The end of an era
Loreena stands down from her Honorary Colonel role

After a record-breaking almost 18-year run as an honorary colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Loreena is stepping down from the highly-respected and immensely-rewarding civilian role.

She encapsulated her long tenure in a moving speech and bade a warm farewell to her ‘military family’ during the Royal Canadian Air Force Honorary Colonel Change of Appointment Ceremony in the nation’s capital, Ottawa, on Wednesday June 12th.

📖 𝐑𝐄𝐀𝐃: HCol McKennitt’s parting remarks
🎧 LISTEN: HCol McKennitt’s parting remarks (below)

 

LEFT TO RIGHT: HCol Renee van Kessel, RCAF CWO John Hall, RCAF Comd LGen E.J. Kenny, HCol Loreena McKennitt at the RCAF Honorary Colonel Change of Appointment, 12  June 2024 at National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa, Canada. Photo: Mark McCauley

And the previous day, while in the Visitors’ Gallery at the House of Commons in the Parliament of Canada, she and LGen Eric Kenny, Commander of the RCAF, received a standing ovation from Members of Parliament for their service.


🎞️ RCAF Comd LGen Kenny and HCol McKennitt recognized in Canada’s House of Commons during Question Period, 12 June 2024.

From 2006 to 2015 Loreena was honorary colonel of 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron based in Winnipeg, Canada. From 2015 to June 2024 she was honorary colonel of the entire Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada (left), presents Ms Loreena McKennitt with a scroll marking her appointment as the new Honorary Colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force alongside Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin, Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force (right) in Québec on 5 September 2014. Photo: Corporal Vicky Lefrancois, D Air PA.

“I accepted this role largely inspired by the sentiment that democracy does not thrive as a spectator sport – that if we care about the democracy we live in we need to all do our part to preserve it, ” she said.

Honorary colonels, whose usual term of service is three years, assume an honorary and advisory role. They act as a bridge between the civilian population and the military, helping to build a public profile for their unit, essentially becoming the public face of it. They also strive to elevate the morale of military members and their families. All appointments are approved by Canada’s Minister of National Defence.

“She is a strong advocate for the military and RCAF and she always took time with our members to hear their stories and share her wisdom,” said RCAF Commander LGen E.J. Kenny at the June 12th ceremony. “Your legacy is one of inspiration and advocacy. You should be tremendously proud of all you have accomplished as an honorary colonel.”

LEFT TO RIGHT: RCAF Comd LGen E.J. Kenny, HCol Loreena McKennitt and RCAF CWO John Hall at the RCAF Honorary Colonel Change of Appointment, 12  June 2024 at National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa, Canada. Photo: Mark McCauley

Also attending the ceremony was Canada’s top military person, General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff, as well as John Nater, Perth-Wellington Member of Parliament.

During her nearly 18-year tenure Loreena participated in more than 175 events – everything from mess hall dinners to foreign trips to visit Canadian troops. She attended repatriation ceremonies in her home province of Ontario in Trenton and funerals in Petawawa and Woodstock. She once diverted her tour bus while in Québec to visit the family of a long-serving member of the Canadian forces who had been killed. She performed at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France during the 2017 ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

And in 2018 she wrote “Breaking of the Sword”, a song about a mother’s love for her war-bound son, about loss and sacrifice that transcends borders, cultures and time, donating the song’s digital sale proceeds to the Support Our Troops Fund.  She has participated in almost every Remembrance Day service since 2006, most of them at the Cenotaph in her home base of Stratford, Canada, although last year while on tour she sang in Saskatoon, Canada at the largest indoor Remembrance Day service of its kind in the country.”


🎞️ BREAKING OF THE SWORD: “The inspiration for this piece came to me during a visit to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France while reflecting on all who had perished there. In this song, I am reminded that all families mourn the loss of their loved one, and that loss transcends borders, cultures and time itself. The soldier’s family mourns, the military ‘family’ mourns, and so does the community from which the soldier came.” ~ Loreena

Loreena was also awarded The Canadian Forces Decoration in December 2019 in recognition of her 12 years of service as an honorary colonel. This past May, National Defence presented her with her second Command Commendation, awarded to recognize deeds or activities beyond the demand of normal duty.

