Dr. James Boutilier, Professor of History and Dean of Arts (1971 – 1995)
This interview was conducted by Royal Roads University staff person, Karen Inkster, and is part of the Royal Roads Oral History Project, a university initiative to preserve the military history of Royal Roads. Please contact Karen at email@example.com if you would like to contribute photos or stories to the project.
Karen: Tell me about your background and how you came to Royal Roads Military College.
Jim: Okay my name is Jim Boutiller and I was on the staff of Royal Roads Military College from 1971 until the end of August 1995 when the college closed. I’m currently the Asia-Pacific advisor to the commander, Maritime Forces Pacific which is Canada’s west coast naval formation and I’ve held down that appointment since the 22nd of July 1996.
So when I came to Royal Roads Military College it was in 1971 only a two-year, largely science and technical university. The prevailing wisdom at the time was that officers needed to be technical specialists and this of course – if not the depths of the cold war, certainly at a time when the cold war – was extraordinarily serious. There was more and more activity on the ocean in terms of submarine, anti-submarine operations. And so the argument was that people need to be qualified to work sophisticated equipment and so forth. So there was no suggestion whatsoever that there be any full-blown arts program at Royal Roads. I think it’s important to know as well that while the college was not the youngest it was in many cases, the weakest. I say that in the sense that Royal Roads Military College was the farthest away from Ottawa and thus the councils of power and it was, not to put too fine a point on it, not the French college. And being the French college meant that College Militaire enjoyed a degree of protection which Royal Roads never enjoyed.
And indeed six times during the time I was here they sought to close Royal Roads Military College. And a couple of years after I arrived the commandant of the day, able Captain R.C.K. Peers (RCNC 199, 1944-46) I’m told actually set a desk in this room and wrote out the administrative instructions to close Royal Roads Military College. As it so happened serendipitously the defense minister of the day was Richardson from Winnipeg and he announced that no military college in the west would close during his watch and so we were reprieved. But it’s also important to note that we were in fact a colonial outpost of Royal Military College in Kingston which was the senior college and no one would have dared advance some sort of educational initiative without in fact getting the blessing from RMC. So we moved in a degree of unhelpful passivity I think for many years. Fortunately the director of studies here and principal, Dr. Graham, was an extremely adept bureaucrat and educational politician and he managed in the mid 1970s to persuade the powers that be to allow us to become a four-year college. And that really transformed Royal Roads. We were like Avis, the car rental company, we were number two but we tried harder! And I think I can say without any sort of golden nostalgia that we were the best of three colleges because we tried harder; because we knew that we were not invulnerable and that provided a certain cutting edge in terms of innovation. RMC by comparison became increasingly imperial and complacent. It was beyond RMC’s belief that it could ever be closed and I think to a large degree the same was true of College Militaire Royale in St. Jean and indeed there’s an interesting little anecdote with respect to the closure of Royal Roads. Because we had heard rumblings, it was clear that something was happening in terms of cutbacks in the defense budget in the 1990s. But the commandant of the day was unaware formally that he was losing his command – that is to say that the college was going to close – until he saw the news on CBC – with his staff – with Pamela Wallin making the announcement as part of a CBC commentary on the defense budget. And only the day before I’m told the commandant of College Militaire had phoned RMC to say look we’re really concerned, Mike – this was Col. Mike Caines, the commandant here – we’re really concerned Mike about how things are shaping up and we wish you the best.
Little did he, the commandant at College Militaire realize that he too was losing his command. But it was a highly qualified loss because for political and other reasons they never truly shut down College Militaire and in fact they allowed it to revive recently. So it remained half pregnant, in a manner of speaking, for more than a decade and then suddenly reemerged. But no one had the courage, the fortitude in Ottawa to actually phone Caines and say look we’re closing. Which I thought was frankly pretty shabby and not a measure of good leadership at the centre but one of the problems we had suffered from I think over the decades was the fact that because we lacked the protection of politics and of seniority and because we were relatively young as a college goes – 1942 compared with 1876 with RMC – it meant that senior-most graduates were just getting to flag and general rank. And so there weren’t many people in the councils of power and national defense headquarters to argue powerfully and persuasively for the protection of Royal Roads Military College.
