Final day of original Venture - by LOOKOUT Navy News 15 May 2017
Left to Right: Major Mark Kierstead, Commanding Officer of Real Property Operations (Pacific), Maj (Ret’d) Ed Vishek, and Base Commander Capt(N) Steve Waddell break ground on the demolition project of Dockyard Bldg 11.
Peter Mallett with files from Lt(N) Pamela Hogan, Staff Writer ~
When Maj (Ret’d) Ed Vishek climbed aboard an excavating machine on May 5 to take a ceremonial first swipe in the demolition of Dockyard Building 11 he couldn’t help but reminisce.
That’s because for Vishek, and hundreds of other sailors, the aging building was his home for two of the most important years of his life.
DY11 was the lifeblood and administrative headquarters for the Royal Canadian Navy’s junior officer training complex HMCS Venture, which Vishek attended from1959 to 1961. The program grew out of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Venture Plan that was established in 1954 to address critical officer shortages.
Peering from the excavator cab window, the 77-year-old former Venture graduate gazed across the parking lot that was once the Parade Square to DY29, which served as the barracks for him and the other trainees.
“It’s a somewhat sad moment for me because this place was where I began my 30-year career in the navy,” said Vishek who went on to enjoy a lengthy career as a naval pilot.
During the height of the Cold War the two buildings were the centre of a sprawling training facility that also included a chapel, sports field, gymnasium and boat shed.
DY11 was a 36,000 square-foot facility built in 1941 to provide offices and naval training classrooms as part of HMCS Givenchy, a speciality school that ran from 1943-45 for naval gunners crewing civilian vessels in the Second World War. It also contained a mess hall and orderly room, while its 22,000 square foot sister building DY29 was built the following year.
Both buildings are now in the early stages of a demolition project overseen by Real Property Operations.
Vishek was invited to the site by the Base Commander to officially kick off the project on May 5. He was then bestowed the honour of taking a symbolic first swing at the building with the giant yellow excavator and its toothy claw.
“I never thought I would be up there controlling the wrecking ball, but I knew that someday it would have to be demolished,” he said. “Even back when I attended Venture it had become a dated facility.”
Vishek grew up in St. Catharines, Ont., and had dreams of becoming a pilot. As a teenager he was heartbroken when the Diefenbaker government cancelled the Avro Arrow project. The next best dream was flying airplanes off the deck of an aircraft carrier.
After taking a naval aviation course in Shearwater, N.S., Vishek joined the navy and headed to Victoria.
What he remembered most about the experiences at Venture was the demanding physical requirements of being a junior officer at the facility. This included many long, gruelling days that began at 6:30 a.m. with physical training sessions. They were typically followed by several hours of parading, running and marching double time between classes, meals and every event they attended
Their days at Venture normally didn’t wrap up until 10:30 p.m. The call for lights out was greatly welcomed by most he says.
There was no idle time on weekends either as junior officers honed their sailing skills aboard 27-foot training boats known as Whalers.
He recalled Venture’s Executive Officer, Commander Andrew Collier as “a stern but fair man” who was quick to discipline the group as a whole if one of them stepped out of line. Collier went on to become a Vice-Admiral and the namesake of the Collier Building in Work Point, home of the current Venture, Naval Officer Training Centre.
Vishek described the accommodations in DY29 as “sparse” at best.
“It was two to a room, there was a single bed on each side and a wooden locker, a desk, a chair and a lamp and a small rug beside your bed,” he said. “And the bed was not comfortable at all and had a saggy mattress.”
As the ceremonial event in dockyard concluded, Vishek commented on the buildings’ deterioration with their weathered exteriors and faded paint.
“It was all spruced up back then, nothing fancy but neat, orderly and well kept.”
Of the 86 classmates that began the program with him only 26 would graduate.
“Some left because of scholastic inabilities, attitude problems or because they just didn’t have what it took to become an officer,” said Vishek.
The school ran from 1954 to 1966, with a total of 537 naval officer cadets trained. It was eventually phased out in 1968 following the creation of the Canadian Forces Officer Training Establishment.
Vishek went on to spend eight and a half years of his military career as a pilot at HMCS Shearwater on the East Coast. His primary task was flying anti-submarine missions in a CS2F Grumman Tracker, taking off from the deck of Canada’s aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure or the runways at Shearwater. He continued his aviation career flying search and rescue and heavy transport aircraft.
After his military career he became involved in the cadet program and was Commanding Officer of the 848 Royal Roads Air Cadets before he reached the mandatory retirement age.
- Capt (N) Bob Welland, the Director of Naval Training at the time, conceptualized the “Venture Plan” in which recruits would enrol in and undergo a naval officer training program based in HMC Dockyard buildings DY11/29 to fill the officer gap with at least 100 graduates per year. The Naval Board approved the concept and authorized a total entry of 276 cadets for 1954 which helped solve the post-Second World War officer shortage.
- VAdm Thomas (Retired) achieved the highest position of any HMCS Venture graduate. Other graduates, VAdm (Ret.) Peter Cairns and VAdm (Ret.) Lynn Mason served as Commander, Maritime Command. RAdm (Ret.) Fred Mifflin retired from the Canadian Forces as Deputy Commander, Maritime Command, and took on a career in politics becoming Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in 1996, and Minister of Veterans Affairs in 1997.
- Other notable careers include a Commodore in the Royal New Zealand Navy, architects, accountants, authors, lawyers, charter boat operators, commercial airline pilots, a doctor who delivered over 10,000 babies, two members of the BC Jazz Hall of Fame, and eight mentors in the Navigation and Bridge Simulators at NFS(P).
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