Over the years, the honorary colonel roles have also taken her far and wide, including to Canadian Forces Station Alert in Nunavut, Canada, the northernmost inhabited place in the world. She has also travelled to The United States, The United Kingdom, India, Romania, Lithuania and Kuwait to visit Canadian troops stationed there.

HCol Loreena McKennitt at Canadian Forces Station Alert on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.

A few weeks ago, on June 1st, she joined over 700 guests at the RCAF Ball In Ottawa in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

In stark contrast, the path that initially led Loreena to her first honorary colonel role was a most tragic one.

“Many people, of course, were surprised to find an artist who sang sensitive Celtic songs to have any association with the military whatsoever… The brutal truth is that this journey began, unbeknownst to me, in 1998 when I lost my fiancé in a boating accident in Georgian Bay.”

When her fiancé, his brother and a friend all drowned that summer she created the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety, which has since raised over $3 million. The tragedy also deeply connected her to the search and rescue community. It was the Trenton, Ontario-based 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force that undertook the search for the three men.

Seven years later, when Loreena was invited to assume the role of honorary colonel for 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron in Winnipeg, in the province of Manitoba, she said “it felt like a good match”. Beholden to the Trenton Squadron and having grown up in Manitoba both represented strong ties to the role. Despite having a successful and demanding musical career and her own recording business, she said yes.

More than 17 years later she was still an honorary colonel.

HCol Loreena McKennitt with RCAF 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron personnel in Cold Lake, Alberta, 2007. PHOTO: RCAF

Loreena’s devotion to her role and her knowledge of the Canadian Forces both grew over the years. She understood the Forces weren’t just about combat, but also search and rescue, disaster relief, peacemaking and peacekeeping. Her respect for the personnel and her understanding of the vital services they perform beyond the battlefield grew exponentially.

And the respect those military personnel had for her also grew exponentially. In a story published by Canada’s Department of National Defence after her appointment in 2015 to honorary colonel of the RCAF, LGen Yvan Blondin, Commander of the RCAF, recounted a story that deeply touched him. He had previously heard Loreena speak at military events about the people in the military – her military ‘family’ – and was impressed.  But when he and his wife attended one of her concerts in Ottawa something clicked.

“Right in the middle of the show she stopped singing and started talking to the crowd … about ‘us’. About her family. About ordinary Canadians doing this job – and people were touched,” he recalled. So later, in 2014, while he was still contemplating who should be invited to be the next honorary colonel of the Air Force, a letter arrived on his desk. It was to Loreena, thanking her for her service with 435 Squadron and it needed his signature.

Said LGen Blondin: “I remembered the way she spoke and the way people listened to her. So I put an ‘X’ on the letter and wrote on the bottom, ‘Dear Loreena, would you become my Air Force honorary colonel’?”

And we know how that turned out.


Loreena McKennitt makes her final remarks as Honorary Colonel of The Royal Canadian Air Force, 12 June 2024 in Ottawa, Canada. Photo: Mark McCauley

“It is my fervent hope that we will all continue to be soldiers of democracy,” Loreena told the audience at the change of appointment ceremony, while recognizing the threat posed by complacency, cynicism and the weaponization of disinformation spread through a largely unregulated internet.

“In the Royal Canadian Air Force and all of the Canadian Armed Forces, we are deeply privileged to have some of the finest men and women in this country. Around, behind and beside them are some of the most remarkable families you will find anywhere. We, as Canadians, owe them all our duty of care,” she said.

“Whether we are automotive workers, or hospitality waiters, singers or soldiers, premiers or plumbers, the time is now to shut down our social media, study our history books, set aside our petty political differences and find the common ground to move forward with a renewed commitment to a way of life our past generations sacrificed so much for.”

📖 𝐑𝐄𝐀𝐃: HCol McKennitt’s parting remarks
🎧 LISTEN: HCol McKennitt’s parting remarks (below)