Now if we fast-forward 13 years, and that’s a critical 13 years, what we see is the Chief of the Maritime staff newly appointed, Vice-Admiral McFadden (RRMC 1974-78, 11919) was a graduate of this college I think in 1978. The Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific [Rear-Admiral Tyrone Pile, RRMC 1975-77, RMC 1977-79, 12324] went to Royal Roads Military College. The Chief of the Defense Staff, General Natynczyk (RRMC 1975-77, RMC 1977-79, 12320) was also here. Not a stellar student, his real genius lay on the rugby pitch, but either it was an exercise in good fortune or remarkable educational prescience on the part of the professorship but they pushed him over all the hurdles and he’s now our senior most officer and a wonderful man to boot. So had we been formed perhaps in the 1930s we might have had stronger representation which might have held off closure.
And there’s one further irony in all this, then I’ll move on to your next question, is the fact that at the very moment that Royal Roads was closing their lordships in Ottawa had decided that a first degree was imperative for all officers and that a second degree was if not compulsory, certainly highly encouraged. And now effectively required for promotion beyond the rank of or to the rank of colonel, naval captain, and beyond. So at the very moment when we were increasing our educational expectations we were closing one of our principal vehicles for the revision of education so that was a deep and unfortunate irony.
Karen: You talked a bit about the change from the two-year to the four-year, what changes occurred here in terms of staffing and so on?
Jim: Well when I came in 1971 I was probably the youngest by 10 years, at age 31 or 32, with the rest of the staff. When the college became a four-year college it necessitated a fresh wave of hiring because we were pretty nearly doubling the number of courses we were offering. It also entailed establishing a full-blown library and it was an excellent little library considering the size of the establishment. In fact it was an outstanding library considering the fact that we only had a modest number of students.
And indeed I should observe parenthetically that I’ve often commented, in letters of reference, and so on subsequently, that Royal Roads Military College operated in many ways like an elite graduate school where the college was almost two-dimensional in the sense that there was almost no distance between the students and the staff. At any time a student could come down the hall and talk to a dean or a professor whereas in larger civilian universities in many cases students didn’t even know the name of their professor after they’d been in the class for two or three months. So the classes here were small, they were remarkably intimate in terms of the exchange of data. Students were in fact encouraged to comment to a degree unheard of in most undergraduate programs. So students came out of Royal Roads Military College with an education which in many ways was second to none academically. It could be said of course that the college was in some ways isolated, literally and figuratively, from the mainstream of society because of its location and the way in which other demands on the students’ time kept their interaction with the local community reduced but nevertheless it was education of the highest quality.
So coming back to your original question, we increased the staff. The overall age of the staff plummeted and in fact there really became two levels of staff – an older generation of staff that had come here. In a few cases in the 1940s, but principally in the 1950s and ‘60s, and a new wave that came in the 1970s and they had a somewhat more relaxed and visionary appreciation of the sort of educational opportunities there were. We embarked, as I suggested, on an arts program which, over the space of the next 18 or 19 years, became in fact the largest and most active program at Royal Roads. Prior to 1976 when the college became a four-year college students simply did their two years and then they all by definition moved on to Royal Military College to graduate. So there was a curious sort of bifurcation in their educational experience and for many students initially there was a certain charm about going to RMC because Kingston was a different sort of setting and there was always the appeal of a new establishment and so on but I’ve had many students comment to me later that in fact the education they received here was better. Perhaps that was because they went to a bigger institution, relatively speaking, perhaps three, four times as large as Royal Roads, partly because of course they arrived in the third year when so many of their colleagues already had established patterns of work and friendship and so forth but many in fact wished that they had remained, remained here. So it became a different sort of place as a result of this four-year college concept and ever so slowly as we moved into the ‘80s we became more daring in terms of mounting initiatives without necessarily going cap in hand to RMC. It really was, as I suggested, a sort of colonial mentality that had prevailed for the longest time, partly because our offerings of course had to dovetail with what was happening at RMC when it was only a two-year college. Now of course we had some greater autonomy because we were offering programs which stood alone in their own right whereas students started and completed here at Royal Roads.
Karen: Can you speak a little bit about the introduction of lady cadets here at RR.
