Sunset ceremony

The sunset ceremony plays a ceremonial role to mark important turning points in the university's life.

A commemorative ceremony

We commemorated our 75th anniversary in 2015 with a sunset ceremony, a community event that featured:

  • the Royal Military College of Canada Pipes and Drums
  • the Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy
  • the United States Air Force Academy's Drum and Bugle Corps
  • a fly past by the Canadian Forces Snowbirds
  • a naval guard from Maritime Forces Pacific
  • guns of the 5th (BC) Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery
  • members of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets


The origins of the Sunset Ceremony lie in two evening routines formerly carried out by soldiers garrisoned in the Low Countries in the 16th Century. The first occurred at sunset when soldiers fired evening guns, withdrew into fortified camps and cities, locked the gates and, as the sun set and darkness approached, lowered their flags for the night. This was called "retreat."

The army adopted this tradition, with a bugle call known as "Retreat." The bugle call used to lower the flag is known in the navy as "Sunset." Originally, the calls sounded to order this routine were beaten on drums and the routine is still commonly called “beating the retreat.”

The second routine followed at or near dusk when the night watch was set. Rounds were made to check sentries, accompanied by drum or bugle calls to indicate when the “First Post” and “Last Post” were reached. During this period, the drums beat a warning for all to return to barracks. Often, the band played entertainment tunes, an evening hymn and finally, the national anthem. This ceremony became known as Tattoo, from the Flemish words “doe den tap toe,” an expression from the inns and bars that meant “close the taps,” since the soldiers had to leave.

Canadian tradition

The Royal Canadian Navy started performing the current and uniquely Canadian Sunset Ceremony in the early 1950s. For many years, this performance was the highlight of Dominion Day celebrations held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Royal Roads Military College carried on this tradition beginning in 1972 and conducted this ceremony on the evening prior to each year's graduation parade. It was last held on the grounds in 1995.