Story and photos by Buzz Bourdon (late the RMR 1975-82)
Under a hot spring sun, the men and women of The Royal Montreal Regiment marched through the streets of Westmount on May 3, colours flying and drums beating, as the regiment kept the faith with its history and heritage by staging its annual church parade.
This venerable military tradition, which goes back hundreds of years, first commenced a year after the First World War ended on Nov. 11, 1918.
On Sept. 28, 1919, the men of the 14th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, also known as the Royal Montreal Regiment, attended a service in Montreal at the Church of St. James the Apostle, corner St. Catherine and Bishop streets. The hundreds who were present, including the soldiers who fought in the war, along with their families, gave thanks for their survival. They also remembered the 1,192 men of the RMR who lost their lives.
Ninety-six years later, in 2015, the RMR and its soldiers kept that remembrance alive as the annual service was held at St. Matthias’ Anglican Church, in Westmount. The parade was also a major part of the RMR’s centennial year, which continues to celebrate the birth of the RMR in August, 1914.
On the morning of May 3, 2015 the soldiers of the RMR checked their uniforms one last time before forming up on the main floor of the RMR’s armoury. The venerable building, almost 90 years old, will celebrate its centenary on Dec. 28, 2025.
The troops were organized into two guards. No. 1 Guard, which was commanded by Capt Grant Furholter, wore Canadian Forces service dress, (DEU 1A), complete with white gloves, medals and white belts. The guard sergeant-major was MWO Kevin Langlois.
No. 2 Guard, which was dressed in CADPAT, the current CF combat uniform, was commanded by Capt Maciej Jonasz of the Black Watch (RHR) of Canada. He is currently attached to the RMR. The guard sergeant-major was MCpl Yozef Butera.
After the Regimental Sergeant-Major, MWO David Cochrane turned the parade over to the Commanding Officer, LCol Paul Langlais, the latter gave the commands that sent the troops out the main doors of the armoury and onto St Catherine Street West.
But the 58 officers and soldiers of the RMR, a few of whom were wearing the General Campaign Star with the ISAF clasp (for service in Afghanistan), weren’t the only ones on parade. There were also two proud units of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, CC 2806 from Pointe Claire, and CC 2862, which trains in the armoury. Both corps have the honour of wearing the RMR’s capbadge, and have sent many of its cadets to the RMR when they’re old enough.
No. 1 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Cadets, was also on parade, as was Branch 14, RMR Association. Most of the people parading with the latter had served in the RMR years earlier.
Marching through the deserted streets of Westmount – it was only 10 am in the morning – was made more enjoyable by the martial tunes provided by the Band of the 6th Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment. This militia unit is based in Laval. The drum major is MWO Jean-Francois Dubois.
Listening to the big bass drum beating out the cadence made it easier for the troops to keep in step. Digging in the heels, swinging both arms shoulder high and looking proud to be on parade certainly made a good impression on the good citizens of Westmount, those who stepped out of their homes to see what was going on.
Marching between the two guards was the RMR’s colour party, which showcased the unit’s stand of infantry colours. These colours, or flags, are any unit’s most prized possessions. Until Jan. 29, 1881, the British army carried its colours into battle and defended them to the death. The greatest disaster that could befall any regiment was to have its colours captured by the enemy.
Now, they are the highly prized and cherished emblems of the RMR. On May 3, the Queen’s Colour, which symbolizes loyalty to Queen and country, was carried by Lt Nathalie Gareau. The Regimental Colour, which symbolizes loyalty to the regiment and those who served in it in peace and war, was carried by Lt Matthew Szostak. This stand of colours, the fourth in 100 years, was presented to the RMR on May 27, 1989, by Gilles Lamontagne, the then Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec. That splendid parade was held in Westmount Park as the main event of the RMR’s 75th anniversary celebrations.
The colours were guarded by three RMR non-commissioned officers. Sgt Phu Thang Nguyen stood between both colour officers, while two master corporals, Loic Parnell and Alexey Oleshko, were in the rear. All three NCOs paraded with bayonets fixed on the end of their C-7 automatic rifles. Fixing bayonets symbolizes protecting the colours in case of danger or attack.
After the parade arrived at St. Matthias’, the colour party was marched off and the troops filed up the stone stairs and into the church, where they were seated at the front. After the officers took their places, the colours of the RMR and all three cadet corps were marched to the front of the chancel. Then, LCol Langlois took them one-by-one from the colour officers and handed them to the rector of St. Matthias’, the Rev. Patrick Wheeler. He then placed them on the altar, and to its side. Some well-known RMR padres from the past include Padre Peter Morris, Padre Dennis Dwyer, Padre John Zoellner, Canon JN Doidge, Padre GF Leigh, Canon Gilbert Oliver and Padre Harold Laws.