Jim: Yes ah that was a painful experience. It was a painful experience for the young ladies in question…for a number of reasons. First of all many of the male students, somewhat surprisingly, did not welcome the idea of female students at Royal Roads. And that may seem counter-intuitive in a way but I think that they saw Royal Roads as very much their own community and they felt that the dynamic would change and indeed it did change. Secondly I think that in an eagerness, perhaps even a desperation to find enough students to people or to populate this female requirement, ahm, the authorities in fact went out and beat the bounds looking for women who were prepared to come. And there were a number of keen young pioneers who indeed signed up to come to Royal Roads but I think when the push came to the shove they were simply not ready academically, not ready in terms of their career, to in fact take the sort of culture that was at Royal Roads which was extremely demanding particularly if you were in a science and engineering program where you might have had one spare period a week. And indeed as a sort of sidebar comment it’s interesting to see the constant struggles that went on between the academic world and the military world as to who was going to control the cadets’ spare time and indeed it was possibly revolutionary when we in the arts faculty suggested that we should maximize the spare time of cadets in order to enable them to read. There was a completely different mentality which prevailed for students in science and engineering. So the lifestyle here was extremely demanding. It was a sort of intellectual boot camp and for a number of these young women it was a huge challenge – not to suggest that it wasn’t for some of the male students as well but the women, being a tiny minority, felt I think particularly beleaguered.
There was also of course the inevitable social dynamic and this was particularly difficult because if a young woman found herself dating one of the male cadets and then for some reason or other they broke up there was almost nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, days later that male cadet might be dating one of her friends and so this was pretty difficult for people to swallow and of course it cut both ways but principally I think it was hardest on the young ladies. Bit by bit as the eighties wore on the pool from which we drew I think became broader. The students were more adept I think, more accustomed to having female students. Female students in fact were here long enough that they really became integrated because we were a four-year college into the program and there were some absolutely stellar young women who went to Royal Roads but at the very beginning for the first couple of years I think it was extremely difficult and we probably asked or expected too much of the first one or two cohorts of women who came to the college. But like the older, non-commissioned officers who came, this was a move in the right direction. It was a leavening effect which broadened the horizons, increased the general levels of gentility and so on. It made, as I suggested, a social dynamic more difficult, not only for young women – and there were some older non-commissioned women who were part of that – but for older, non-commissioned men who were expected in some ways to compete with 18, 19, 20-year old men when at the same time they had to go home to wives, kiddies, domestic responsibilities and so on. How to do that? That was a real challenge and I have enormous admiration for the non-commissioned members who went through and eventually were promoted and got a degree because that must have been very, very hard for some of them – and for their families.
Karen: I’ve not heard much about them. Can you tell me when that decision came for them to come here?
Jim: I’ll be frank with you – you’ll probably have to do a little archival research – it’s become a bit of a blur. I imagine it was about the same time in the early to mid 1980s so I expect that by the time the college closed we probably had had ten or eleven years of experience with this cadre of non-commissioned people who came from many different backgrounds. I remember one man who was a search and rescue technician, another who was an air traffic controller and so forth so it meant not only an academic challenge for them because of course in many cases they had gone straight into the armed forces from high school and now in their mid thirties, perhaps 15 years later, they were suddenly coming back into a rigorous academic regime – but they were doing so, as I suggested, with families in tow. And they were also making that difficult transition from the world of the non-commissioned officer to the world of the commissioned officer and those are different cultures and in some cases this was perhaps particularly difficult for the wives because the wives’ world of commissioned officers is distinctly different from that for NCMs. So you’d have to, as I say, check the exact date when the first of these non-commissioned personnel arrived here.
Karen: Did they have the exact same program?
Jim: As far as I know they did. I’m not sure that they were exempted from, for example, any of the military training that cadets endured…even though I’m sure they would have wished that to be the case because they would have done this all years before as new entries but I think the objective was to try to make them as much a part of the total culture and not exempt them from what was part of college life because it was that constant sort of dialectical tension between the expectations of the military community and the academic community over who would prevail in terms of establishing priorities for the cadets. I should mention in passing that one of the things that made the military college experience unique I think for me was how remarkably well these two communities co-existed – that is to say the academic community and the military community – because they came from entirely different backgrounds with entirely different life experiences and entirely different expectations and the military community changed constantly. Every few months somebody in the military community would move on to a new appointment; every couple of years there would be a new commandant, a new vice-commandant, so what was remarkable and perhaps it was a measure of overall professionalism of both communities was that they interacted as positively as they did. Very, very few occasions to my knowledge where there was any outright tension between these two quite dissimilar communities of players which I think is a real credit to the way in which the college functioned.
Karen: And how about your background – had you had any military experience there?
