Royal Roads marks 75th anniversary

Modern scholars and military cadets will gather on Saturday to mark 75 years of learning at Royal Roads University.

The school began in 1940 as a training academy for Canadian naval midshipmen and continues today as a bricks-and-mortar and online civilian institution offering programs in everything from environmental sustainability to business and educational leadership.

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The Sunset Ceremony will feature:

• a contingent of military officer cadets from Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., dressed in parade ground scarlet;

• the Naden Band from Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, also celebrating its 75th anniversary;

• a flyover by the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds, celebrating their 45th anniversary;

• 22 U.S. Air Force officer cadets playing in the Drum and Bugle Corps from their academy at Colorado Springs;

• salutes from guns fired by the 5th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery.

The Sunset Ceremony has not been performed at Royal Roads since 1995, when the federal government closed the facility as a Canadian Forces military college and handed the site to the province, which turned it into a civilian university.

But organizers and university officials say the goal of the ceremony is to celebrate a tradition of serving scholars and leaders past, present and future.

After 55 years as a Canadian military college serving Western Canada, Royal Roads has spent the past 20 years serving students who are mostly in mid-career and still interested in learning through a combination of online distance education and two-week stints on campus in tutorials, co-operative projects and lectures.

Dave Bindernagel, an organizer of the Sunset Ceremony and a retired captain from the Canadian Navy who was the last military head of Royal Roads, said the days as a military college were good.

“It was very sad to see it shut [as a military college], but it is a reality that budgets have to be completed and it was a political decision and we honoured that,” said Bindernagel, who can cite a long connection with Royal Roads. He started his military career as an officer cadet at Royal Roads in 1968 at the age of 19, and ended it as commandant of the college when the federal government shut it down in 1995.

“I had my first day in uniform as a cadet out here and my last day in uniform as commandant,” said Bindernagel.

He finished his officer’s education with a bachelor’s degree in politics and economics before spending his working life in the navy. Bindernagel gives full credit to the team-building and leadership training he received at Royal Roads, along with his academic courses.

“It’s the knowledge that you can handle things no matter what,” he said. “It’s just a matter of making sure you maintain conviction and focus and can rely on others.”

Allan Cahoon, president and vice-chancellor of Royal Roads University, said the same approach continues today.

“We are what we have come from,” said Cahoon. “I am very much a firm believer in that.”

He said in the initial stages of Royal Roads University, the institution looked toward the 21st century. But at the same time, it tried a little too hard to distance itself from its days as a military college.

“Our focus that we had as a military college was to prepare leaders and people for leading change,” said Cahoon. “Both of which I would say we are doing today.

“That is, we are preparing leaders in a variety of fields and helping them lead change within their own organizations.”

The Sunset Ceremony is from 6:45-8:30 p.m. on Saturday at the former parade square below Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University. Parking is available on site. Admission is free.

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