Ernest Côté

Ernest Adolphe Côté MBE (12 June 1913–25 February 2015), was a Canadian soldier, diplomat and civil servant.

Ernest Adolphe Côté

Born(1913-06-12)June 12, 1913
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
DiedFebruary 25, 2015(2015-02-25) (aged 101)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
OccupationSoldier, diplomat and civil servant
Years active1939–2015
Known forServing as the quartermaster of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.
Notable work
Réminiscences et Souvenances (2006)
Military career
AllegianceCanada Canada
Service/branchCanada Canadian Army
Years of service1939–1945
Unit3rd Canadian Infantry Division


Côté was born in Edmonton, Alberta to French-Canadian parents.[1] His parents were Senator Jean Côté and Cécile Côté (née Gagnon).[2] Côté's father was a government land surveyor from Quebec who went west in 1903 to determine the frontier between Alaska and the Yukon, and he subsequently became active as a mining engineer in Alberta.[2] Côté's mother came from a wealthy Quebec City family who was a great patron of music.[2] Côté was educated at Edmonton's Jesuit College and one friend recalled: "His French was impeccable — just as one would expect of someone who studied with the Jesuits".[1] In 1931, he was awarded a Bachelor of Science at Université Laval.[2] After graduation, Côté worked as a civil servant for the Alberta government and became involved in the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta group that campaigned to preserve French in Alberta.[2] Côté also worked as a radio announcer for Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission and served as the bilingual host on a radio show that played classical music every week.[2] Starting in 1935, he attended the University of Alberta where he was awarded a LL.B. in 1938 and in 1939 joined the Law Society of Alberta.[2] Côté was always proud to be both a westerner and a French-Canadian.[3] As a member of a minority, Côté defined his sense of Canadian nationalism in civic terms instead of ethnic terms. Côté chose as his motto: "Faire ce qui doit etre fait" ("do what must be done").[4]

Second World WarEdit

In 1939, he joined the Royal 22e Régiment, better known as the Van Doos, as a lieutenant.[1] On 8 December 1939, he sailed as a part of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division that left Quebec City for Great Britain.[2] Côté's first duty in Britain was to prepare the lavish Christmas feast for the Van Doos, who wanted to feel as if they were still at home.[5] In early 1940, Marshal Maurice Gamelin the commander of the French Army, visited Britain and wanted to see the famous Royal 22e Régiment, which as the 22nd Battalion had won more decorations in the First World War than any other battalion in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Côté was assigned as his guide, and afterwards Gamelin recommenced him as a promising young officer.[6]

He was promoted to warrant officer in March 1940 and then promoted to staff officer in July 1940 with the Anglo-Canadian VII Corps that had the responsibility of guarding the south-east coast of England against a German invasion.[6][2] Côté was assigned to the VII Corps because of Gamelin's recommendation made six months earlier.[6] A protégé of General Andrew McNaughton, the general officer commanding of the VII Corps and then of the First Canadian Army, Côté rose rapidly up the ranks.[2] Côté was impressed to see Guy Simonds, a rising officer who is generally regarded as the most able of Canada's Second World War generals, create the curriculum for a Canadian Junior War Staff Course, single-handed.[7] Côté described McNaughton as a highly intelligent soldier-scientist who was forever coming up with some new scientific idea and who was very popular with the men who served under him.[5] However, Côté expressed much concern about whatever McNaughton, who had spent all of the First World War as a "gunner" (artilleryman) was actually qualified to be a field commander, noting that McNaughton had an obsessive personality for whom no detail was too small.[5] Côté was astonished to see McNaughton call up Colonel John Ralston, the Minister of National Defence, to complain about the appearance of Canadian Army trucks on aesthetic grounds, saying he wanted Ralston to send more aesthetically pleasing trucks.[5] In common with many other officers who served under McNaughton, Côté expressed much admiration for him as a man while also feeling that McNaughton's inability to delegate disqualified him from his chosen profession of field commander.[5]

McNaughton gave Côté's career a major boost by sending him to study at a British Army staff course in September 1940.[5] After graduating from the staff course in Minley Manor, in 1941 he was appointed deputy assistant adjutant-general of the 1st Division and then as chief of staff of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade.[2] From May 1941 onward, Côté was assigned to the staff of Major-General George Pearkes, a highly decorated First World War veteran who had been awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917, and was now commadning the 1st Division.[5] Côté was the only French-Canadian on Pearkes's staff, and found himself missing the cozy and French-speaking atmosphere of the Royal 22e Régiment.[5] To drive home the point, other staff officers sometimes told Côté to "speak white" when he tried to converse with them in French.[5] Côté found Pearkes to be warm, sympathetic and very brave, but also found that Pearkes was intellectually outclassed by Simonds.[5] In August 1942, Côté was promoted to deputy adjunct general for the I Canadian Corps commanded by Harry Crerar.[8] In this capacity, he was marginally involved in the planning for the Dieppe raid staged by the 2nd Division on 19 August 1942.[9] Côté recalled that the expectation was that the Dieppe raid was going to be a great success and that he together with the other officers were shocked with the raid ending in a debacle.[9]

