What is the Sunset Ceremony?

what is the sunset ceremony hatley castle








The Sunset Ceremony, to be held April 25, will celebrate 75 years of leadership and learning at Royal Roads – 55 years as a military institution/college and 20 years of Royal Roads growth as a public university.

The Ceremony will commence at 7 p.m. on the former parade square, now parking lot 3, below Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University on 2005 Sooke Road.

It is open to the public.

What is a Sunset Ceremony and why is it being held?

Traditionally, a Sunset Ceremony is conducted by military and para-military organizations.

However, in recognition of Royal Roads 75th Anniversary, a special Sunset Ceremony will be co-hosted by Royal Roads University and the Vancouver Island Ex-Cadet Club, representing the military period.

The military period of Royal Roads started with HMCS Royal Roads in 1940, and developed into the Royal Canadian Naval College Royal Roads, then into the RCN-RCAF College Royal Roads, to the tri-service college/Canadian Service College Royal Roads, and finally, in 1968, to the Royal Roads Military College (RRMC) until it closed in August 1995.

The last time a Sunset Ceremony was conducted at Royal Roads was May 12, 1995, as part of the closing ceremonies for RRMC.

Who is participating?

The ceremony will be conducted on the former parade square and will showcase the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, officer cadets from the Royal Military College of Canada’s Pipes and Drums Band; the Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy; the 50-person Vice Regal Guard of Maritime Forces Pacific; cadets from the United States Air Force Academy’s Drum and Bugle Corp; an ex-cadet contingent comprised of ex-cadets who attended Royal Roads between 1940-1995; 105mm guns from the 5th (BC) Field Regiment of the RCA; and regional air, sea and land cadets.

The three VIPs for the event will be RAdm Bill Truelove, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific; Dr. Allan Cahoon, President of Royal Roads University; and Cdr (retd) Randy Gynn, President of the Vancouver Island Ex Cadet Club.

What will be happening at the ceremony?

The ceremony will commence with a flypast or two from the Canadian Snowbirds, and from that moment on the bands and the Guard will move onto the parade square and conduct the Sunset Ceremony.

This will include special musical numbers performed individually by the participating bands as well as full group numbers – all in accordance with a set format for a Sunset Ceremony.

A special program is being designed to highlight the ceremony and will feature the participants and the format of the ceremony.

What is the historical and traditional significance of the ceremony?

The Sunset Ceremony is a combination of three ceremonies: the ancient ceremony of Beating Retreat, Tattoo, and lowering of the national flag.

Beating Retreat was the practice of ceasing fighting at dusk and resuming at dawn, and the warriors were called back to camp by a roll of the drums.

Later, when the drums became confused with the sound of gunfire, bugles were added.

In larger towns with permanent garrisons, the drummers were sent through the streets to remind those on leave of absence to return to their quarters.

As the drummers passed inns and bars, the publicans closed them for the night.

Often the bands played entertainment tunes, and an evening hymn: this became known as Tattoo: from the Flemish words “doe den tap toe” meaning close the taps.

Following the Retreat and the Tattoo, the garrison was mustered and the night guard was mounted.

Before sentries were posted, they fired or proved their muskets to ensure they were in good condition.

At sunset, a call was sounded, to summon the guard for the night to ensure the town was fortified.

The lowering of the National flag took place at sunset following the bugler calls announcing the “First” and “Last” post.

The RCN carried on this tradition in the early 1950s, and commencing in 1972 the ceremony was conducted annually on the parade square at Royal Roads.

Why do you believe the ceremony is important?

As part of the 2015 celebrations at Royal Roads, the Sunset Ceremony will help demonstrate the unique shared history at Royal Roads from its commissioning in 1940 as a military institution training midshipmen for war, to the innovative, global university Royal Roads is today.

The Sunset Ceremony is an important event that clearly will help to raise the awareness and understanding of one of the traditions that existed when Royal Roads was a military college.

It is the excellence demonstrated by these special ceremonies that have continued to grow with Royal Roads University: excellence in leadership, in learning, and a commitment to positive change for Canada and the world.

Having scarlet tunics on parade after 20 years should inspire and educate the public about the military legacy of Royal Roads, and honour the men and women who have and continue to give exemplary service to Canada.


Dave Bindernagel Chair
Sunset Ceremony Committee

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  1. Recall 1987 Sunset ceremony at CFB Cornwallis for my graduating RCAF flight, who broke the squad athletic pennant record with seven for Course 8713 Sunset Platoon some thirty-three years ago. On Thanksgiving 2020, thank you for this history lesson at sunset in my adopted province of British Columbia

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