E3161 Victoria Edwards (RMC 2003) in conversation with 10389 Doctor Chris Cottle (CMR 1975).
e-Veritas: How did you end up with the nickname “Mr. AO’ at CMR?
Dr. Cottle: I started in Prep Year at CMR in August 1970. I had grown up with a gentle nudge from my father to go to the military colleges and I had no reluctance to do so. After about 3 weeks at “Prep Camp” I banged up my knee while doing my very first “circle”. I hobbled around most of the day, scared to complain, until one of the PE staff saw my knee which was now out like a grapefruit and he sent me to the MIR. Two days later, I was in Queen Mary’s Veterans Hospital in Montreal and had my knee opened up to remove the bone fragments that had detached from my patella. I am only telling you this as I was called “Mr. A.O.” (Academics Only) as I spent the first half of Prep Year on crutches and then over the next couple of years I “banged” up the knee several more times placing soccer and hockey. I was a regular at MIR. I was often seen with crutches over the years … it became my norm.
e-Veritas: Outline your career progression from Mars Officer to dentist.
Dr. Chris Cottle: I graduated from CMR in 1975 and was in the navy as a MARS officer. Training was in Esquimalt, then I went to the “Sweepers” as a Navigator then to HMCS Algonquin followed by HMCS Iroquois as both a DWO (Weapons) and a DNO (Navigator). It was a lot of fun with a lot of early responsibility at a young age. I loved it. After two sea tours, I was sent to the Fleet School in Halifax where I ran the Naval Operations Course. I had to make a decision between family and the Navy and I chose the family.
I applied for the Dentistry program that was offered to serving military officers and I was accepted into Dalhousie University for a four year DDS program. This was followed by a posting to Lahr, Goose Bay then Borden as a dentist. After the family set up house in Barrie, my oldest daughter asked if we were going to be in Barrie for a couple of years. I replied yes and she said “Oh good, I can make a friend!” I enjoyed the military but my family was more important and that day, the military was done after 21 years. I started a private dental practice in Barrie in the summer of 1991.
e-Veritas: What are you up to these days?
Dr. Cottle: Life takes its turns but I have been a dentist for more than 26 years. I had my own practice but I am now just associating as a dentist as I prepare for the eventual retirement. I still have problems with my knees so I have not been active in the usual team sports but I did coach soccer for many years and I still referee soccer. Now living in Calgary, I enjoy the hiking and snow shoeing in the mountains and I bike in the summer. My time at the museum at CMR has kept me interested in home construction type things so I can often be found tearing out walls and re-doing rooms in our home. I still hit my thumb from time to time with a hammer.
Dr. Cottle: In 2011, I moved to Calgary, where I reconnected with the girl I took to Grad Ball in 1975. Actually, I met Janine in Sep 1974 at the Organization of Military Museums of Canada conference in Montreal. She was doing museum sciences at Algonquin College in Ottawa and had been working at the War Museum during the summer; they asked her to go to the conference as an intern and work the reception. We met, we went out for the next eight months, she went to the CMR Grad Ball with me and then I graduated and we went in different directions. We both went through other lives through the 70s/80s/90s and 2000s. I searched for her after my divorce, Google told me where she had been but I was not able to find her. Then one day two years ago, I, just out of the blue, typed her name on Facebook and it was the same day she went on Facebook (that is spooky). I then moved to Calgary. That is the short version of a very long story. We had not seen each other in over 36 years; now we are getting married in Maui in September 2013 – 39 years to the day when we first met.
e-Veritas: What were CMR St Jean and Royal Roads Military College like in the mid 1970s?
Dr. Cottle: Thank you for your interest in my time at CMR. It was a time that I enjoyed thoroughly and I have very fond memories of those five years (Prep to 4th Year). CMR was a growing institution. May of 1971 was the first graduation year from the 4th year program … if I am not mistaken there was also 18 4th years to graduate as there was with RMC first grad class. It was a dynamic time. New construction to the academic buildings was the big project plus extensions to the “dorms” to create more space. And the college was getting ready to accept the first class of UTPOs, UTPMs and then Roadents to finish their academic year at CMR. We even had the first transfer from RMC to CMR, 10644 Mike Zwicker. The CMCs were integrating programs and the cadets could now start at one college and finish at another depending on the academic degree that they wanted to follow.
