The Department of National Defence purchased Hatley Park for $75,000 in 1940, three years after Laura Dunsmuir's death.
With World War II raging in Europe, the elite estate took on an urgently needed public role: the grounds and castle were transformed into a “ship on land” and became HMCS Royal Roads, a junior naval officer training site.
Wartime volunteers step up
From 1940 to 1942, more than 600 volunteers completed fast-track, 90-day naval officer programs. These new sub-lieutenants were assigned to escort vessels protecting convoy ships from submarine attack as they made dangerous crossings of the North Atlantic and later the Barents Sea.
Serving a growing need
HMCS Royal Roads became the Royal Canadian Naval College in October 1942.
In 1941, the Dunsmuirs' stables and mews were converted to classrooms and a gunnery school. The parade ground, gym and a larger boathouse were added, along with homes for the commandant and dean of studies.
With enrolment on the rise, cadet training rooms moved from Hatley Castle to the newly built Grant Block. Named for the first commandant of the naval college, Captain J.M. Grant, it was built in 1942; cadets moved in on October 12, 1943.
Hatley Park’s shift in purpose during the war began a 55-year legacy of military training and ever-expanding education that continued until Royal Roads Military College was closed in 1995.
More than 4,000 Canadian Air Force, Navy and Army cadets came through RRMC.
RCN-RCAF Royal Roads
In 1947, the Royal Canadian Air Force teamed with the naval college to create RCN-RCAF Royal Roads. A year later, the army joined, forming Canadian Services College Royal Roads. Cadets could now do the first two years of a degree here before heading to Royal Military College in Kingston to complete their final two years.
Naval routines, rules and terminology were part of daily life, with campus locations like the Quarterdeck assembly hall, gunroom and mess hall dining room. Dorm rooms in Hatley Castle, Grant, Nixon and Millward were called cabins.
As cadet numbers at Royal Roads grew, so did the campus. Nixon Block was opened in 1955 and Millward Block in 1991.
In 1967, the school became Royal Roads Military College (RRMC). Royal Canadian Air Force and Navy officers were able to complete the first two years of university programs.
The college had a final name change in 1967 to Royal Roads Military College (RRMC). It began granting degrees in 1975, expanding to offer a four-year degree programs in 1976 in areas including oceanography, psychology and military and strategic studies.
It took decades for women to be welcomed to join RRMC. They enrolled for the first time in 1984.
Cadets were expected to do more than earn top marks. They were required to study a second language, as well as pass physical fitness and military components. Failure in any one of these meant they wouldn’t earn their degree.
The decision to close RRMC with the class of 1995 was a difficult transition for cadets, staff and the surrounding community, where the school had become part of local life.
Its legacy continues through ex-cadets, the proudly self-named “roadants,” whose campus heritage initiatives ensure RRMC’s story is ongoing.