When summer arrives at Carleton, things can get quiet. Students move out of residence, morning lineups at Rooster’s coffee shop dwindle and the after-class rush through the Atrium fades.
But if you keep your ears peeled, you’ll hear the sound of marching and drumming. That’s because every May through August for the last two decades, Carleton becomes the Ceremonial Guard’s training ground.
“It started in the early ‘90s when the Canadian government passed a budget that saw the closure of Canadian Forces Base Uplands, which was our home at the time,” says Maj. Michel Lavigne, Commanding Officer of the Ceremonial Guard.
When then housing director Dave Sterritt heard the news, he suggested Carleton would make a suitable replacement given its unoccupied residences and its dining and athletics facilities. With eight years of personal experience in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves, Sterritt understood what the Ceremonial Guard needed to train properly.
By the summer of 1995, Carleton’s residences were transformed into a military barrack, while athletics facilities and outdoor space became training grounds for the guard, allowing them to practice for the Changing of the Guard at Parliament Hill and their duties at Rideau Hall and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
But the transition didn’t come without adjustments.
“Soldiers are used to being on a base which is very regimented, very regulated and very much controlled,” Maj. Lavigne says. “Coming onto a university campus changed the dynamics. Now you are putting 400 soldiers used to a military base into a civilian environment.”
While soldiers spend lots of time training for missions overseas, there are fewer opportunities to engage with the public, Maj. Lavigne says. But training on a university campus has provided this kind of opportunity, as it places them in the public eye.
“If they misbehave, they give the image that Canadian Armed Forces soldiers misbehave,” Maj. Lavigne says of members of the Ceremonial Guard. “The onus is on us to demonstrate that we’re professionals at what we do.”
From engaging with campus staff to marching through campus as bystanders watch, the Ceremonial Guard has become part of the campus community over the years. Sterritt says both parties have always been willing to lend each other a helping hand, whether it’s Carleton making field space available for training or the guard offering band members to play at Carleton events.
While there are countless staff that Maj. Lavigne remembers fondly from the move to Carleton in 1995, what’s stuck with him most has been Sterritt.
“Dave, from day one, was certainly our godfather on base,” he says. “He’s certainly been instrumental in making sure there’s a good link between the military community – us – and the rest of the community on campus.”
Even though he’s now retired from his position as Carleton’s housing director, it’s hard to keep Sterritt away. Every week he makes a visit to campus to make sure the Ceremonial Guard has everything they need.
“We’ve worked hard to nurture and maintain a good working relationship with the Ceremonial Guard,” Sterritt says. “And I feel particularly proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do that over 21 years.”