Murray Farmer admits he’s got a big learning curve ahead of him as he, a civilian, takes on the role of Honorary Colonel of Vancouver Island’s Canadian Scottish Regiment.
Farmer, a resident of North Saanich, became the Regiment’s newest Honorary Colonel in September. He was welcomed in an official ceremony Sept. 12 at the Bay Street Armoury in Victoria, replacing his predecessor, Sidney’s Richard Talbot. The Saanich Peninsula connection is maintained with the army reserve unit, which welcomes Farmer as its first civilian in the role in recent memory.
“This is new for the Canadian Scottish, but not for the military on the whole,” said Lieutenant Colonel Steve Sawyer, the Regiment’s commanding officer.
The title, Honorary Colonel, goes back to feudal times when dukes and earls were asked to raise military regiments for the Crown. In essence, they acted as the unit’s patron and raised money, equipment and uniforms to outfit the soldiers. Sawyer said there’s some of that history in the local regiment — which was formed out of two area units, created by the civilian population during the First World War.
Farmer’s appointment represents a change in the focus of the CScots on the Island. As the Canadian military has transitioned out of the conflict in Afghanistan, reserve units struggle with recruiting new people and holding onto them. They also require more local support to ensure a high level of training as people’s attention turns elsewhere. Sawyer said he faces challenges retaining people, whereas during conflict, it’s less of an issue.
That’s the role of the Honorary Colonel — to increase the unit’s profile in the community and win support for their activities. As a civilian, Farmer said he has much to learn about the unit but feels it’s important for him to take on the job.
“I was approached about this close to two years ago,” said Farmer. “I thought at the time that the request was kind of odd, as I was never in the military.”
Farmer said, however, he started thinking about it more and more.
“I was born at the end of the Second World War and I have lived in peace all of my life. Other people have been called to serve, so maybe this is my turn.”
Prior to this, he continued, he’d never been inside the Armoury, the Regiment’s headquarters in Victoria.
It also has a branch, or company, based in Nanaimo and is currently around 200 soldiers strong. To get ready for the official change of command last month, Farmer said he was scrambling for the bits and pieces of the unit’s ceremonial garb and taking drill (marching) lessons from Talbot, who had served in the military in the U.K.
“I think this is pretty new for them as well,” Farmer said of the change to a full civilian Honorary Colonel. “But people like (B.C.’s) Lieutenant-Governor is a civilian and also the Honorary Colonel of the Rocky Mountain Rangers.”
Talbot said, during his outgoing speech at the ceremony, that the focus of the unit and all of the Canadian Forces had been on Afghanistan until recently. Now, the Scottish makes a transition to a full civilian as Honorary Colonel.
“I wish him every success and that the Regiment provide him every opportunity (to succeed).”
Farmer is no stranger to giving back to the community. His family established Farmer Construction on Vancouver Island and he served as Chancellor of the University of Victoria until January of this year.
Earlier this year, his family donated a large sum of money to the university for a sports wall of fame in the new campus gymnasium building.
His role with the Regiment, he said, does not come with any specific agenda, yet there is a fundraising element.
“For the local militia, the Canadian government supplies their essential needs for training. The more non-essential things are my focus.”
Those include their formal dress uniforms, ceremonial functions and more.
Farmer said his generation made up a golden era in this country, as it experienced a prolonged time of peace — and for the most part, the Island and the nation still is. After being asked if he would fill the role, Farmer said it is his chance to do his duty.
Fast Facts: The Canadian Scottish Regiment
The Canadian Scottish Regiment (CScotR) is Vancouver Island’s only infantry unit and consists of around 200 officers and regular soldiers.
The CScotR is a reserve unit, meaning its troops meet once a week and train one weekend a month, in addition to other training opportunities throughout the year.
The unit headquarters is Victoria’s Bay Street Armoury and has a second company based in Nanaimo.
Soldiers from the unit have served domestically and overseas, including Afghanistan. Four members of the Regiment are credited with winning the Victoria Cross during the First World War.
The Bay Street Armoury marks its 100th anniversary with a public open house Nov. 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.