2926 George Wisener and friends in the dorm room on the top floor of the Grant Block (2849 Dan Mainguy playing the accordion!) other names not available at this time.
Accommodation at Royal Roads
By Karen Inkster
Foundation, Oral History Project Coordinator
Royal Roads University
2005 Sooke Road
Victoria, BC V9B 5Y2
(250) 391-2600 ext. 4405
Many of the dorm rooms in the Nixon and Millward buildings are still used as accommodation for students at Royal Roads University when they come to campus for their annual residency. I wrote this article in response to a request from our housing coordinator about the history of accommodations at Royal Roads. Here is some of the information that I found through the documents I have.
Request for information: I’d be extremely interested in hearing more of your recollections about accommodations, room inspections and roommates. What was a “growlie”? Did you ever take a quick nap during the day? I wouldlove to hear more about the Nixon and Millward building experience since I do not have a lot of material from this time period yet. When was the Millward building constructed? Please feel free to leave comments here, or send an email to me: Karen.Inkster@royalroads.ca
Hatley Castle (1941-42)
In 1941 the first group of Acting Sub-Lieutenants entered Royal Roads for their 90 days’ training before being sent overseas. The living experience was actually quite pleasant, with accommodation being in converted rooms in the top floors of the castle. They used the dining room on the first floor, although they had to take turns because the large number of people couldn’t fit at the same time. The Dunsmuir’s drawing room was used as the gunroom.
Cullis Lancaster was in the third term that attended from September to December of that first year. He recalls, “We were accommodated in the castle. I was in a room which they were all called “cabins” where there were six of us – a fellow from Winnipeg beside me and one from Victoria beside him and across the way were two from Toronto and one from Ottawa so you, and they were, as I say, also various ages and the youngest age I think in their group was 19 and the oldest was I know some where in their early thirties – I don’t know how much they went beyond that but they were older people.”
In a letter written home at the time he described his cabin, “To get to my cabin you go up the stairs to the landing, then into the turret and up the spiral staircase for a floor and a half then down the hall and around the corner and we found our room. We overlook the front gardens. Each man has a single bed, a writing or study desk with shelves and a small dresser. The beds have CNS mattresses – that’s Canadian National Steamships – linen and blankets – as a matter of fact all our crockery, table knives, etc. came from the Prince Robert that was taken over. That will show you how much more thrifty and efficient the navy is over the other services. They don’t have to have everything new and expensive.”
Grant Block (1942-1956)
In 1942 the Cadet Block (Grant Block) was completed and cadets moved into dorms on the top deck. Rear-Admiral (Ret’d) William A. (Bill) Hughes, 174 (RCNC 1944-46) entered Royal Roads Naval College in 1944 and describes the dormitories: “Upon arrival at the college we were met by a cadet captain and our term lieutenant. We were given our bed and locker assignments so we could get all the items from our bags stored away. There were four dormitories on the top deck – not floor – each having room for 25-30 cadets. Two dorms for seniors and two for juniors. The cadet captains had the luxury of small cabins. We were taught how to make beds naval-style with proper hospital corners. Bedspreads had to be tight as a drum when the bed was made. To test this, an inspecting officer dropped a coin on the bed. If the coin did not spring into the air the bed clothes were ripped off and the bed had to be made again.”
Although the living conditions afforded little privacy, many ex-cadets felt that this actually allowed them to bond closer as a class. Colonel (Ret’d) Murray C. Johnston, 3550 (RRMC 1952-54, RMC 1954-56) recalled, “I was a cadet at Royal Roads from 1952 to 1954 and hence lived for two years in the “dorms” on the top deck. Looking back 50 years in retrospect it was probably one of the happiest periods in my life. The camaraderie generated at that time has stayed with me. My bunkmate, Steve Oaks, and the cadet whose bunk was opposite me, Jay Kennedy, all live in Ottawa now and we see each other frequently. Theirs were the first faces I saw each morning for two years. And we’re still friends!
The camaraderie of communal living is something that is missing from today’s culture of separate rooms. I suspect that it was a strong element in team building, camaraderie and esprit de corps. Soldiers on deployments often experience it even today, particularly when it occurs under trying conditions and their esprit de corps reflects it.”
Colonel (Ret’d) Jarrott Holtzhauer, 4595 (RRMC 1955-57, RMC 1957-59) also felt that living in close proximity was important. “You just banded together and you became very quickly a cohesive group, because we lived in a dorm, two bunks and double bunks. And you had no choice but to become a cohesive group and help each other. So that when you went for showers and shaves, you only had so much time. You had a half hour to get up, make your bed, and the three S’s, which I won’t repeat. And it’d be downstairs and on parade. So, you had to learn to cooperate very quickly and to help the other guy because if he was late then everybody suffered. So it was a group effort.
The plumbing in the Grant Block was sensitive, as Commander (Ret’d) Ronald G. Capern, 3506 (RMC 1952-56) remembered. He lived in the dorms on the top deck of Grant Block as an RCN summer Cadets from 1953 to 1955.
“The plumbing at that time was such that when one flushed a toilet, the supply of cold water immediately diminished in the showers – leaving anyone under a shower in dangerously hot water. Thus, the rigidly enforced rule was to shout, “SHOWERS!” very loudly before flushing a toilet – to avoid (or at least minimize) danger to one’s colleagues in the showers.
“So ingrained was this custom that those who came in from shore leave (sometimes in the wee hour of the morning) and heeded the call of nature before getting into their bunks, would shout “SHOWERS!” in the otherwise deathly quiet dormitory, before flushing the facility they had used. Seldom did anyone sleep soundly through any night in those dormitories!”