Jim: Well I had indeed in fact in 1956 when I was just 17 I joined the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve as a cadet. I was here on the west coast in 1958 but I was at HMCS Naden. I didn’t visit RR at the time. I had heard of it and in fact I think naval reserves of various sorts had in fact actually trained here but I was never sent to RR. In 1959 I was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant. Then in 1961 became a lieutenant. I was a navigator and navigation instructor. 1962 I went to the United Kingdom and in fact I was attached to the Royal Navy reserve, HMS President, which was the reserve division in London and then in 1964 in the run-up to unification there was a decision made in Ottawa that they would retire me and I decided that as a 24-year old lieutenant I didn’t want to be retired and so I transferred to the Royal Navy Reserve and remained with them until 1969 when I went to live in Fiji. So all told I had 13 years of naval reserve experience. The Canadian portion involved three to four months with the regular navy every summer. The Royal Navy portion usually involved two to three weeks of time at sea in the English Channel and North Sea and so forth. Wonderful experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it and so I’ve had ties with the navy which go back a long way.
Karen: And so in the meantime you were doing all your academic training as well?
Jim: Well that’s right. In 1956 I began my undergraduate degree at Dalhousie. I graduated when I was 20 and then went on to McMaster to do a Masters degree on the Royal Navy as it so happened and I was attached to HMCS Star, the reserve division, in…in Hamiliton, Ontario. And then I graduated when I was 22 and went off to London to do my PhD. So I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d exercised the option, which I could of, of becoming a regular Royal Canadian Navy officer. It’s interesting that I’ve probably come full circle and doing the job that I’m doing now which I might have ended up doing by some other route but it was probably just as well I knew that I wanted to teach in university; I knew I wanted an academic life and I think that probably transferring to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1964 would not have been impeccable timing by virtue of the turbulence which beset the navy thereafter. So I’ve always had an enormous affection for the navy, for maritime affairs and I’m delighted that I’m working for the navy now but I came by a somewhat different route.
Karen: So as a professor here – what was the curriculum like for your department?
Jim: Well when I first came the curriculum was frankly pretty modest. One of the operating philosophies at the military college of course was that science students had to do some arts programs and vice versa and this was I think a very sensible pedagogical approach but for many of the hard-pressed science and engineering students this was a bridge too far. They had to bite their tongue and do political science or English or history; they probably loathed it, but that was what they needed to do in order to graduate. Being the youngest member of a three-man department and my department head was a wonderful man by the name of Professor Alf Carlson – A.E. Carlson. He was a rough diamond. He grew up on the B.C. coast I think in Bella Bella or Bella Coola. He’d served in WW II, came back and as I recall, benefited from the sort of veteran’s subsidies which enabled veterans of the military to go to university. Went to UBC, did PhD in economics and eventually ended up here as the head of the department of history and political economy. A very, very fine and genuine man and I owe him a great deal. But as the junior member of the department I found myself teaching a science and engineering class of 99 and I should tell you a little story about that in the sense that I was young and naïve and keen and I decided that they needed to write two essays in my course – one to be submitted at the end of week four and the other at the end of week 12. Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to calculate that 99 students with two essays is 198 essays at 45 minutes an essay which was 160 hours of marking. So I marked four hours a day, five days a week, for eight weeks – nights, weekends, weekends and nights. I don’t think I ever did that again but that was part of my introduction to teaching a class of this sort.
I should also mention that one day I walked into the class and all 99 of them sitting in this tiered theatre were sitting there with Groucho Marx noses, moustaches and glasses on – which was a wonderful practical joke but great, great, class. I think somewhere in that bewildering multitude was General Natynczyk and a number of other great worthies of the present Canadian forces. But subsequently when the college became a four-year college I was able to specialize somewhat more. I was rising slowly through the ranks as first as an associate professor and then eventually as a full professor and finally in the 1980s as the Dean of Arts at Royal Roads so I was able to offer a number of courses to smaller fourth year classes. I tried to steer some of the course work towards the Asia-Pacific region which I thought was a new and emerging region that it benefited students to know of and the results of some courses on naval history and so on which was perhaps no surprise.
So over the years the classes got smaller, they got more intimate in the sense that you were dealing with only ten or 12 or 14 students at the most so you were able to have a remarkable one-on-one interaction with the students.
Karen: Sounds like you have incredible fondness for many of your students.