I was not a Roadent; but being a MARS officer, I spent my two of my summer training sessions at RRMC – what a beautiful place and I remember the noisy peacocks.
e-Veritas: Describe cadet life at CMR in the 1970s.
Dr. Cottle: CMR was obviously different in the early 1970s from RMC C/ RMCSJ of today, just like it was different in the 1950s and so on. Some would say that it was stricter, we were not allowed out as much and there were many more restrictions. As a Prep in 1970, we were only allowed out on Saturday afternoon and evening and then for the afternoon on Sundays. We had to get back to the college prior to 11 pm on Saturday or we would be running circles on Monday morning. Dress to go outside the college was Number 4s with pillbox and the big greatcoat that was down to our ankles (actually, the greatcoat was quite fashionable at that time) and in the winter it was the Persian lambs wool astrakhan. It was not that fashionable, although my mother wanted it as it matched a coat that she had.
The usual routine was to leave the college in dress, then change into jeans at the bus stop as we headed into Montreal – hopefully, not to be caught by a “bar man” … circles on Monday. First and second years were allowed to wear Number 6s (blue blazer) and in the fall of 1971, they allowed us to wear a coloured shirt with the 6s, flared grey pants and our own black shoes – style had come to the CMCs and that was a biggy. Pay was limited – my first pay check as an Officer Cadet was enough to buy an iron. It was cheap and it never worked but it filled the required space in my locker and the bottom was always shiny so that always passed room inspections. The pay changed in 1974, and we were actually able to do things without borrowing from our parents.
e-Veritas: What was the best thing CMR taught you?
Dr. Cottle: Times change as does society. However, I can only guess but I am quite sure that the colleges still produce one of the best education programs in Canada with the graduate being a well rounded individual with the values of Truth, Duty, and Valour being a significant part of that. I always say to people that one of the best things it taught me was how to manage my time … there is never enough time to do everything and you quickly learn to prioritize, to allocate you limited time resources in the best way possible. It also allowed us to build friendships that have lasted a lifetime. I can see one of my classmates today and after a few minutes we are telling our “war stories” of life at CMR. The reputation of the CMCs in the academic world seems to be very high. When I went in for my interview during the application process for my DDS at Dalhousie, once the panel heard I was RMC, they stopped asking me questions – I was in. Then they wanted to know of where I had been in the world with the military.
e-Veritas: With the head of the museum club as Curator, H18424 Dr. David Ruddy served as History professor/Director of the Museum?
Dr. Cottle: Dr. Ruddy was a very nice man with a very large reputation for his history background. He was known, on the College, for his little sports car (I think it was an Aston Martin) that all the cadets “salivated” over. Dr Ruddy had actually very little to do with the museum other than being the history professor. 9540 Paul Jenkins was the real driving force to getting something going and make it into an actual museum; however, we had to have a faculty advisor and that was Dr. Ruddy. He came to the museum once in awhile while we were working there but all of the museum design etc came from Paul. I do not know if David’s role changed after my departure in 1975. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timescolonist/obituary.aspx?n=david-daniel-ruddy&pid=150378273
e -Veritas: Which came first, the Fort Saint-Jean Museum or the museum club?
Dr. Cottle: I did enjoy history and became involved from 1971 to 1975 with the Fort Saint-Jean Museum. Which came first the museum or the museum club? Actually, the museum was started as a pile of historical things in the Old Guard House which had been the jail for the base going back a hundred or so years. H18424 Dr. David Ruddy was the advisor but it was really started by 9540 Paul Jenkins in 1971. Paul was forced to take a leave of absence due to a bone fracture and spent that year off working as a volunteer at the Nova Scotia museum in Halifax. Paul came back to CMR and became involved in the museum. I had an interest so I joined him as the two first members of the museum club. We were joined by 11282 Ross MacFarlane, and 11330 Angus Watt, who served with me on the same ship in 1977 and went on to be Chief of Air Staff. The Museum Club was joined by 11690 Simon MacDowall and 10837 John Gredley. I have not seen them since 1975 but I remember them all well. I am amazed that you found me but that is what the internet gives us – we can no longer hide :).
e-Veritas: What did CMR’s collection consist of?
Dr. Cottle: Before the early 1970s Dr. Ruddy was the “curator”; however, they just collected artefacts (cannon balls, clay pipes, buttons, found around the college grounds and in the water of the Richelieu River where the 1775 battle took place) and uniforms from the military years and then the college years since 1952. The Old Guard House was where they put all of this stuff.
