Royal Roads reunion has Roadants reminiscing

Photo credit: Royal Roads University

Photo credit: Royal Roads University

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Today’s students at Royal Roads University in Colwood should be thankful their graduation doesn’t hinge on completing a perilous obstacle course designed for “Roadants.”

Retired Naval Lieutenant Douglas Cope remembers having to complete the trial-by-fire, make-it-or-break-it, Recruits Obstacle Course. The Roadants ran their treacherous task through the steep forested ravines and waterways during a time when the scenic West Shore campus served as a military academy.

The obstacle course was designed as the ultimate test of physical endurance for first-year cadets of the 1950s and 60s who were nicknamed the Roadants.

Cope and other young Roadants attended Royal Roads long before it became a university. At that time, it was known as Canadian Services College Royal Roads, one of the nation’s three military colleges.

Royal Roads became a public degree-granting university in 1995 when the military college closed its doors and was absorbed by Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ont.

Cope, 76, was among a group of 20 former soldiers, sailors and air men alumni who were part of Royal Roads 1963 Graduating Class and attended Homecoming Weekend at the Colwood campus, Sept. 7 to 9. The semi-retired engineer and author said returning to the campus and seeing familiar faces gave him an extreme “memory jolt” recalling many of the experiences as torturous but also indelible.

“Once you were a Roadant you were always Roadant; the military college experience is very different from what it was when I attended Royal Roads,” said Cope. “The Recruits Obstacle Course was one of the toughest things that we had to do, and I have ever done since, and it left a lasting impression as did all of my experiences during my first year at Royal Roads.”

The ‘Roadants’ Return

Like most university homecoming events, Cope and the rest of the alumni gathered on campus to reconnect with old friends, swap stories, have a laugh and tell jokes. It didn’t take long for the discussion to focus on that unsavoury but memorable day in the fall of 1961.

“There was nothing about that obstacle course that was fun, but it was fun to re-live the event and be glad that we survived,” he said. “We [cadets] bonded that year and remain friends to this day.”

Cope has written extensively about life at Royal Roads in his book The Roadants, of Canadian Services College Royal Roads describing his love-hate experiences from his first and second years at the school through a series of vignettes following the cadets from their arrival to graduation. He also dedicated a lengthy chapter to the day when he and the rest of the recruits successfully completed the obstacle course.

In the cold, damp morning of Oct. 20, 1961, Cope and approximately 100 other first-year cadets, divided into 20-person teams, took to the sprawling ravine, located at the east end of the 650-acre property, to begin the dreaded obstacle race. The intention of the race wasn’t to determine a best time but instead was all about each member of the team crossing the finish line.

The obstacle course ran mostly uphill through densely forested ravine with old growth giants and thick brush that made for treacherous footing at best, says Cope. The recruits were required to traverse several physical and man-made obstacles.

Recruits had to traverse both sides of the steep ravine and wade through giants pools of cold water located in the ravine’s bottom; scale a 10-foot high wooden wall with an intentionally foul-smelling open pit of mud behind it; scramble over a net strung across a set of rapids, hike up a five-metre pole painted with axle grease suspended over yet another mud pit, walk a large rope net tied between Douglas Fir trees where the cadets were sprayed with fire hoses; and crawl through a 10-metre culvert built into one of the hillsides that ended with a small waterfall into a causeway.

If that wasn’t enough, then there was the penultimate ‘commando-style’ obstacle course located above the ravine on the campus’ sports fields. It required recruits to navigate swinging tires, box horses, 60cm drainpipes, an 18-metre long, steep-inclined greased ramp. The final obstacle – traverse a large pond on a suspended rope ladder.

Making the Grade

Living life as a young military cadet over a half-century ago in post Second World War Canada was a world away from today, says Cope, and specifically in terms of physical demands placed on young recruits.

“Being a new cadet was torture for about the first year and was all about strenuous physical activity including relentless running and mandatory sports participation combined with an incredibly heavy course load,” says Cope. “Out of the 126 new recruits that year only 80 completed their degrees and graduated. Many of the voluntary resignations occurred after the first six weeks at Royal Roads.”

Cope graduated from Royal Roads in 1963, was transferred to RMC in Kingston where he earned his qualification as an electrical engineer. After graduating he would spend just three years in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) before recurring seasickness eventually forced him to seek out a new path in life.

On Sept. 8 Cope and his fellow former cadets made their way to that pond and the spot of the last obstacle on the course for a quick photograph. When a photographer from the University asked Cope if he would ever consider trying to complete the course again he quickly refuted that notion.

“Trust me at my age of 76 I do not intend to repeat the obstacle course because I would likely be dead within the first 20 metres,” he said

For more information about Cope’s and his book visit:

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