After two long days of marching in rain, up and down hills, through conservation areas, along the Niagara River to a National Historic Site our students, staff and guests woke up this morning in the barracks of Fort George to one more day of The Fall Exercise – the most important day.
I think one of the most iconic images of the entire exercise is the moment we leave the fort, the entire group marching as one on the final day, pulling (and pushing) our 1812 replica cannon and passing through the huge wooden gates of the fort.
We must make quite a spectacle to residents and tourists alike as we march along the Niagara Parkway Trail to the Village of Queenston before making the long climb up to the top of Queenston Heights to finish the exercise.
Each of the group takes turns pulling the cannon and while the last two days were a bit of competition between sections and companies to see who had the fastest time, today was all about working as one to accomplish a goal.
Today’s march closely followed the route Major General Sir Isaac Brock would have taken from Fort George to the top of the cliff in Queenston to meet the American forces invading at Queenston Heights during the War of 1812. Brock died in the battle but the British were victorious in holding the heights and he is considered a Canadian hero for inspiring the British regulars, Native and local militia to continue the fight.
While we made our way along the Parkway from Fort George to Brock’s monument the boys were admiring the beautiful homes we passed, joking about which staff members live in the largest estates. Along with a bit of fun and camaraderie we also used this part of the march to talk about Niagara’s history, the War of 1812 and the heroes who played a pivotal role in the 1812 conflict, including Brock and Laura Secord, whose homestead we passed today as well.
When we reached the top of the heights, in the shadow of Brock’s monument (a 185 foot tall limestone column which is also Brock’s final resting place), the group gathered to honour those who fell during the Battle of Queenston Heights and the War of 1812; bless the Academy’s colours and present the Baker’s Badge.
The Baker’s Badge was presented to several of marchers today, those who had completed the march for the first time to recognize the physical and mental discipline required to complete the exercise.
Receiving the Baker’s Badge at the end of the Fall Exercise happens at just about the time new recruits are being promoted to the rank of cadet after completing the five week recruit course. It is also very often the first time some of these boys have been acknowledged for an accomplishment of this kind.
It’s a powerful ceremony and it shows everyone at the Academy just what is possible.
The ceremonies also represent all that The Fall Exercise is to the Academy and those guests we were honoured to have march with us over the last three days: esprit de corps; pride of achievement; reflection on where we have come from; and belief in where we are going.
It has been an exhausting, exhilarating and emotional three days but it has been worth it.
Following the parade at Queenston Heights our students and guests returned to RLA for a delicious Thanksgiving Dinner prepared for us by our talented kitchen team.
After dinner we thanked our friends for joining us and I congratulated our students on a job well done before wishing them all the best for Thanksgiving.