The First Lesson, a reading from the Book of Acts (Acts 8:26-40) was read by MWO Cochrane. He was followed by LCol Langlais, who read from the First Letter of John (1 John 4:7-21).
The church choir was directed by John Wiens. The guest organist was William Potter. The guest preacher was the Rev. Christopher Belle, who is also the chaplain of the Canadian Grenadier Guards. The service was held on the fifth Sunday of Easter.
The planning for the church parade had occurred a month earlier, when the commanding officer issued a unit directive on Apr. 7. In it, he described the situation: “The Church parade is the culminating point of this successful training year. The RMR family, including its active unit, Legion branch 14, affiliated cadet corps and associations are invited to celebrate our accomplishments during the past year. We also take time to renew the consecration of our Regimental Colours, pay our annual rent and conduct a Battalion Review, while renewing our relationships with the Westmount community.”
The mission, therefore, was short and sweet: “The Royal Montreal Regiment will conduct its annual Church Parade at St Matthias’ Church on 3 May 15, (in order to) celebrate our 70th year with St Matthias’.”
The commanding officer’s intent was equally terse and to the point: “I intend to renew our esprit de corps by celebrating our accomplishments during the training year and to broaden our Regimental family’s relationships by bringing them together in a formal setting that will involve the Westmount community.”
In fact, the RMR was known as “Westmount’s regiment” for many decades after it was added to the Militia List in 1920, when the army was reorganized after the Great War. For decades, many of its officers who needed a good address for social, family and business reasons lived in Westmount. In 1954, to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the unit was awarded the “freedom of the city” by Westmount, an old tradition that allows it to march through the streets with colours flying, drums beating and bayonets fixed.
The RMR first attended a service at St. Matthias’ on May 9, 1945, when the Second Battalion marched there to worship. The church was built in 1910, replacing a wooden structure that dated from 1875. The RMR’s first postwar annual church parade was held there on May 16, 1948. Since then, the regiment has paraded to the church once a year and when the colours have been replaced by a new stand, the old retired colours have been placed high above the floor for display.
The RMR’s first stand of colours, presented on Jan. 4, 1919, by Prince Arthur of Connaught, in Unter Eschback, in Germany, was retired to St. Matthias’ on Oct. 21, 1951. This marked the first time colours had been presented on enemy territory following a victorious campaign.
The second stand, presented on July 10, 1945, by LGen Harry Crerar, in Holland, was retired on May 2, 1965. The third stand was presented by Gov.-Gen. Georges Vanier on Sept. 20, 1964. The Queen’s Colour from the third stand, with the Great Union as the background, was retired on May 3, 1970. It had been replaced by a new Queen’s Colour, with the new Canadian flag as the back ground, by Gov.-Gen. Roland Michener on Nov. 9, 1969.
For Lt Nathalie Gareau, holding a church parade once a year is “an interesting way of keeping in touch with the community. Most of us don’t go to church so it’s a chance for us to reconnect with religion.” Lt Gareau, who first served in the RMR from 2004-2009, rejoined in March, 2014. She currently commands the RMR’s indoctrination course of 47 recruits.
During the 1930s, the RMR held some church parades at Trinity Memorial Church, on Sherbrooke Street West, corner Marlowe. The regiment also used St. Stephen’s Church, corner Dorchester and Atwater. In March, 1940, the RMR deposited its colours there for safekeeping during the Second World War.
After moving to St. Matthias’ for good in 1945, not every member of the RMR filed into the church for the annual service. For some years afterwards, the Catholics of the RMR broke off and attended mass in the Church of the Ascension. That custom later died out. Given the rich multicultural heritage of the regiment today, it would be interesting to see how many of the RMR’s current soldiers are actually Anglicans!
After the RMR returned to the armoury, the traditional “rubber duck” (BBQ chicken) was served for lunch. That tradition dates back at least from the 1970s and the meal was as excellent as ever. Afterwards, the soldiers drew their C-7 automatic rifles from the vault downstairs and fell in once again for the annual battalion review.
Once the colours had been marched on, the RMR waited for the reviewing officer, LCol (ret’d) Colin
Robinson, the Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel. LCol (ret’d) Robinson first joined the RMR in 1989 and eventually held command from 2005-2009. He was accompanied by Mayor Peter Trent of Westmount, who has been Honorary Colonel of the RMR in the past (having served 14 years total in an honorary capacity for the RMR). The current Honorary Colonel is Andrew Molson.
