chasse-Galerie crew took pride of place. Slipping red shirts and ceintures over formal wear, we followed piper Tom Lawson to the podium where the two cadets, Andréanne and William, gave speeches in French and English. Andréanne recited a limerick:

          La chasse-galerie s’en va bercer par la houle,
Arrêtant chaque fois applaudit par la foule,
Ils continuent sans plaintes,
Chassant peurs et craintes,
Car travaillant ensemble, sous aucuns efforts ils ne croulent.

In my own speech to the assembled guests, I paid tribute to my father, who inspired me to give something back to the college that trained us, and to Lord Baden-Powell, my boyhood hero who once said, “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it.”