Finalist for the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Nonfiction
A memoir from the first female cadet admitted to the Royal Military College of Canada.
Kate Armstrong was an ordinary young woman eager to leave an abusive childhood behind her when she became the first female cadet admitted to the Royal Military College of Canada. As she struggled for survival in the ultimate boys’ club, she called on her fierce and humourous spirit to push back against the whims of a domineering and patriarchal organization. Later in life, feeling unfulfilled in her post-military career, she realized that finding her true path forward meant she had to go back to the beginning and revisit the truth of what she had experienced all those years ago.
Kate Armstrong worked as a military officer and an electricity trader before realizing her dream was to be a writer. She lives in Nelson, B.C.
Kate Armstrong's voice in The Stone Frigate is shockingly honest with gut-wrenching details that makes one desperate to stop reading, but which also compels one to keep turning the pages because this story is too important to ignore. The Canadian military has slowly veered away from some of the misogynistic traditions held dear back then by the Royal Military College, which Kate describes so eloquently in her memoir. Sadly, others are still deeply entrenched in the male-dominated culture of this institution today. The damage is undeniable. It's time for a hard right.
This is the moving, deeply immersive story of a woman's coming of age in 1960's and 70's Canada and at RMC in the 1980's--environments that worked in their different ways to flatten the spirits of the independent, the thoughtful, the creative, and the kind. One important takeaway here is that those times and places — distant, we like to think — still represent a relevant paradigm today. Every new cohort of girls still faces intense hazing as they run the gauntlet into womanhood — at which point a new kind of hazing begins. Yet this memoir is no sustained complaint but rather an act of bearing witness, and Kate Armstrong does so with a rich mixture of humour, drama, empathy, anger, gratitude, and vivid characterization, all conveyed in beautifully lucid prose.
The Stone Frigate is the fascinating, often painful account of Kate Armstrong’s attempt to fit in, to excel, to become ‘one of the boys’ at the elite Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. Her four years at the college were marked by sexism, humiliation, brutality, and courage. Armstrong is brutally honest with herself – her failure to have compassion with other female classmates, her desperate need for male approval, her desire to become ‘just one of the guys’. But this memoir is first and foremost a story of reconciliation, of learning to accept the past and realize that what she accomplished was extraordinary, especially in the face of so many who would have happily seen her fail.
Her experiences will resonate with all women who have, like Armstrong, attempted to fit into an exclusively male preserve. Her memoir is a convincing and moving read, one that everyone who has been alone in a misogynistic world will identify with.”
The Stone Frigate is a harrowingly honest account of one woman’s experience in the military. With unflinching wit and candour, Kate Armstrong forces us to look at the uncomfortable intersection between power and sexism and into the darkest corners of human nature. The result is an astonishing memoir – I couldn’t put it down.
A great story is not simply something you read — you feel it. Right from the beginning, The Stone Frigate transported me. I was there in Kingston, Ontario, and amidst the cadence of boots and mess hall chatter, I really heard those male voices, all their different intonations of condescension and malice. For three hundred pages, my physiology was tied to whatever happened on the page — I felt a deep sense of empathy and anger which is only possible when an author is generous enough to share her experiences with authenticity and candour. This memoir is an important contribution to Canadian history/herstory and a reminder of how deeply ingrained certain types of power structures are, even today.
This personal account by one of the first women allowed into Kingston’s Royal Military College – Canada’s West Point – is compelling not only for detailing the obstacles stacked against women in the military, but for revealing just how deep the duplicity, misogyny and deception can run from cadets through to top brass. Kate Armstrong’s story will resonate with any woman who has fought upstream against the dysfunctional systems that keep our corporations and institutions in the hands of a brittle, fear-driven, and corrupt patriarchy.