LA CHASSE-GALERIE – Looking for a Class to “take up the torch”

Looking for a Class to “take up the torch?”

by 8788 Geoff Bennett

On Friday morning, 23 September, fifteen red-shirted Ex-cadets left Ottawa in a blaze of glory and bagpipes. Piper John de Chastelain stood in the middle of the 10-metre canoe as the crew saluted Defence Minister Peter Mackay, VCDS Bruce Donaldson and the redoubtable Major Danny McLeod. We paddled the 202 km length of the Rideau Canal over the next seven days and, for the first time in four trips, enjoyed perfect weather almost all the way.

The paddles were designed by Jason Hunt, a Kwagiulth native, using an eagle-wolf-orca motif to honour the armed forces – an idea suggested by Rick Gilleland. The canoe itself is an enduring Canadian symbol, connecting the First Nations from coast to coast, the history of Canada and its founding peoples. The crew was a mix of Ex-cadets across forty years, men and women, English and French, three colleges, UTPM, ROTP, RETP, civilian and military, united by a common college heritage – and a fine sense of humour.

Sometimes we swept along silently, dipping fifteen paddles in unison and putting up geese around each bend of the river. Then someone would crack a joke or announce a new limerick, or Peter Holt would lead a ribald song from his Nijmegen repertoire, or John de Chastelain would stand and play the pipes. We laughed and sang a lot. One couldn’t ask for a more convivial group.

The rhythm of paddling was interrupted by breaks for morning coffee, then a sumptuous lunch with cappuccinos and the ever popular afternoon tot of Navy rum. Colonel By’s magnificent nineteenth-century locks lifted and lowered us 37 times. No portages, no pemmican! We ate and slept at some of the finest establishments along the Rideau and paid all our own costs. Jerry Holtzhauer (LCG 2000 & 2006) arranged a dinner at The Exchange in Ottawa. On the first night in Manotick, six Ex-cadets billeted the paddlers and joined us at a banquet for 28 at Swan on the Rideau – John Barnard, Peter Gartenburg, Greg Matte, Peter Meincke, Tom Norris and Toivo Roht. At Hogsback Larry Cassie (LCG 2001) greeted us with an RMC banner and presented a new Canadian flag for the stern of the canoe. At the end of a long Day Two in Merrickville, Greg Macdonaldtransported the weary voyageurs to their B&B’s. Clive Addy joined us for cocktails before we sat down to a gourmet alfresco dinner at Mill Isle B&B. The next morning we met Bill and Rolande Oliver in the village park while a band played and a crowd gathered.  Then we formed up smartly in two ranks, did some dazzling paddle drill, and presented cheques totalling $1,500 to Friends of the Rideau and The Rideau Roundtable. In Smiths Falls, Bill Mitchell took videos and allowed his grandson to be kidnapped for a trip through the locks. On the Big Rideau, the crew paused to remember fallen comrades from three previous voyages – Stan Mitchell, Roy Lampard, Jay Kennedy and Ron Rhodenizer – before stopping for the night at a cottage built by 2435 Bob Bennett. At Narrows Lock on Day Five, Glenn Allen joined us for coffee on our way to the stately Opinicon Hotel. The weather changed for the worse on Day Six, but failed to dampen our enthusiasm as we passed through Jones Falls and spent a last boisterous night at Melody Lodge on Cranberry Lake. On the final wet and windy day, Dave Campbell, John van Haastrecht and seven other Ex-cadet bikers joined us for lunch at Kingston Mills. Their T-shirts read, “I’d rather be pedallin’ than paddlin’.”

High winds and whitecaps greeted us when we passed under the Lasalle Causeway. With some trepidation we turned towards the rocky shore by the Memorial Arch, where the Commandant, BGen Eric Tremblay, and a hundred cadets stood waiting. Waves buffeted the canoe from side to side but our stalwart piper played the general salute without falling overboard. With all engines in full reverse we retreated and turned into the wind. A rock grazed the stern but we steamed ahead, pitched into the waves and safely rounded Point Frederick. A damp but welcoming crowd cheered as we landed behind the Stone Frigate. The RMC rugby team hoisted the canoe ashore.

That night at the Legacy Dinner, the crew donned red shirts and ceinturesflechées, and then marched in to the skirl of bagpipes. Later that evening, the piper would write on his program:

The Chasse-Galerie at the Dinner

Was acknowledged by all as a winner

But everyone saw

As we marched through the door

That the trip had left none of us thinner!

We announced a total of more than $58,000 for the Danny McLeod Athletic Endowment Fund. Thanks to the generosity of several hundred donors, the four canoe trips since 2000 have brought in more than a quarter of a million dollars for sports at RMC.

The athletic fund was inaugurated by the Class of ’71, who are now slowly sailing into the sunset. God willing, there will be one more Chasse-Galerie in 2016. The fund is one of the largest endowments at RMC and the only one that supports the entire spectrum of varsity sports. It is having a significant impact on the annual budget and will continue to do so long after the canoe has gone. Would a younger class like to support the athletic pillar, adopt the fund and “take up the torch?”

4815 Mike Jackson ’60 – bosun’s mate

H4860 John de Chastelain ’60 – piper

5893 Tom Gee ’63 – bosun

H7543 Joe Day ’68 – public relations

8684 Peter Holt ’71 – chanteur

8725 Fergus McLaughlin ’71 – photographer

8788 Geoff Bennett ’71 – le bourgeois

8833 John Leggat ’71 – adjutant

8926 Ray Hook ’71 – bartender

9143 Bruce McAlpine ’72 – cook

M0288 Roxanne Rees ’83 – bean counter and scribe

15414 Catherine Paquet ’86 –  l’adjudant adjoint

20800 Cindy McAlpine ’97 – sous-chef

22461 Claire Bramma ’02 – medic

Wendy Bennett and Jamie Rosequist – ground support

You can find more limericks, quotes, photos, videos and interviews with the crew on www.chasse-galerie.org .