The History of the Mast and Colours at Royal Roads

The History of the Mast and Colours at Royal Roads

This article is part of an initiative of Royal Roads University (RRU) to preserve and document the military history of Royal Roads. Do you have further information or stories about the mast and colours at Royal Roads? Please contact RRU staff person Karen Inkster at [email protected].

xxxxxxxRRMC Colour CeremonyRRMC Mast Dedication

The mast that once stood in front of the castle was restored and erected last year in time for Homecoming. This symbol of Royal Roads’ naval and military history was first raised in 1942 to celebrate the opening of the Royal Canadian Naval College. HMCS Royal Roads was run as a ship, and the mast was central to the daily routine. Every morning and evening the military ceremony of “colours” occurred. In the early days a bosun’s whistle was used, and later on a bugler would ensure that all cadets stand at attention while the flag was raised or lowered.

First the naval ensign and then all three service ensigns (navy, army, air force) were flown until 15 February 1965 when they were lowered for a final time and the Canadian flag as we know it today was introduced. At that time a special full-dress ceremony open to the public was conducted. During a service in November of that year the three ensigns were laid up and hung ceremoniously in the Castle Foyer. When RRMC closed in 1995 they were laid up in the Anglican Cathedral in Victoria. The church was packed that day for the emotional ceremony. Homecoming Sunday 2008 saw hundreds of Royal Roads ex-cadets, alumni and staff attend the re-dedication of the original mast. The 30-meter mast made of yellow cedar has now been restored by talented craftspeople from the Fleet Maintenance Facility (FMF) located at CFB Esquimalt who were excited to be working on this heritage project. The seven coats of glossy white paint will help preserve it for many years to come, and the newly built and landscaped plaza will ensure that an important part of Royal Roads’ history won’t be forgotten.

Some related memories:

7454 Richard (Rick) J. Young (RRMC RMC 1967)

“Every morning and every evening here on the grounds you had Sunrise and Sunset. There was a ceremony – a small one but it was done every day. And what would happen is that you would have the officer of the day and you would have a bugler and you would have the duty cadet and two assistants if you like, and the two assistants brought down the flag that was in front of the castle. They would stand at the bottom of the mast and the duty cadet would look at the officer of the day and say: Five minutes to sunset sir; Very good. And so we’d stand there and you’d wait for another five minutes and then: Sunset sir. Make it so. And the bugler would start playing, if it was sunrise they had a tune they’d play in the morning and then at night they had the sunset theme and as he’s playing the flag would be lowered and folded and all that sort of thing and the officer of the day and the duty cadet would be saluting as this is happening and anybody that was in earshot – if you heard the bugle and if you were outside, you stopped whatever you were doing, came to attention and saluted – in the direction of the sound – towards the flag pole. So that happened here every day.”

RRMC Colour Ceremony

E.G. (Ted) Dillistone, 3118, (RRMC RMC 1953)

“There was the final morning parade of the cadet wing on the parade square right in front of the Cadet Block in May 1950. This was just before our seniors (the first tri-service entry) graduated and left Roads for good. As the whole cadet wing (about 150 of us) stood rigidly at attention, and as the cadet officers and permanent military members of the staff saluted, the bugle played while the college ensign (still wrapped in a bundle) was hoisted to the top of the flagstaff. As soon as the bundled ensign was at the top of the staff, and the bugle call ended, the duty cadet tugged at the lanyard to snap open the bundle. Instead of the college military ensign flying in the breeze, it was a pair of Dan Loomis’, 2861 long underwear!”

3552 W.S. (Bill) Laidlaw (RRMC RMC 1956)

“There was a cadet wing parade on the square opposite the main entrance to the Cadet block (Grant building). It consisted of an inspection by the Commandant, Col. Ware, raising and saluting the flag and a march around the circle. The flag was on a jackstaff directly in front of the castle. The drill was to raise the flag to the end of the jackstaff to the accompaniment of the band. The commandant and cadet wing saluted the flag as it was raised. The flag was to be raised when the music started, and no sooner, no later. It was to reach the tip of the jackstaff at the precise moment the music ended, no sooner, no later. In first year 3667 Ray Gray (RRMC RMC 1956) and I were doing penance on color party duty as part of our slack party routine. This particular morning the party consisted of me, Ray and the flag officer, Lt.. Peterson. Ray and I had not perfected previous color party duties so a repeat performance to hone our skills was deemed appropriate. Tiring of the extra duty we vowed to do better. I was located below the jackstaff with the flag folded in my arms; Ray was at the base of the flagpole holding the lanyard used to raise the flag.

Ray was the largest in our class at about 230 pounds; I was on the small side at about 140 pounds. The band played. Ray heaved on the lanyard. The flag began a too speedy accent skyward. In the hope of avoiding another day of duty I clamped down on the lanyard as it sped through my hands. Ray, perceived this to be the result of a sticky pulley, fixed his attention on the pulley at the tip of the jackstaff and pulled all the harder. He did not notice my feet leaving the ground. At an altitude of about six feet I bailed out from my increasingly tenuous position by releasing my grip. Ray lurched backward. He landed in a heap in the flower garden at the base of the pole. I landed in a heap under the jackstaff. The flag came gently to rest on top of my prone body – all to music – very impressive. Lt. Peterson broke into convulsions of laughter. I can’t recall the punishment.”


  • Paul Crober

    September 2, 2009 at 1:25 am

    I was at Laying Up of Colours at Christ Church Cathedral in 1995 and yes it was an emotional event but I remember the College Colour being laid up — not the 3 flags of the former services. Could be that the latter also happened and I simply missed it.
    Mast has indeed been resurrected behind old Commandant’s House, which now house the Conflict Resolution section amongst other offices. I found that out when I went to that house for business associated with present job (Joint Task Force Games).

    F. Paul Crober (RRMC ’72/RMC ’74)

  • 4104 Murray Thom

    September 3, 2009 at 9:19 am

    I think that there is some confusion between the military ensigns and the College Colour. I cannot imagine the College Colour was ever flown from the Mast. As a staff member I was at the ceremony when the Canadian Flag replaced the ensigns and the ensigns were displayed hanging from the ceiling above the Castle foyer. I do not know when the College Colour or the Queen’s Colour were presented but when I was the Registrar, 1983 – 1991, they were displayed in cabinets next to the fireplace in the great hall (foyer?) and when one was to be paraded it was removed ceremonially by the colour party. I understand that both Colours were laid up in 1995.

  • William Seath

    September 6, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    The class which entered RCN – RCAF College Royal Roads in 1947 was well represented at the closing ceremonies that fateful May weekend in 1995. I remember well that the College Colours were laid up in the Anglican Cathedral at a special service on Sunday afternoon but do not believe that the three ensigns were included in this ceremony. It would be easy enough to check the facts by a visit to the cathedral.