The collection of pre 1850 came from items that were found on the grounds during maintenance and excavations. Diving Club found cannon balls in the water around the old fort area (The College used to use these as 10 pound shot put). Collections of the military base came from items found in the old storage rooms and then collections related to CMR where just gradually acquired as the college aged. We had a Club budget that was provided by the College based on the numbers of club members; it was only enough to buy the modeling supplies.
The CMC Collection consists of cadet & ex-cadet uniforms, badges, weapons, art, militaria, books, diaries, photos, albums, photos, newspaper articles etc. telling the story of the location (e.g. Fort), the cadets, and the College. Since the uniforms and badges had changed somewhat over the years, we had some things from “CMR clothing supply” delivered to the museum instead of them throwing everything out.
e-Veritas: What artefacts did the Museum Club find on the campus of CMR?
Dr. Cottle: By 1971, Museum club members could often be found in any hole, dug by CE on the college, looking for artefacts. We found many items from the mid 1800s. We even did a “dig” – using the huge trees and an old map we were able to pinpoint what appeared to be the officers’ latrine from the late 1800s and we found buttons, clay pipes, plates and anything else that may fall out of a dropped pants pocket or just thrown into the hole. Again Paul had some knowledge of what to do for this but nothing was recorded.
e-Veritas: The Fort Saint-Jean Museum was set up in the Old Guard House, with displays in the jail cells.
Dr. Cottle: The Guard House dates from the mid/late 1800s – a pot belly type stove as heat for the office and no heat elsewhere and a very cold washroom in the winter time. The historical collection may have been stored elsewhere but from my time it was all just a jumble in the Old Guard House. There was enough “stuff” that it is unlikely that it was stored anywhere else. When I was a cadet, the old guard house was totally used as a museum; Nothing else. Probably the good thing about the items at CMR is that the Old Guard House was not heated. I do not remember damp or mould, etc on the artefacts but I was not really looking for that type of thing in my late teens / early twenties.
Paul was the real force to getting the museum started at the Old Guard House. I was just interested and labour. Ross, Angus and Simon had the talent to make models. After 30 years as a Dentist, I can just barely draw a tooth! So there we toiled during the late afternoons when we were not doing sports and on weekends. We allocated the cells of the museum so that each room would represent a different phase of the Fort Saint-Jean history from the early French fort to the English forts when Fort Saint-Jean withheld the American invasion of Lower Canada in 1775. The big stone forts of the Richelieu River and Montreal all fell quickly to the American forces but the 50 day delay caused by men behind the earth and timber Fort of Saint-Jean forced the Americans to not reach Quebec until late November and then winter won. Fort Saint-Jean is one of the big reasons the Americans did not annex Lower Canada. One room was done as a WW1/WW2 sandbagged bunker with sound effects and flashes of bomb shells. Paul was very good with his ideas. The last room was for Fort Saint-Jean as CMR.
e-Veritas: The Fort Saint-Jean Museum became an official Military Museum of Canada.
Dr. Cottle: As an official Military Museum of Canada, we were able to get CE to make things like signs etc and there was an additional budget from the college to attend the conferences. It was beg, borrow and steal. I did acquire many of the old college newspapers and year books that were lying around – that may have been more in the “steal” category. At the time we had not asked for donations as it was “full” time just trying to organize the stuff that we had and storage space was a limiting factor. During the summer of 1974, the college had several of the officer cadets who did not have summer training for that summer (CMR being a five year program had one extra summer that the 4 year programs at RMC and RRMC did not have) to work at the marina and keep the museum open for the public. We charged an admission charge of $0.25. That was not to make money but to stop the children from the PMQs (the Old Guard House was at the entrance to the PMQ area) from coming in all the time. The city of Saint-Jean museum was in the old train station just outside the college grounds so they would send some people over but we did not have many visitors.
e-Veritas: You served as the 2nd curator of the Fort Saint-Jean Museum. What did that position/club involve?
Dr. Cottle: Paul Jenkins was the 1st, I the second and Ross the third curator. After that I do not know. As mentioned, the club did some digs; we entertained some visitors to the college as the museum became a stopping point during most visits to the College. In 1973, Paul (I think) had done the paperwork with the administrative staff of CMR to have the Fort Saint-Jean Museum accepted as an official member of the Organization of Military Museums of Canada. We attended the Military Museums of Canada Conference in Halifax in September 1973. CMR hosted part of the Military Museums of Canada Conference held in Montreal in September 1974. Our little museum was on the itinerary of that Conference.
