You could be a part of the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill

Article / March 15, 2018 / Project number: 18-0069

By Krysthle Poitras, Directorate Army Public Affairs

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Ottawa, Ontario — If you have ever visited Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa on a summer day, you may have seen the men and women of the Ceremonial Guard (CG) in scarlet uniforms with towering bearskin hats as they marched with precision to the sound of an accompanying military band.

Have you ever wondered who these people are? And did you know you could have this awesome job?

Some people may assume the ceremony is performed by actors, much like those who staff tourist attractions such as Old Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, but this is not so. All members of the CG are serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), many of whom have deployed on domestic and international operations.  

These seasoned members perform Public Duties, including providing support to official functions held at Rideau Hall, foreign embassies and other locations around the National Capital Region with music and marching prowess. Part of a proud British tradition, these ceremonial duties have been performed for almost 60 years for the Canadian public.

The crowning glory of the summer is Fortissimo, a military and musical spectacular created for the lawns of Parliament Hill, featuring massed military bands, pipes and drums, guest performers from Canada and abroad, and, of course, the members of the CG. It is a signature event in the Nation's Capital that has drawn thousands of spectators since 1997.

Major Patrice Villeneuve, the Commanding Officer (CO) of the Ceremonial Guard, recounts that the highlights of his time as CO have included, “commanding the Guard of Honour for His Excellency the Governor General and His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, on Canada Day during the 150th Anniversary of Canada. Another highlight was commanding the Guard during Fortissimo 2017 with over 10,000 spectators on Parliament Hill.”

Why are Public Duties important?

Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Lynam, Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding of the Governor General’s Foot Guards (GGFG), describes why Public Duties are important:

“It is important that the Canadian Armed Forces help to properly welcome foreign dignitaries to Canada and help to play a role in honouring Canadians who are recognized for their military service to their country,” said LCol Lynam.

“The Governor General's Foot Guards and the Ceremonial Guard are proud to have this role in support of the Governor General of Canada when she recognizes deserving Canadians for their efforts to help their fellow citizens and to make Canada a better country,” he continued.

“Public Duties are also important as they help connect members of the Canadian Armed Forces to Canadians. Through Public Duties, and in particular, the conduct of the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill and posting of sentries at Rideau Hall and at the National War Memorial, we are able to remind Canadians that we serve them and even though we are wearing uniforms that are historical in nature, we want to demonstrate that we continue to stand on guard to protect their freedoms and are ready to answer the call to duty when required,” he concluded.

Is the Ceremonial Guard hiring?

The two main units tasked with supporting the CG, which are the GGFG of Ottawa and the Canadian Grenadier Guards (CGG) of Montreal, are hiring. Under the Strengthening the Army Reserve (StAR) strategy, Public Duties are a priority in supporting the Commander of the Canadian Army’s intent to reinvigorate the Canadian Army Reserve.

A member of the CG could be employed as a guardsman, musician or as support staff during the Public Duties season. Newly enrolled personnel will complete basic military training.

How can I join the Ceremonial Guard?

There is still time to join for the 2018 season as a guardsman or a member of the support staff.

For prospective musicians, there is an audition process which is now closed for the 2018 Public Duties season. A call for auditions will be posted on the CG website in September 2018 for musicians wishing to enroll in time for the 2019 season.

If you are interested in working for the CG, Maj Villeneuve explained, “you have to join a Canadian Army Reserve unit and successfully complete the Basic Military Qualification. Once done, you will have to ask your chain of command to be nominated for a summer employment with the Ceremonial Guard.”

The best way to guarantee employment with the CG, he advised, is to join the GGFG or the CGG, as they are the two primary Canadian Army Reserve units that contribute members.

Are there Full-Time Summer Employment Opportunities in the Ceremonial Guard?

LCol Lynam explained, “The Ceremonial Guard aligns very well with the new Full-Time Summer Employment initiative of the Canadian Army Reserve. It is perfect for post-secondary students who enrol in the Governor General's Foot Guards who are looking for guaranteed employment from May 1 to August 31.”

“Individuals have the ability to conduct their Basic Military Qualification training and then transition to learning how to conduct Public Duties for the remainder of the summer,” said LCol Lynam.

“Where else but in the Army Reserve can you join, become trained and find yourself parading on Parliament Hill wearing a scarlet tunic and bearskin in front of 10,000 of your closest friends and admirers, all in one summer?”

Success Stories from Current Members

Private (Recruit) Mackenzie Burke, a new military member recently appointed to the GGFG and who hopes to join the CG, described her experience in joining the Army Reserve and undergoing training.

“The training that I have completed so far has been exceptional.” said Pte(R) Burke.

One of the things that she is looking forward to is when her Basic Military Qualification (BMQ) course does their weapons training on the range weekend.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I was always interested in being in the military. I have always had the drive to help and protect my country.”

“Some of the benefits for me being in the Army Reserve is that my BMQ course takes place on the weekends,” she said, which makes it easier for her because she is taking a full-time Police Foundations program at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Ontario, during the week.

Another benefit that she highlights is that her tuition gets covered to a certain extent through her service.

“There are so many great benefits that come with being in the Army Reserve,” she said.

Master Corporal Christopher Hutchinson, who has worked in both administration for the CG and as a Section Commander for the GGFG Regimental Band, said the most rewarding thing about being in the CG, even more than playing his instrument for thousands of people each week, was working with colleagues who have become lifelong friends.

In addition to performing in the daily Changing of the Guard Ceremony and in local ceremonial musical support, MCpl Hutchinson said being part of the administration team that helped to keep the human resources side of the band flowing smoothly was a point of personal pride in a job well done.

“I helped address everything from leave, to pay, to transfers and everything in between. Being in the CG definitely requires dedication, perseverance and the ability to dedicate summers to get the training required to advance in one’s career,” he noted. “That being said, the Army Reserve has proven to be a diverse and practically limitless source of career opportunities for myself in a variety of career paths.” 

Initially, full time summer employment as an undergraduate music student attracted him to the Army Reserve. “After graduating, I have since remained and taken advantage of the long-term full-time contracts that exist,” said MCpl Hutchinson.

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