And of course, living in close proximity to each had other had other interesting consequence. Rear-Admiral (Ret’d) John A. Charles, 2444 (RMC 1935) who was commandant from 1954-57 remembers, “When I first came here the cadets were living up there [on the top floor of the Grant Block] in dormitories in double-decker bunks which led to skylarks, I can tell you that.”
Pillow fights, apple-pieing the beds and locking the seniors out were common occurrences which were rewarded by late night punishments by the seniors. Colonel (Ret’d) Kenneth Perry, 3305 (RRMC 1950-52, RMC 1952-54) recalled: “You know the best thing that happened here was the fact that we were in dormitories and you established a tremendous esprit de corps by being in dormitories, bunk beds. That’s where all the skylarks started. There were always one or two in the class that would start something and then we’d be out on the circle and we developed a tremendous esprit de corps and I think that’s what kept everybody going that first year. And they didn’t have that at RMC because they were in separate rooms.
George Skinner, 3316 (RRMC 1950-52, RMC 1952-54) adds, “Living in dorms was interesting. Each of the junior dorms we were encouraged by the seniors to show some ‘term spirit’ by having what they call skylarks. And a skylark usually meant that one dorm raided the other one for a pillow fight. And of course immediately that happened than the seniors would leap out of bed and “Alright Juniors! Stand by beds”. And then down and into rec gear, into gym gear, and then we’d be doubling around the circle at 12 o’clock at night.”
Major-General (Ret’d) Dave Wightman, 3334 (RRMC 1950-52, RMC 1952-54) describes the dorm room experience, “It literally was a dormitory, the entire top floor of what’s now the Grant Block, what was then the Cadet Block, was full of double bunks, and little cupboard things that you kept your uniforms and clothing in, and everybody just had a bunk. There were no walls, no rooms, no nothing. Cadet Officers had their own small lounges, but they didn’t sleep there. It was just kind of a lounge for getting away during the day and having a cup of coffee and whatnot. But, the junior term was in one end of the top floor and the seniors were in the other end of the top floor, and this always gave rise to what we used to call skylarks, where we would try and pull tricks on the seniors. We would make a lot of noise among other things, and I guess we would try and fix some of the beds so they couldn’t get in. I don’t know I … it didn’t seem like much at the time but they sure took offence! And that’s how we would end up out on the parade square at 3 o’clock in the morning in our gym clothes being run around the circle.”
Bedtime routine was strict, and lights out was enforced. George Skinner remembered it in great detail: “Part of the routine was at the end, particularly when you were a junior, just before the rounds led by the officer and the duty cadet and the senior duty cadet. We’d be all getting ready and then there’d be “Stand by for rounds”. And then he would go through and do an inspection, make sure that everybody’s there and we’re all standing rigidly at attention beside these beds. Then as soon as he went through the senior in the dorm would say, “Alright, into it!” And you know, we had to be into the bed in something like ten seconds or fifteen seconds or not slow…”too slow”, “not fast enough” “out you get and do it again”. But unfortunately in my dorm where I was there was a chap by the name of Trent, Dave Trent. Everybody in the class knows Dave. But Dave, he could not move fast if his life depended on it. And I can recall one day one of the senior cadets would say, “Alright, out you get. Now this time, Trent, we’re going to time you with the hour hand.” [laughs] And everybody got a big laugh out of that.”
In 1956 the Nixon Block was opened by the Princess Royal, and the cadets were able to move from the dorms into smaller double cabins.
Marks McAvity, 4437 (RRMC 1955-57, RMC 1957-59) experienced the transition: “Well, first year, as it turns out in our class, we were the last of a group of people that lived in dorms. We had that for a year. And then we lived in that new block that we called the Nixon block. And because I had a special position of rank a couple of times in my second year I had a suite for one whole three month period. So, you know, the accommodations were fine. The first year it may have seemed very basic, but it didn’t bother me. I mean it was kind of fun. A little hard with having to hear everybody cough at night or something like that, but other than that it was fine. It was just part of the bonding, actually.”
Reg Bird, 6593 (RRMC 1961-63, RMC 1963-65) remembered the importance of relying on your roommate: “I was in Nixon Block – nice rooms but we had the bunk beds too and there was two cadets to each room. The seniors pretty well had single rooms because by that time half your guys had flunked out or left. The first night you were here you were living with a guy you never even knew before and your life depended [on him] and you had to make sure that he used the sink when you didn’t and you know you survived together. And my classmate was a gentleman by the name of Robert Beardmore from B.C. and he was an army guy and we got along fairly well and you’d learn to co-exist and to cover for each other as well. Another thing they taught us if he left his boots out or something I would put them away or whatever. If I left my hat laying on the bed or something he would.”
The set up of the room was strictly dictated by the Cadet Wing Instruction (CADWIN) booklet. It told you how far your top sheet should be folded down and what your drawers should look like. Room inspections were bound to turn up some infraction. Don Lovell, 10263 (RRMC 1970-72, RMC 1972-74) remembered: “Your whole room was assembled by [the Cadet Wing] instructions, every drawer was laid out according to those instructions except for one drawer which you could have polishing cloth. Underneath that polishing cloth you could keep private items. You were hunkered down in your room for compulsory study time ‘til ten at night. And at ten at night there was one hour in which you had time to press, polish, do your toiletries, get ready, because lights out at eleven meant that the lights went out and you were in bed and you could now sleep ‘til ten after six. Except really you didn’t because you got up early to finish the homework you didn’t get done, write a letter home, finish a cigarette, or polish or press something that wasn’t done, or clean the coal dust out of your room because the rooms were inspected in the morning and the college was fueled by a coal furnace which always blew in the window because the windows had to be left 6 inches open during the day.”