After being received by a general salute, where the troops present arms and the officers lower their
swords in salute, LCol (ret’d) Robinson inspected the soldiers, many of whom had been serving in the unit when he commanded it. He then took the salute as the regiment marched past, the soldiers executing a sharp ‘eyes right’ as they passed him. That military tradition goes back to the medieval era, when the serfs of a lord were not allowed to look him in the face but his fighting men were.
After the marchpast, LCol (ret’d) Robinson remarked in his speech that the parade was his 29th since he first joined the RMR cadets in September 1985. He then spoke about the role of the RMR Foundation, which is to assist the regimental family anyway it can, financially and morally.
LCol Langlais, the commanding officer, summed up the 2014-15 training year as a successful one as he paid tribute to the troops. “Believe me, you are exceptional. Keep up the good work!”
The annual battalion review is also a chance for the regiment to promote its personnel and reward certain individuals, with awards, for their exceptional work and dedication. As the master of ceremonies for the parade, the Capt Danny Houle, read out the names, the following privates marched forth proudly to receive their long awaited promotions to the rank of corporal: Benjamin Assouline, Victor Beschieri, Paolo Dimayuga, Brigitte O’Driscoll and Yusuf Shaloomov.
MCpl Francois Daoust was then appointed to that prestigious rank which denotes the first step as a qualified junior leader in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Capt Serge Migneault and MWO David Cochrane were both presented with the first clasp to the Canadian Forces Decoration. This signifies that they have served 22 years.
There were also some major trophies to be presented. Pte Tom de Lutis received the Barre Trophy, awarded to the best recruit. Maj Paul Barre was a very well-known officer of the RMR who joined circa 1936 and served with the unit overseas during the Second World War, and afterwards. He was knighted in 1987 by Yugoslavia for having conducted a humanitarian intervention at the end of the Second World War that saved the lives of thousands of people.
The Soldier Trophy was awarded to Cpl Jean-Philippe Vallieres, as the ‘most improved soldier.’ It was donated in 1991 by the Regular Force Support Staff (RSS) attached to the RMR at the time: Capt MR McDonald and WO Gaudreau. The best rifle shot is Cpl Erik Schneider.
Cpl Joseph David, chosen as ‘best soldier,’ was presented with the Capt GB McKean, VC, MC, MM, Trophy. Capt McKean – a regimental hero – received the second Victoria Cross awarded to the RMR, “FOR MOST CONSPICUOUS BRAVERY AND DEVOTION TO DUTY DURING A RAID ON THE ENEMY’S TRENCHES (APRIL 27th – 28th, 1918, IN THE GAVRELLE SECTOR)”.
Cpl Pakasith Inthachit received the Riendeau Reward, as most valuable player with the RMR hockey team. Finally, Sgt Flickinger Oidi was awarded the Colonel Trent Cup, given to the soldier who has consistently set the standard in physical fitness, through the RMR fitness challenge.
Mayor Peter Trent, who has enjoyed a long association with the RMR, received with a smile the annual rent the city of Westmount charges the regiment for the land the armoury stands on. How much is it? One dollar a year, for 99 years starting in 1925.
Branch 14 ( RMR Association) of the Royal Canadian Legion also had its day in the sun, as nine of its members came forth to present the RMR Foundation with a cheque for $5,000 to help support the regimental family. That’s serious money!
To finish the parade, the commanding officer presented each soldier a challenge coin struck to commemorate the RMR’s 100th anniversary. One side of the coin depicts the unit’s regimental colour while the other shows the logo of the 100th.
Finally, the battalion review was over and the colours were marched off to ‘Ca Ira,’ the regimental quick march. The RMR adopted this march in 1920, when it made an alliance with the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’ Own), of the British army. This proud regiment, founded in 1685, was later called the 14th Regiment of Foot and since the RMR had been the 14th Battalion in the First World War, it seemed a good idea to form an alliance.
The 14th Foot adopted ‘Ca Ira’ as its own march after the battle of Famars, on May 22, 1793. The 14th was fighting the French army and a French band struck up the tune, which was a favorite of the blood-thirsty mob during the French Revolution. The commanding officer of the 14th, LCol Welbore Ellis Doyle, heard it and told his band to play it too. “We’ll beat them to their own damned tune!” he is supposed to have declared.
After the parade was dismissed, the soldiers trooped down to the Junior Ranks Club for some well-deserved socializing. As per long standing tradition, the brass bell that hangs beside the bar was rung by those who were newly promoted, as each one bought a round for his or her peers.
Thus did The Royal Montreal Regiment honour its fallen, promoted and rewarded the deserving and kept the faith with its traditions on May 3. Another training year is practically over. Many will attend courses this summer, or instruct on them. In September, another training year will commence. People come and go, the faces change but the regiment is always there, serving Queen and country for the past 100 years.