Written by Buzz Bourdon (late the RMR 1975-82)
The summer of 1976 was a good one for the soldiers of the RMR. The Olympic games were being held in Montreal and if you wanted a fulltime, class ‘B’ callout you got one but you only got the one choice: service with the regular army’s 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group of CFB Valcartier.
That was it for every militiaman in Quebec who wanted a job, except for the CGG, who would continue to send a company to Ottawa for the changing the guard ceremony on Parliament Hill. But I digress. As far as I remember the RMR sent around two dozen people to the 21st Olympiad, which opened July 17, 1976.
OPGAMESCAN was Canada’s biggest military operation since the Korean War 25 years earlier and the Canadian Forces were in the spotlight. Montrealers soon got used to 16,000 uniformed personnel driving around, providing security and a lot of other things. We were there in force because the federal government was determined not to allow a repeat of the massacre inflicted on the Israeli team by terrorists four years earlier in Munich.
First, though, we spent three weeks in Valcartier getting ready. For the militia, that meant different things. Some of us were assigned to rifle companies of the 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment. I guess they were the lucky ones compared to the guys sent to the infamous ‘GD’ squad.
Yes, that was me doing general duties, which included anything and everything. Why give a boring and ignominious job to a highly-trained Vandoo when you had very cheap labour in the form of militia guys to do it? Push that broom, boys! Move those boxes!
It wasn’t that bad, really, the food was good and they were paying us seven days out of seven, right? Eventually we got on the bus and hit the road for Montreal, along with the rest of 5 CMBG.
Wellsir, all 16,000 of us were spread around Montreal and region but 3 R22R was billeted at a high school in Montreal North. We brought in lockers and beds and quickly made ourselves comfortable in a classroom. It wasn’t the Ritz Carleton Hotel but it was sure better than a hoochie in the field.
The first thing I did at Henri Bourassa Secondary School was guard the place as a member of its security detail, which was all militia supervised by a couple of reg force guys. There were four posts: the front entrance (reserved for officers), the back and both sides of the building.
All we did, armed with our FN-C1 rifles and an empty magazine, was walk around 24 hours per day (not in a row), looking for dangerous locals who hated the army and wanted to attack us. There were thousands of separatists in Montreal but they seemed disinclined to kill us, as far as I could tell. The building was secure, that’s for sure.
My next assignment saw me serving the officers in their dining room. Now that was a good job, although it meant getting up at 0530 to get things ready for breakfast. There were a few perks, such as long breaks of two hours. When the cooks ran out of the good stuff for the troops, like steaks, what was left was reserved for the officers. And their hard-working waiters, of course.
Then one glorious day I was told to report to one of the rifle companies. They needed an extra man for a security detail and I was it. I drew a rifle and a magazine of 20 live rounds – ‘holy shit, what’s going on?’ – and they told me I was that day’s guard for the athlete’s shuttle bus from the Olympic village to the stadium. It took all of five minutes to go from one to the other but if an athlete didn’t want to walk he or she could take the bus.
There I was, still 17 with a year’s service under my belt, standing around between rides with a loaded rifle slung on my shoulder. Dozens of tourists took photos of me while I prayed devoutly that nothing would happen. I got my wish, thank God.
It was a great two weeks. We rode the subway for free and saw many events simply by flashing our military ID card. Leave was adequate, which allowed me to see the opening ceremony, some boxing, a soccer game and a few other things. The whole world seemed to be there, less the African countries that boycotted the games.
Just walking around downtown Montreal, which I’d been doing for the past year since I joined the RMR, was more enjoyable than usual. The city seemed more vibrant and important because we were hosting the world and it was a thrill to be a part of it all, albeit on the fringe.
But the euphoria only lasted two weeks. Then we tore everything apart and went home. The party was over and reality came back.