In addition, we set up displays of the history of the Forts at Saint-Jean and the old military base at the entrance way to the then new library (1974) and we even opened the Fort Saint-Jean museum up to the public in the summer of 1974. I am not sure if that continued. Our little museum became a going concern. The club membership remained small.
e-Veritas: The Museum club members designed a number of dioramas for the Fort Saint-Jean Museum. Any tips?
Dr. Cottle: I really had no interest in the models. Paul was the guiding light and Ross, Simon, John and Augus were the real model builders. I just enjoyed the history and doing something with my hands. I was just learning to pick up a hammer and not hit my thumb. I remember that they were very well done especially considering that we had a very limited budget. We did beg, borrow and steal as best we could. As with anything, planning and preparation are the keys.
e-Veritas: You toured the Fort Saint-Jean Museum during your 40th anniversary from starting at CMR. Any tips?
Dr. Cottle: Yes, that was a great flashback moment for me. The museum had moved into what used to be the protestant chapel and I did the tour with a couple of the class mates and our partners. The poor summer student who took us on a tour kept asking questions expecting no one to know; she did not know that I had built many of the things. She became very frustrated and asked me not to answer any more questions. I bit my tongue until she was pointing out a large tooth brush that had been dug up and said something that was very wrong. Now we were back into my field as a dentist, I suggested that she may be wrong with that. She just could not win.
Eric Ruel, the current curator, did come to find me and we talked a bit about what had been done in the past and he took me over to the Old Guard House and some of the things that we had been pushing for CE to do back in 1974/75 had actually been done – the wheels grind slow but they do grind.
I do still enjoy history … it teaches us lots of lessons. And I did enjoy seeing what had become of our little museum. I understand that it is moving back to what used to be the Sergeants and Warrant Officers mess across the road from the Old Guard House. That will be a good location – history presented in an historical building.
• Musée du Fort Saint-Jean/ Fort Saint-Jean Museum www.museedufortsaintjean.ca/EN/index-en.htm
• Short history of Fort Saint-Jean
e-Veritas: Please comment on dioramas dating back from the old exhibit which are still at the Fort Saint-Jean Museum.
Dr. Cottle: I remember P1030596 Fort Saint-Jean 1666, which was designed and made by Ross MacFarlane assisted by 11690 Simon MacDowall very well. Ross was the guy on this one making all of the Carignan-Salières soldiers building a wood palisade on the banks of the Richelieu River. I was amazed at his skill. We had calling cards made for when Paul and I went to the museum conferences and I took a close up photograph of one of his soldiers and it was on the calling card. I still have one of those calling cards packed away and I see it from time to time. He was very meticulous with his models. We mounted it in a “shadow box” with lighting – it was in the first jail cell.
I do not have as vivid a picture of the others in my mind. 10837 John Gredley’s diorama of Fort Saint-Jean 1775 would be representing the Ramparts near the entrance to the College which still exist today … a significant part of Canadian history. It is those earthen mounds and wooden palisades that held off much larger force of Americans in 1775 and saved Canada. Dr. Jacques Castonguay wrote several books on the history of the forts and CMR.
• The Battle of Fort Saint-Jean
e-Veritas: Any last words?
Dr. Cottle: The CMCs provide an excellent education to the young men and women of Canada, in some peoples’ minds perhaps the best in Canada. It is a privilege to be picked to go there. It is not everyone’s “cup of tea” but many flourish in that environment. Current students need to get all they can from it. Past Students, the Ex-Cadets, need to reflect back and decide what the CMCs gave to them – the things, both good and bad, that have brought them to where they are today. I live in Calgary but I make a point of making an annual donation to the RMC Club Foundation every year. I, with a group of four of my classmates (CMR 70-75) have started a committee to prepare for 2020 – our 50 years from commencing at CMR or 45 years from finishing at CMR. We have started a tax deductible fund (Fonds du CMR Saint-Jean 1970-1975 Fund) at the RCM Club Foundation (www.rmcclubfoundation.ca) and I would encourage all of our classmates who either started or finished at CMR to make an annual donation. It does not have to be a large donation. If everyone does a little bit we will be able to do something significant for CMR – it is where we started our adult lives and it gave us our foundation for who we have become. It is important to “pay-back”.