HMCS Malahat holds first-ever Virtual Training Mess Dinner


SLt Donald Den
HMCS Malahat PAO

Since the onset of COVID-19, Victoria’s Naval Reserve Division HMCS Malahat has “cracked the code” when it comes to conducting regular training.

Malahat has gotten members in boats, divers in the water, and held regular training nights since the pandemic began. When it comes to personnel readiness, Malahat and the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve are doing well.

However, people also join the Naval Reserve for the camaraderie, and maintaining that social aspect during a pandemic has proved to be difficult to nurture. Social events and fairs have been put on hold and all the messes at Malahat remain closed under provincial health and safety regulations.

For the 2020 holiday season, Malahat conducted a small, virtual departmental Zoom session in place of a larger event, which is where the idea started for a ‘Virtual’ Training Mess Dinner.

It is one of the Royal Canadian Navy’s most storied social events where members dress in their best formal wear and enjoy a meal together – all while observing a multitude of naval traditions.

“A Mess Dinner is full of pomp and circumstance, but it also comes with strict protocols and ceremonial proceedings,” says Lt(N) Roland Young. “It seemed daunting, but we wanted to see if we could do it.”

Over several weeks, with members meeting safely in-unit at Malahat and virtually via Zoom, the event gradually began to take shape. It involved specified traditional roles that come with the Mess Dinner, such as President, Vice-President, and Secretary. It also required a full script, several walkthroughs, and even storyboarding to put it together in a virtual environment.

“We knew from experience that we had to be prepared for every eventuality, such as glitches or dropped calls. All plans work until they meet reality,” said Lt(N) Young, who coordinated the Mess Dinner and eventually took on the role of the Mess Secretary.

On the evening of March 6, with more than 30 members of the ship’s company in attendance dressed in their best, HMCS Malahat successfully held its first virtual Training Mess Dinner. Thankfully, there was no overt glitches that disrupted the evening.

“A great deal of creativity went into the planning and coordinating of this Training Mess Dinner in a COVID-19 environment,” said Lieutenant-Commander Anne Gardam, Malahat’s Logistics Officer and Virtual Mess President. “I’m pleased that we were able to achieve our goal of bringing members of Malahat together, albeit virtually, for an evening of fun, while maintaining naval tradition.”

The painstaking effort by Malahat members to coordinate, organize, and hold the event was made worth it by providing that first real naval experience to some of the more junior members at the unit.

“It really is a way to socialize young sailors into some of those traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy,” said Lt(N) Young. “For young recruits, there is that fear of the unknown – the navy has a significant legacy and history, and we wanted to give them the opportunity to learn and have fun, and really enjoy that Mess Dinner experience.”


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