Katimavik Military Option: They Yelled at Us!

What Vancouver looked like in 1980, from HMCS Discovery
Late in 1979, my Katimavik group left its friendly little Quebec village near the New Brunswick border.
We had spent the previous three months getting to know the people there, working on community service projects, singing by guitar all evening, eating bean stew and whole wheat bread, and taking care of the environment. 

We boarded an airplane (if the guitar had been out, we might have been singing some John Denver) and headed for the west coast. In Victoria, we were met by a military bus. Katimavikers know what to do with a bus; on a bus, Katimavikers sing! And that’s what we were doing as we entered the gates of the Esquimalt military base for our three-month military option rotation. Our group leaders (military officers) were there to meet us. We were slow getting off the bus, and they yelled at us!

This was a big shock to us sensitive granola-crunching tree huggers. But we got used to it. Katimavik is, after all, supposed to introduce young Canadians to different ways of Canadian living.

The Katimavik military option was a three-month stint in the reserves. All through that Vancouver Island winter (which was delightful) we did a version of basic training: parade ground and fitness;
...fun things like winter camping;

...and scary things like rapelling.
Our lifeboat training was an all-day event on a decommissioned destroyer sitting in the harbour. 
My friends and I had fun exploring the empty ship during our breaks.
The best activity was our sea-training trip to Vancouver on two little boats.
We did man-overboard drills while crossing the Strait of Georgia,

...and then sailed into Vancouver and docked at HMCS Discovery in Stanley Park. All the girls on my boat were stashed in the big back cabin.
It was like a girls’ sleepover, except that we had to take our turns on duty, and we weren’t allowed to sleep in. I know this, because I had the 5AM watch, and it was my job to wake everyone up at 6 (easily done: one cabin, lots of lights, one light switch). The early morning shift was lovely. I sat on the narrow deck outside the cabin and looked at Vancouver, such as it was then, in the early morning light. 

By the time our military training ended, spring had arrived in Esquimalt. In March, my Katimavik group boarded an airplane and headed for the Lake Simcoe/Georgian Bay region of Ontario. 
It was a return to winter. 
But it was also a return to guitar sessions, community service, tree hugging, and crunchy granola; in other words, back to the essence of Katimavik.


  1. It's funny how perspective plays a huge part in our lives. I had the military option in Esquimalt for my first rotation in 1984. I knew I was in a group but to me my complete division was my group, 36 people that I started Katimavik with and was disappointed when 2/3'rds of them went their separate ways. I started a facebook page looking for all the lost souls of my mil op rotation, actually even before "facebook" was such a thing I pulled a list of each name out from the 2 divisions (72 people) and would do searches and email people that I thought might be the person that attended. A lot of the times i wouldn't get a return email back or it was the wrong person. I was able to glimpse pictures of people that I had known in that short time and it made me happy to have made some sort of contact and to know they were doing well.

    The first civilian rotation was in Toronto, this was so disappointing that I almost quit since I originally was from Hamilton just down the road. If it wasn't for the people in my group pushing me to stay just a little longer I would have quit. I had felt like I was in a group of strangers. Don't get me wrong they were good people but I hadn't bonded with them in the first rotation. My last rotation was a small town in Quebec and it was awesome. We arrived under a shimmering sky of vivid red and green northern lights during the end of winter.

    As I had said life is about perspective. What I perceive from your story Will, was that the military option was a bit of an inconvenient break between your quintessential Katimavik experience. As I found it to be the founding base of my Katimavik experience.

    A short time after the program, I had heard that an ex-pat had written about his experience in Katimavik and I'm sorry to say that I still have not read your book but it is on my list of things to get around to before my sight wont let me anymore. I do love your photos, it's very easy to exchange the faces of the people and think of it as my rotation. I regret not taking enough pictures, but what actually is enough. Image if there were digital cameras back then.

    1. Thank you for sharing that! I remember hearing from more than one person that starting Katimavik with the military rotation was a bit rough, so I find it very interesting to hear your story and your perspective.

      Yes, you are correct: the military option was a blip in the whole experience. But I actually quite enjoyed it, and I do remember being glad that I had had a chance to bond with my small group before we got to Esquimalt. We were sad when they split us up among the barracks, but we got used to it, and were together again in the spring at our third rotation.

      I actually haven't written a book (yet!); you may be thinking of "I Was a Teenage Katimaviktim" by Will Ferguson. I read part of it; it's quite funny. Will Ferguson went on to write quite a lot of other funny books about Canada, and I've read a lot of them.

    2. Yes I apologise I did think you were Will Ferguson and I still mean to read his books LOL. Do you mind if I share this in My Katimavik Military Option (Esquimalt) group?

    3. No problem; it's a compliment :). Yes, please do go ahead and share this with your group.

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