Honorary Colonels are integral members of the Air Force family.
They may be former Air Force officers or distinguished Canadian citizens, hailing from a diverse range of backgrounds, including many well-known public and community figures. Some currently appointed Air Force Honorary Colonels include singer/songwriter Sam Reid; business finance Roger Demers; and radio broadcaster/author J`lyn Nye, to name just a few.
Honorary Colonels are "honorary and advisory". They are vital to fostering esprit de corps within the family. They may mentor the commanding officer and members of the unit, help build relationships with other units through the Honorary Colonel network, and aid in ensuring the maintenance of customs and traditions. By their very presence and name, they build and develop community support for their units by providing a public profile - a public face - for the unit. Perhaps one of their most important attributes, however, is simply the time they spend with all members of the unit, no matter what their rank or position, just as a highly respected member of the family would.
An Honorary Colonel is an officer on virtually all issues except operations.
They work behind the scenes and provide a much needed connection between the community and the Canadian Forces. Each unit decides who they want as an Honorary Colonel. On the recommendation of the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Minister of National Defence approves all honorary appointments. These unpaid positions are usually for tenures of three years, but they are renewable.
While some Honorary Colonels are former Air Force members, many are not. Members Air Force Honorary Colonels program come from a diverse range of backgrounds, including many well-known public and community figures.
Honorary appointments bring with them certain responsibilities. Their duties include:
- Fostering esprit de corps;
- Developing, promoting and sustaining strong community support for the unit;
- Establishing and maintaining liaison with unit charities and associations;
- Maintaining close liaison with the unit Commanding Officer or Commandant and other honoraries in the area;
- Assisting the unit in hosting parades and other unit functions;
- Carrying out other duties or providing expertise in matters where they are qualified through background and knowledge when requested by higher authority;
Assisting the unit through the donation of plaques, trophies for competitions/course.
Honorary rank is “honorary and advisory,” and honorary rank does not confer authority or command function. Honoraries can provide continuity within the unit on matters of community events and activities, unit traditions etc. – of importance can be speaking to new recruits and young officers on unit history and traditions.
The Canadian tradition of honouring regional or local dignitaries with an honorary rank in the military goes back to 1857 although it was 1895 before the first honorary colonel was appointed. Being an honorary colonel has always been an honour, bestowed upon prominent members of the community for their influence; however, it also involved rallying civilians to enlist during times of war or emergency, and to clothe and even equip troops during times of peace.
In the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), honorary colonels have been appointed for the prominence they hold in the community but more importantly as a mark of esteem. The first RCAF appointees, made in 1931, were four big names in Canadian military aviation, Group Captain J. S. Scott, Group Captain R. K. Mulock, Wing Commander W. A. Bishop, and Squadron Leader D. R. MacLaren. All four being recently retired, giving them the honorary appointments was both a way to honour them and to have them maintain their link with the air force.
Other military personnel and civilians were appointed in the years that followed, honoured for their achievements in the field of aviation, their contributions to the RCAF during the Second World War or their standing in the community. The practice of naming honorary appointees as general members of the RCAF continued through to 1959, when J.A.D. McCurdy, the first person to make a powered flight in Canada was so honoured in February 1959 on the 50th anniversary of the flight of the Silver Dart. With his death in June 1961, the practice of appointing people to the RCAF in general ended. Not until 2009, when Senator Pamela Wallin was appointed, would there be another honorary colonel for the whole of the RCAF .
In 1934, the RCAF Auxiliary began to make its first appointments, selecting local dignitaries - publishers, lawyers, business owners. Their role was to provide a link between the auxiliary squadron and the community, and raising the public profile of the squadron. Unlike their army predecessors, they were not required to assist in enlistment or equip the squadron. While the Auxiliary’s first appointees were for flying squadrons, after the war, RCAF Auxiliary radio schools, medical units and other ground establishments were allowed to name honorary colonels. Not until the late 1980s would the regular force appoint its first honorary colonels for its squadrons and units.
The last 30 years has seen Canadians from all spectrums of society appointed to the list of honoraries. Canadian musicians, television personalities, members of academia executives from all manner of business and industry have joined their retired military confreres as honorary colonels. The visibility that they bring to the RCAF and the pride that the men and women of the air force feel in their honorary colonels provide an important link between the air force and the communities in which it is based. The honorary colonels continue a centuries-long tradition of service and are just as important today as when the program first began.
Honorary Colonels in the News
Lieutenant-General (retired) Fred Sutherland joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1961, and has commanded at all levels of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He has recently received a fourth bar to the Canadian Forces’ Decoration, representing 52 years of honorable service.
July 13, 2016
Award-winning Canadian photographer Geoff Goodyear, a former officer in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, became honorary colonel of 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, on May 27, 2016.
June 6, 2016