Jim: Well I certainly do. Royal Roads in a word, was a magical place. I remember once standing on the patio of the castle here, it was 7:30 in the morning, I was standing with a cup of coffee gazing down across the lawns towards the lagoon; there was a hint of mist in the summer’s air and a platoon of cadets in their scarlets was marching down to the parade square with a small little contingent from the band drumming away, and I remember thinking how truly magical Royal Roads was and it was an enormous privilege to teach here and I used to say to my students what an enormous privilege it was to be here because, not to put too fine a point on it, it was the original platinum-plated education in the sense that you had intense interaction and attention from the professors. You had a familial atmosphere where people looked after you in a host of ways. You had opportunities in the summers that few other students in civilian universities had. You were on pensionable time from the age of 17 or 18; you were paid; and you had guaranteed employment thereafter. So there are few universities where students emerge unscathed financially without student debt, with guaranteed employment for the rest of their lives. I don’t think that many of the students fully appreciated the magnitude of what I and my colleagues were saying but it was certainly I think true. But I was extremely fortunate and now I run into my students, even though Royal Roads was numerically the smallest of the three colleges, I run into my students all over Canada in business lounges, in offices elsewhere and it’s a real privilege indeed to be able to say that I taught them. Although I have to confess it’s sometimes a bit embarrassing because they suddenly emerge from the crowd with their wives and children and they say, oh, how are you sir? Or – how are you Dr. Boutiller? Or how are you Dr. B? And I’m struggling to remember what their name is or because they were in my class 25 years before and I’ve lost my sort of stereoscopicity – I can’t remember whether they were class of ’89 or class of ’83 and so on and so forth. But it’s really exciting to watch them move up through the ranks. Jon Vance (RRMC 1982-86, 15696), for example, who’s the Brigadier-General in charge of our troops in Kandahar now, was once a student of mine. And so I can look across this array of people who are colonels, naval captains, commodores and so on, who all went through my classes. And the staff were wonderful and I think it’s very important to mention the so-called support staff because they were extraordinarily conscientious and loyal and they really supported us. One of the things that truly shook me was that there was a strike here many years ago – I guess it was probably in the 19 – perhaps in the late 1980s – and momentarily it polarized a community which had otherwise been astonishingly cordial and supportive and suddenly people that you worked with were calling you names and so forth which was a terrible, a terrible, sobering experience for me. Fortunately it came and went and we went back to the way we were before but the support staff who laboured away endlessly was really one of the keys to the success of Royal Roads.
Karen: Was there much interaction outside of regular time? Did the staff do a lot of social activities together?
Jim: I don’t think so. In my early days here at Royal Roads Military College I in fact entertained the students on many occasions at home and I know that some of my colleagues did the same. But I think as the years wore on this occurred less and less for all of us. I think we tended to have our private lives. We left this establishment and went in different directions and so the thing I think that does make Royal Roads Military College stand out is that when we had a function, for example, like graduation, everyone – and I mean everyone – was in attendance. I was truly amazed when I went to Royal Military College for one of the graduations to discover that there might be one or two representatives from a department and the rest had simply not bothered to come. The sense of family that prevailed at Royal Roads Military College really made this establishment unique. And indeed I’ve often wondered if RRMC had become bigger would that have in fact endangered the sense of family. I’m not sure but everybody turned up for almost everything and this made it a truly remarkable establishment.
Karen: What do you think is the importance of preserving the history of RR?
Jim: Well, of course, I’m not unbiased in the sense that I was trained as a historian, I was someone who worked in the realm of oral history at a time when a number of my colleagues were deeply cynical about the value of oral history and I tried to maintain that in many cases that was the only way to capture history because there were simply no records or if the records were there they weren’t sufficient, they couldn’t capture the internal politics, the personalities, the mood and so forth and so I would certainly endorse what you’re doing, absolutely and utterly and as I mentioned before we began this process, it delights me, indeed almost astonishes me that RR University at a time when it has many other pressing priorities has had the foresight I think to go back and try to recapture the past while many of the principal actors are still present. And I’m delighted that you’ve seen fit to interview students as you were doing this afternoon because this is of course really the dimension that needs to be attended to. One of the things that always concerns me is that when I look at naval history for example, 90% of naval history is the history of admirals, ships, great encounters at sea, naval ministers, politicians, but the sailors are in fact invisible. The 90% of the navy that makes the navy work is in fact hidden and that’s where oral history in particular comes to bear. So I think it’s really important. RR Military College was a unique Canadian institution. Unique in a variety of ways. Unique because of the setting which was already charged with history as you know. Unique in the sense that education is normally a provincial mandate but here we had a federal university – albeit with a provincial charter – and so this makes RR quite unusual – I want to say almost bordering on the unique in terms of the history of Canada and of course as we can see, RR, even though it was modest in terms of the size of the student body, has produced some of Canada’s, or the Canadian forces, major leaders. As I mentioned, Chief of Defense Staff, Chief of the Navy, Admiral commanding on the west coast and so on – all at the same moment. So this is exceedingly valuable, exceedingly valuable and the more you can do of it, the better.