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Lament for the PMQ?

July 2012

I sit outside the fencing erected by a demolition crew demolishing the PMQs (Permanent Married Quarters, or Residential Housing Units as they are now called) that once made up Stanley Green Park at the former CFB Toronto.  The officers PMQs, known as William Baker Park at the north end of the former base, will be vacated in the near future and demolished too.  The PMQ, once the centre of family life at bases of the Canadian military, aren’t what they used to be.

Although PMQs remain a fixture at Canadian Forces Bases across Canada, in recent years the PMQs have apparently fallen from favour among some military families and the Canadian Forces Housing Authority (CFHA), the agency that manages the PMQs.  I have no surveys or scientific facts to back up these claims; only personal observations.

In recent years, PMQs at the former CFB Rockcliffe have been vacated and turned over to the Canada Lands Company for disposal.  PMQs in Calgary have been either sold “as is” or demolished make way for new homes.  The PMQs in Oakville have also been demolished and the land redeveloped into upscale homes.

The PMQs on the south-side of Borden have been demolished and the remaining PMQs on the north-side have a noticeable vacancy rate, as do the PMQs at Kingston.  PMQs in Edmonton have also seen their numbers reduced with the closure of Grisbach Barracks.

PMQs in Chilliwack have been sold-off and the PMQs in Vancouver and Moncton will soon follow.

The current philosophy of the CFHA appears to be that in some locations, the private sector can provide accommodations.

Some obvious reasons to live in the PMQs include the close proximity to work and the ease of “disposing” of your former residence when you are posted to a new base.  However, the PMQ community truly does provide a sense of community for military families, a community of like-minded people that they might not find off-base.  Military life is a unique kind of life that the civilian population doesn’t always understand and sometimes it is beneficial to be around people who understand the challenges of military life.

PMQs provide military families with a valuable resource to address their specific needs.  Military personnel are deployed for months at a time, leaving their spouses and children behind.  Often the community on a military base is the only source of emotional and practical support for these families.  Schools on base are within walking distance and most bases provide complete social and recreational amenities so valuable to military families.  A real sense of community develops around the PMQ areas, with families regularly interacting with each other and organizing the types of community events that are often rare or non-existent in civilian communities.

As Canadian actor Michael J. Fox, a former Chilliwack “Base Brat”, wrote in his autobiography, “Lucky man”:  “PMQs were tidy neighbourhoods where folks quickly forged new friendships or re-established old ones.  Everybody looked out for everybody else and everybody was in the same socio-economic boat.”  For some remote postings, it was the only practical choice as off-base housing was limited, far from the base or non-existent.

Children of service personnel were able to make the transition to a new school (at a new base) easier since there was a “we’re all in the same boat” attitude among the “base-brats”.  No one had the usual anxieties of attending a new school as every 3 or 4 years, all students would be attending a new school.  New friends would be made and old friends would be re-united.

The current situation for most military families reflects the current economic situation.  In many cases, PMQ rents are close to or exceed what the private sector charges for rent or mortgage payments.  In the past, the rents were much cheaper than what you would find in private accommodations off-base.

Many military personnel are now earning wages that enable them to purchase homes off-base (including money earned from UN and NATO tours), thus allowing them to gain equity from ownership of homes in the private economy.

In many cities, housing markets are favourable to sellers, thus ensuring that when a military member is posted to a new city, they will have little trouble selling their home.  There are also programs that will help compensate service members in the event of financial losses in the sale of their private home.  However in some base locations, it’s seen as foolish to purchase a home due to the financial risk.

The age of many PMQs also has an impact of their appeal.  Most PMQs were built in the 1950s, have very little insulation in the walls, no garages and some were built without basements.

Although the Canadian Forces Housing Agency has been upgrading many PMQs with new siding, insulation, windows and furnaces, it is debatable whether these efforts have made an impact on the appeal of PMQs. Some bases have seen such a deterioration of their housing stock with constant mold issues from cracked foundations and inadequate maintenance over the years that demolishing them is more cost-effective than repairing them.

Will anyone lament the passing of the PMQ?  I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/lament-for-the-pmq/

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