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Home for the weekend

October 4, 2011
Amy Dove

They came back in droves, some of them for the first time in 40 years.

What awaited them on their return to campus was a weekend of merriment, memories and a renewed connection to place as Royal Roads University continues to celebrate its history with Royal Roads military colleges during the 11th annual Homecoming, Sept. 9-11.

For ex-cadet Bill Sutherland returning to campus was an act he purposely avoided for many years. The memories from his time at the military college were so strong, he didn't want to tarnish them, he said. He's not worried about that anymore.

"I've been very reassured over the last few years and pleased with the willingness to embrace the military history," Sutherland said.

That willingness is evident in the return of historical artifacts to campus and an active military heritage committee to honour the presence of the Royal Roads military colleges on campus from 1940 to 1995. The college's ceremonial mace and a replica of Lord Nelson's quote were returned to campus for Homecoming. The quote, which used to hang over the entrance to the Grant Building, reads "Duty is the great business of a sea officer: All private considerations must give way to it however painful it is."

The weekend was as rich in entertainment as it was history. More than 200 university and cadet alumni spent a day on the water with the HMCS Regina, as the DND sponsored Day Sail kicked-off Homecoming weekend.  Scavenger hunts on campus, formal dinners and a dance that saw music streaming out the Quarterdeck windows late into the evening rounded out the event.

On the final day of Homecoming, a formal ceremony was hosted to unveil the heritage paver stone project. Spearheaded by the military heritage committee, the project resulted in nearly 600 paver stones laid at the mast site on campus. For a $200 donation the military heritage fund, the bricks hold a name, number and class year. They purposely left off ranks, titles or decorations. It is a way of connecting back to individuals as they were when they first arrived at the college, said committee member Dave Wightman.

"I'm not sure I understood this at the beginning, but I am astounded at how it just starts to trigger the memories and starts a conversation," he said of the stones.

Those conversations saw people reliving the parades, training, pranks and socializing that were part in parcel with cadet life. They worked hard, but it was a wonder they got anything done with the beautiful setting, Sutherland joked.

"The camaraderie was impressive," said ex-cadet Steve Lucas. "(The turnout to homecoming) speaks to how close we were."