History of the Royal Military College of Canada – 1920 – Year 44

Most readers are well aware that Royal Military College of Canada celebrated its 140th ‘birthday this past June. The following article has been reproduced from the very first RMC Review – 1920-21. The focus is on birthday ’44’.


 History of the Royal Military College of Canada – 1920 – Year 44

 “These are big items and if they were for something else I would be inclined to oppose them, but the Royal Military College has proven itself such a wonderful institution and its graduates have shown themselves to be such brave and splendidly equipped men during the present war, that I would hesitate to object to any vote for the improvement of this great College…”

Hon. G. P. Graham – desk-mate of Sir Wilfrid Laurier – circa 1916


The Royal Military College was founded in the year 1876 when Lord Dufferin was Governor-General, and the Hon. Alexander MacKenzie was Premier of Canada. Under the British North American Act, which gives to Canada and its Provinces, their constitution, it is provided that educational matters are to be solely dealt with by the Provinces and military matters by the Dominion. In order to carry out the military responsibility thereby assigned to the Federal Government, it was deemed necessary to have an institution where the higher development of military discipline, arts and sciences could be assured, and the Royal Military College was the solution. At this institution the youth of Canada were admitted, in limited numbers, and were offered instruction in all those scientific subjects essential to the educational equipment of a military officer. The science required in the practical processes of a campaign demand attention to such fundamental subjects as mathematics, mechanics, astronomy, engineering, physics, chemistry, etc., and numerous other subjects of a purely military nature, such as fortifications, tactics, strategy, military history, law, etc. These subjects are equally useful in processes of a similar nature, carried out in civil life, and incidentally, the principles, so far as they are acquired, for military reasons, may be used in civil operations, in all their numerous and various applications. Thus the College course may be looked upon as one of a very general scientific nature.

The functions and aims of the College differ from those of any similar institution in the British Empire, for, in the times of peace, the only military obligation called for from a graduate, is that he must enter the Canadian Militia for a period of threes years on leaving the College. This does not interfere with his taking up a civil profession, in face, the larger proportion of graduates go into civil life. The British Government offers annually several commissions to graduating cadets.

During the Great War just ended, it may be safely said that the 90 per cent of the available graduates and ex-cadets went overseas and fought in the various theatres of operation.

The outbreak of the war necessitated a change in the curriculum of the College, and a special war course of one year’s duration was adopted similar to that in force at Woolwich and Sandhurst. Although the course was purely optional, every cadet availed himself of the opportunity and took a commission or entered the army through the ranks.

Kingston was selected as the position for the College for several reasons: The Government possessed the site of the old naval yard on which were several buildings which could be converted into barracks for the cadets; Kingston is centrally situated as regards three of the big cities, namely, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, and, from its position at the entrance to the Great Lakes, with the St, Lawrence flowing on its south side and the Cataraqui on the east, it is an exceptionally healthy location. There is also another reason, which historically, is quite interesting. The Hon. Alexander MacKenzie, to whom so much is due with regard to the foundation of the College was a mason and contractor when he first came to Canada from Scotland in 1842. He was employed in the vicinity of Kingston, perhaps at Fort Henry on some Government work, and observed what a wonderful place the old naval yard would make for a public institution. He evidently made a mental not of this fact, and when he became Premier, and the Military College became a living idea. He at once picked out, as the most suitable location for it, its present unrivalled site.

The first Commandant was the late Lieut.-General E. O. Hewett, C.M.G., R.E., at the time a Colonel. He held the appointment for ten years and organized the College on the lines of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. His able and wise administration largely contributed to the phenomenal success and reputation of the College earned in subsequent years. He was succeeded by Major-General J. R. Oliver, C.M.G., 1886-1888; Major-General D. R. Cameron, C.M.G., 1888-1896; Major-General G.C. Kitson, K.C.V.O., C.B., C.M.G., 1896-1900; Major-general R.N. Reade, C.B., 1901-1905; Colonel E. T. Taylor, 1905-1909; Colonel J. H. V. Crowe, 1909-1913; Colonel L.R. Carleton, D.S.O., 1913-1914; Colonel C. N. Perreau, 1916-1919; Major-General Sir A. C. MacDonell, K.C.B., C.M.G., etc.

The length of the cadet course was originally four years, and the first batch, consisting of eighteen cadets joined in June 1876. For some two or three years two batches were admitted each year. This system, not proving satisfactory, it was decided to admit only one batch each year, which is the present arrangement. In 1897 the length of the course was reduced experimentally to three years, and has remained so until present year, when it reverts once more to the four year course. The number of cadets attending the College has fluctuated a good deal. At one time the number graduating reached to low level of eight and nine a year, but of late years that has not been the case and the number in residence now is only limited by the accommodation available. The examination for admission had necessarily to become competitive, and many schools have now special R.M.C. classes for preparing candidates. The number of cadets in residence at the time of writing is 160.

The College building consist of the educational block in which are the offices, classrooms, mess-room, billiard-room, and the recreation rooms; “A” Company dormitory, which is one of the original buildings of the old naval yard, and which is commonly known as “The Stone Frigate,” deriving its name from the fact that the cost of its erection was defrayed by money sent out from England in 1812 to build men-of-war; “B” Company dormitory, known as Fort Frederick, accommodating 66 cadets, which is we hope, shortly to be completed by the addition of two wings. (This building when finished will accommodate 150 cadets, each cadet having a room to himself.) Gymnasium, gun shed, with its basement used as a store for military engineering equipment. Hospital of twenty-four beds. The facilities for instruction and riding have, within the last year, been greatly improved by the building of a very fine cvovere4d riding school. The stables accommodate 38 horses, and the personnel of the rising establishment are quartered close by in a substantial brick and stone house.

The Commandant, Staff-Adjutant, the two Company Commanders and nine members of the Staff have official residences on the grounds of the College. There are also quarters for one Warrant Officer.

The grounds consist of about 30 to 40 acres and afford many facilities for recreation. The college possesses two football grounds, a cricket pitch, running track, with a lap of a quarter mile, six tennis courts, covered staking rink, squash racquet courts and grounds for the practical development of military engineering. A rifle range is also included in the grounds. Boating facilities, too, are abundant, the College possessing a number of sailing boats, canoes and skiffs.

A power house and pumping station supply filtered water and electric light to all the buildings on the grounds.

In connection with the building and their enlargement, it is very pleasing to be able to recorded some works spoken a short while ago by the Hon. G. P. Graham, in Parliament when he was discussing the supplementary estimates, asked for by the Department of Militia and Defence in order to extend the educational block and complete “B” Company dormitory, etc. Mr. Graham spoke as follows: “These are big items and if they were for something else I would be inclined to oppose them, but the Royal Military College has proven itself such a wonderful institution and its graduates have shown themselves to be such brave and splendidly equipped men during the present war, that I would hesitate to object to any vote for the improvement of this great College. Even in peace time the education given at the Royal Military College has been such that some of our leading men have been produced by that institution. The training is not, as some people appear to think, only physical, but there is a mental training and a course of study to equip young men for the activities of life in a practical way, which might well be envied by some of the other institutions.”

These words, from the Leader of the Opposition at a time when the tendency was to cut down every expense that was not absolutely necessary, are particularly gratifying, recognizing as they do, the magnificent part taken by the College in the world crisis.

The late war took a heavy toll of the College graduates, some 144 having made the supreme sacrifice. They, by their death, have added to the imperishable fame of their “Alma Mater,” and the great Empire to which we all belong.

-W. R. P. B.