Honorary Naval Captains bring the navy to Canadians

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Crowsnest - Winter 2017 / February 1, 2017

By Lieutenant-Commander Kathleen Casby

Drawn from the ranks of Canadians who have distinguished themselves in private or public life, Honorary Naval Captains (HCapts(N)) are the ambassadors of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

HCapts(N) support the RCN’s ongoing outreach and engagement efforts to educate and inform Canadians about their navy, its roles and contributions to national security, and, through their personal influence and networks, help reinforce the RCN’s key stakeholder relationships.

The last 30 years have seen many distinguished Canadians appointed as HCapts(N), including television personalities, prominent academics, community leaders, and executives from all manner of business and industry. The visibility they bring to the RCN and the pride that the men and woman of the navy feel in their HCapts(N) provide an important link between the RCN and the communities in which they are based. The HCapts(N) continue a century-long tradition of service and are just as important today as when the program first began.

Every HCapt(N) across Canada brings to the RCN a set of unique talents and skills, a keen desire to contribute, and specific goals that he or she may wish to achieve in support of the RCN’s outreach and public engagement objectives. They work to establish and maintain connections between the RCN and community leaders – links that the RCN may not have been able to forge on its own. These connections can help broaden the RCN’s influence among opinion leaders and influencers at a variety of local, regional and national levels.

HCapts(N) can assist with outreach into diverse communities and create opportunities for, and attend, special events, community projects and celebrations (receptions onboard ships, parades and inspections) related to the RCN, including those that support sailors and their families. They also work to support the community relations efforts of local and regional Naval Reserve Divisions and Sea Cadet Corps across the country. They proudly wear an RCN uniform at these events.

Each HCapt(N) is assigned an RCN affiliated formation or unit, with which they develop an important strategic relationship.

Given the importance and visibility of the HCapt(N) program, candidates are appointed by the Minister of National Defence (MND). This process requires each candidate to be formally nominated, complete with background and social media checks and finally, endorsement by the Commander of the RCN prior to consideration by the MND. The duration of an HCapt(N) appointment is normally three years; however, extensions are granted on a case-by-case basis.

It is an experience unlike any other, according to HCapt(N) Colin Robertson, who was appointed in 2010 but had already come to realize the value of the RCN through his 33 years as a diplomat in the foreign service. 

“I had served in port cities – New York, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and then Washington – and I had developed a keen appreciation of the RCN through port visits. The deck of a warship is a superb place to entertain key contacts and to underline that Canada is a reliable ally and trusted partner,” says HCapt(N) Robertson.

“While I could not sail a ship or run an engine, I realized I had a useful skill – strategic communications – that served the RCN,” he continues. “A day touring the base at Halifax made me realize that everyone in the RCN has a skill and that the culmination of these skills is greater than the individual talents. Put together you have a powerful capacity. I am continually impressed by the camaraderie, professionalism and pride in service of all who serve.”

The RCN’s four newest HCapts(N) recently joined this esteemed cadre of Canadians, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience with them. 

Vancouver Island-based hotelier Mandy Farmer is the current President and CEO of Accent Inns Inc., a family-run hospitality company. Her well-established position as an entrepreneur has also enabled her to become a leader and community advocate for sports, the environment and tourism in British Columbia. In only six months as an HCapt(N), she has already sailed in HMCS Ottawa and aided in promoting both the RCN and Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, B.C., (her affiliated unit) to Canadians.

HCapt(N) Nik Nanos is another recent addition to the Honorary roster. The current President and CEO of Nanos Research, the market research company he founded while still an undergraduate student at Queen’s University in 1987, his drive and dedication led him to become an HCapt(N) affiliated with HMCS Carleton, the Naval Reserve Division in Ottawa.

“The two things that have struck me most since becoming an HCapt(N) are the professionalism and sense of family in the Canadian Navy,” says HCapt(N) Nanos. “Being assigned to HMCS Carleton has been a great introduction and welcome into the navy family and to see the commitment and positive atmosphere in the Reserve ranks has been really rewarding. In my field we measure and gauge the opinions of Canadians on a daily basis, so I’m proud to bring that skillset to the RCN, in order to promote and champion the navy. Our sailors from top to bottom stand tall in my eyes and it is a privilege to be part of the RCN.” 

HCapt(N) Tom Paddon was appointed in September 2016, affiliated with Canadian Fleet Atlantic. The current chairman of Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, he is recognized in the north as an entrepreneur, leader and community advocate. Highly active with organizations that benefit northern activities and economic development, HCapt(N) Paddon is widely acknowledged as being a subject matter expert on Canada’s Arctic foreign policy. He recently sailed in HMCS Ville de Québec as part of the Canadian Leaders at Sea program, where he was able to experience daily life at sea and get a glimpse into how the RCN defends Canada.

“It was a phenomenal experience, to not only see but to participate in shipboard exercises, specifically the battle damage scenario that included firefighting and casualty clearing, as well the weapons shoots,” says HCapt(N) Paddon. “Experiencing the sheer power of the ship and its capacity to defend our borders is surpassed only by the leadership and professionalism shown by the officers and sailors on board. I could not have been more proud to wear the uniform as an HCapt(N) that week.”

The most recent HCapt(N), appointed just before Christmas 2016, is David Labistour, the current CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op, Canada’s specialty retailer of outdoor lifestyle, travel gear and sporting goods.

Each Honorary appointee is up to the challenge of helping bring the RCN’s message to Canadians. This highly successful program has proven to be one of the RCN’s best tools in ensuring that even those living far from a coast have the opportunity to learn more about Canada’s navy and its role in maintaining peace and security for all Canadians.

A full list of currently serving HCapts(N) can be found at http://www.navy-marine.forces.gc.ca/en/about/in-depth-hcapts.page