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Retired Canadian military chief finds peace on Vancouver Island

Former four-star general Raymond Henault moves from top gun to tranquil skies
Raymond Henault retired in 2008, from chair of the NATO military committee. Henault had moved from an entry-level pilot to the highest position possible for a Canadian official. Photo by Ali Roddam

Raymond Henault served as top dog in Canada’s military.

Now, he’s retiring in Courtenay.

From chief of the defence staff, to president of Courtenay Airpark, life is good for the retired four-star general.

“I’ll be 75 in a couple of months, so I’m quite happy with a slower pace of life,” said Henault. “I have time to play golf. To fly my airplane.”

It was 15 years ago when bodyguards protected Henault every hour, seven days a week. Now, he arrives alone at an empty airpark. We sit in the pilot’s lounge and he shares about his career.

Henault grew up watching his dad fly airplanes in rural Manitoba. His dad released pesticides for farmers and transported cargo to remote communities.

“I was sort of following in his footsteps,” he said of his father. “I had the flying bug.”

Raymond earned a pilot’s licence after high school. He then signed up for the Canadian Forces with hopes to continue training as a pilot. That was in 1967.

He retired in 2008, from chair of the NATO military committee. Henault had moved from an entry-level pilot to the highest position possible for a Canadian official.

The journey was marked by several milestones.

Early as a pilot, “the most stressful part was something we called ‘check rides,’” he told me. “Someone on board who’s grading you on your flying capability.”

The test bore special weight for the young trainees.

“You knew if you didn’t make it through this early part, that was the end of your military flying career,” he said.

Years later, the testing tables turned.

“Now I’m the guy in the back seat,” he said. “Now I’m checking people out to make sure they can safely fly.”

By 1997, it was not part of his job to fly anymore. Henault had become the chief of staff for air operations. He oversaw the entire Canadian Air Force, and things seemed to continue to grow for him.

“We were sitting in Quebec City, and the chief of the defence staff walked up to me and said, ‘The prime minister would like to interview you. And there’s an aircraft, you’ll be flown to Ottawa in about an hour.’”

Then-prime minister Jean Chretien interviewed Henault for the position of chief of the defence staff. Henault was appointed in 2001.

After a busy career, things are slowing down for him in Courtenay. However, not too slow: he’s still keeping up with responsibilities at the Courtenay Airpark.

“I’m easing into more retirement now,” he said. “This is a great transition. Wonderful place to live.” Family is nearby, and an airstrip in town is a nice perk for the pilot.

Henault was appointed to the Order of Canada in December. He was recognized for his career in the military, ensuring the safety of Canada and managing international peacekeeping.

“I’m very grateful for it,” he said. “It’s a proud thing for me, and the Canadian Armed Forces.”

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Connor McDowell

About the Author: Connor McDowell

Started at the Record in May 2023. He studied journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax
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