7918 Allan Dunlop: Rare Feat, 7 Years as a member of the Cadet Wing
I look back at my years at CMR and RMC and have nothing but the best memories – and I have more memories than most having taken seven years to complete a five year programme (one medical repeat and a second when I flunked all on my own)! Another cadet did the same thing a few years before me but we never met.
I spent the first five years at CMR and the highlights?
First and foremost, the people, right from my roommates (the bilingual/bicultural exposure was so important and worthwhile) to the drill staff, RSM, professors and military staff. The Officer Commanding the Cadet Wing was Wing Commander Thériault who later became our Chief of Defence Staff. From the 60s, who can forget characters like Doc Harding, Dave Ruddy and Joe Stallard? Fine, fine professors, all three.
Second comes sports. In the eyes of the leadership, physical fitness was as important as academics and was reflected in the superb quality of the sports facilities and the variety of activities available. Being on a rep team was the only way recruits could travel outside the college so I immediately joined soccer and the harriers and had a ball.
”You worry about intramural sports and I’ll do the rest. Any questions?”
Major Danny McLeod
After sports (you’ll notice I haven’t listed academics as one of my highlights!) I remember amazing experiences – summer training with the Navy, Carnaval in Québec, sugar bush, being in the Colour Guard for the Montréal Expos first game against the Mets in Shea Stadium, Expo ’67 (where we couldn’t wear uniform which was then normally compulsory. To shield us from the evil Soviet intelligence gathering apparatus, we wore #6 dress, grey slacks, blazer with college crest and college tie – gimme a break!), drill competitions(!), carrying the flag for graduation parade, and Sunday church parade. Really, Sunday church parades were my favourite because I was the organist in the Protestant chapel and was excused them all. I was also the unofficial choirmaster and took along a group of unlikely choristers who also wanted to skip parade and go to choir practice. We were terrible, but it worked!
The transition to RMC went smoothly and after a year in the Stone Frigate I moved to Cadet Wing Headquarters on the top floor of Fort Lasalle as the Cadet Wing Sports Officer. I well remember my first meeting with Danny McLeod…”You worry about intramural sports and I’ll do the rest. Any questions?” Pretty clear! The two years I spent at RMC I count amongst the best years of my life and many changes were occurring. Officer Cadets could now own cars and even civilian clothes!! Spending an evening in town no longer required special permission or signing out. Like CMR, the people were the most important highlight. Seven years went awfully quickly.
But it was time to move on and after graduation I shipped off to Halifax to continue my naval training. I was immediately scorned by the majority because I chose to enter submarines. Submariners were considered to be smelly little creatures who were wont to misbehave. Pretty true actually, but the challenge of the unusual and the sheer romance of these complex and deadly denizens of the deep were like huge magnets to me. I loved every minute and passed through the various levels of responsibility until I became the Captain of HMCS ONONDAGA and two years later HMCS OKANAGAN, two of the three submarines Canada operated at that time. What a dream come true, and all while surrounded by incredibly professional crew members – the nice thing about submarines is that they are so confined, there is no room for anybody who isn’t important and can’t do their job well.
After 12 years spent mostly at sea I was off to Staff College in London, England followed by a staff job in NDHQ. I was like a fish out of water but I soldiered on and two years later was posted to the Canadian Forces College in Toronto. Two years in Toronto brought me two wonderful surprises, my future wife, Mary Anne, and a posting as Captain of a destroyer, HMCS OTTAWA. In Halifax. Now the fish out of water was Mary Anne who had never been east of Québec City! She owned a hugely successful business in Toronto, commuted from Halifax when possible, and even had a baby one year later, but never missed a step. She has never ceased to amaze me.
Being Captain of a destroyer was more complicated than driving a submarine. The operational picture was much broader, communications tempo was hugely increased, operating a helicopter presented a new dimension of complexity and the crew was four times larger! It all worked, and for two years with a terrific crew the OTTAWA met all its commitments. I was on a high – where could I go from here?
I ended up working in Halifax at the Maritime Command Headquarters at a time when Canada was attempting to procure nuclear powered submarines. The project was moving along quite well and two years later I was promoted to Captain(N) and given command of the First Canadian Submarine Squadron. This was truly exciting. Previously, this position had been occupied by a Commander but was now elevated in anticipation of increased staffing levels for the soon to be ordered nuclear powered submarines. The excitement wore off quickly one week after I arrived when the project was cancelled. Morale tanked. This was the most challenging moment of my career. I gathered the Squadron together, gave them the news, then tasked them to plan for the extension of our current submarine life cycle by five years. This would give our procurement counterparts in Ottawa some room to search for replacement submarines. The change of focus and challenge created for the Squadron staff allowed them to shine. They responded with gusto and with huge support from Ottawa, the life cycle was extended.
This ended up being my last sea-going job, but there was plenty of challenge and opportunity. I moved to Maritime Command Headquarters as 2 I/C to the Chief of Operations just in time for the First Gulf War. It was an exhilarating time and we worked long hours supporting our three ships in the war zone. Things happened so quickly. Procurement processes that once took years were completed over night. We were actually doing what we had always been training for. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to be in the Gulf.
The next four years were a blur. I spent an unforgettable year at the National Defence College in Kingston and from there returned to the Canadian Forces College for what were to be my final three years in the Canadian Forces. Mary Anne was delighted because she was now a 10-minute drive from her business. So three years later, rather than tackle six more years of desk jobs and further moves prior to the then mandatory retirement age of 55, I retired from the Canadian Forces. This worked well for my family. We moved to Mary Anne’s home town of Kingston and for the next 16 years she commuted to Toronto to work. She sold her business during this period and stayed on until her retirement in 2013. Our daughter, Allie, commuted by bus to school in Belleville for nine years. I calculated that during this period she spent five months on the bus and travelled around the world 4½ times! I set up a business called Golden Independence which catered to senior citizens who were borderline leaving their homes and going into a nursing home, the aim being to keep them in their own home. Helping these people, often being pestered by their own families to move on, was hugely rewarding.
So where does this bring us now? Allie completed two college degrees and now works for Mervish Productions in Toronto. Mary Anne and I are fully retired and enjoying every minute. We spend six months every year in the sunny south and often reflect on the amazing lives we lead. We never look back and take every day as a new adventure. I thank my lucky stars for the day I decided to pursue a career in the Canadian Navy. I wouldn’t change a thing.