Saluting King's military ties

Council of Serving Members honours King's rich military history

The student bar at the University of King’s College is still called HMCS Wardroom, more than a half-century after the school served as a naval training centre in the Second World War. (Photo: Kenneth Ingram)

Sailors from HMCS Scotian are preparing for their annual visit to the University of King's College's chapel in December. It's been a tradition for the naval reserve unit for decades and pays tribute to the university's official military service between 1941 and 1945.

It was at that time, during the Second World War, when the government demanded a greater contribution from Halifax's university community. The campus was renamed HMCS King's and became known as a "stone frigate," where more than 3,100 officers were trained in navigation and communication.

Surprisingly, few students and staff are familiar with the parade or the naval history that partly defines the school's identity. Yet, military terminology remains a facet of social life on campus. The university bar retains its naval connection as the HMCS Wardroom and is decorated with faded photographs of warships.

Military students outsiders

Despite these historical roots, there's a feeling that the military isn't always welcome on campus. Cpl. David Foster, a King's student who's also a member of the army reserve, says he faces negative stereotypes from other students.

"People assume you're part of the infantry" (specialized soldiers who are trained to fight the enemy on foot), even though Foster studies music and his military occupation is as a musician. He's frustrated with how students are uninformed about the military and the diversity of trades, experiences and people who wear the uniform.

Foster isn't alone.

Last year, student Jason MacGregor tried to resolve disconnect between reservists and civilian students. He asked the student union for funding to create a group called the Council of Serving Members. MacGregor is a signal operator with the army reserve and wanted to foster better opportunities for reservists and students to meet, ask questions and learn from each other.

Despite receiving numerous e-mails in favour of the initiative, MacGregor discovered the council would be prone to similar struggles that many other university groups face: inconsistent attendance.

He acknowledges that students are busy with their studies and social life, but "it's especially harder to work around with a group of service men and women because we have extra responsibilities to our military units outside of school."

He created a Facebook group for the council that has 27 members, yet there's little sign of activity for either of his initiatives. He's hopeful the group will gain a stronger presence on campus and enhance the university experience for all students - regardless of whether they have direct ties to the military.

There are roughly 30,000 reserve force members in Canada. According to the Canadian Forces Liaison Council, about 30 per cent of them are attending universities as they work part time in uniform.

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