Later in 1942, he was promoted to assistant adjutant general of the First Canadian Army.[2] Much to his own surprise, Côté was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).[2] In 1942, he visited Buckingham Palace to be presented with the MBE insignia by King George VI.[10] In 1943, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and appointed assistant adjutant and quartermaster-general of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, making him responsible for supplying the 15, 000 men of the division with all their needs, an extremely important if unglamorous job.[2] Côté wrote in his 2006 memoirs Réminiscences et Souvenances: “I believe we realized pretty quickly that I would be more useful in an administrative role than being in charge of operations, given my lack of experience in the field.”[2] Côté described the 3rd Division as being better run and more honestly run than the 2nd Division.[9] Côté stated that in the 2nd Division if ten jeeps were lost, the division's officers would ask for fifteen replacements whereas the 3rd Division never engaged in this sort of administrative corruption, always reporting its losses truthfully.[9]

In January 1944, Côté was of the few Canadian officers informed of the details of Operation Overlord and was told that the 3rd Division would be landing at a place code-named Juno Beach just beside the French village of Courseulles-sur-Mer in Normandy sometime in the spring of 1944.[2] Côté recalled about the preparations for Overlord in Réminiscences et Souvenances: "For example, we had to plan our routes in advance, even where no paths existed; we had to bring road signs with us to indicate which way soldiers should go and to identify reinforcement gathering places and the supply stations for water, gasoline, diesel and ammunition, and we had to locate the premises of the first small field hospitals and finally predetermine the location of a cemetery."[2] By May 1944, Côté reported that his preparations for Overlord were complete and he felt confident that he and his staff were capable of supplying the 3rd Division when it landed in France with all its needs.[2] During the planning for Operation Overlord, Côté soon realized that General Rod Keller, the GOC of the 3rd Division, had a drinking problem and was not interested in operational details.[11] Keller's chief of staff, Donald Mingay, set up his office in Côté's office and the two largely by-passed Keller in planning the landing at Juno Beach.[11] Côté called Keller a "conventional tactician" who was "very much a spit and polish officer who cut quite a figure in his battledress. We always cut a spare uniform for him, ironed and ready to go just in case. He cared for the division and was sensitive to any slight on its reputation. He was a very proud man and on top of the division's training.".[12] As part of the preparations for D-Day, Côté insisted that the Catholic and Protestant chaplains attached to the 3rd Division all learn each other's prayers for the dead to ensure the prompt burial of those slain in battle.[9] To prevent corruption, he also ensured that the paymasters in the 3rd Division all serve as assistant adjutants in action, thereby ensuring the paymasters would know exactly how men had been killed in action and prevent officers from claiming the wages of the "ghost soldiers".[9]

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Côté landed with the 3rd Division on Juno Beach at about 11 am, four hours after the first landing.[1] Côté remembered in a 2009 Interview: "I met the British beach group. They were having elevenses. Morning tea. I asked them to have the dead bodies removed from the beach. Not a good sight for morale. I’d been told by Corps headquarters that we had to take a lot of wooden crosses over (on the landing craft). I told them to stuff it."[1] Côté had a low opinion of Keller, observing that the responsibilities of command seemed to be too much for him, and that he was indecisive on D-Day.[13] By contrast, Côté had a high opinion of Robert Wyman, the GOC of 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade whose "tough, no-nonsense" style and determination to move inland at once was a refreshing contrast to Keller's chronic indecisiveness.[13] Côté helped establish the Canadian headquarters in the French village of Bény-sur-Mer.[2] Côté later stated that Wyman "gave Keller much guidance which Keller appreciated".[14] Côté commented that Keller was a weak leader, but he and the rest of the staff sought "to serve him as best we could".[14] Côté stated that Keller's lack of leadership did not matter on D-Day because of the "division's brigadiers rock solid competent individuals" while the "performance of the brigades during and right after the landing was marvelous".[14] During the Battle of Caen, which followed the D-Day landings, Keller collapsed under the stress, suffering a nervous break-down, and was relieved of command on 8 August 1944. Côté served with the 3rd Division during the Battle of Caen and in the Battle of the Scheldt.[1] For courage under fire, Côté was mentioned in dispatches.[15]

In December 1944, he returned to Canada to be promoted colonel and given an array of senior jobs in the Department of National Defence in Ottawa as the vice-adjutant general of medical and dental corps.[2] During this time, he met Lieutenant Madeleine Frémont and married her on 16 June 1945 in Ottawa.[2] Fremont was the daughter of the Quebec City lawyer Charles Fremont and the feminist Thaïs Lacoste-Frémont.[2] The couple had four children Lucie, Benoît, Denyse and Michel.[1]

Diplomat and civil servantEdit

After the end of the war, Côté left the Army to purse a diplomatic career, joining the Department of External Affairs as a second secretary.[2] In November 1945, he arrived in London as part of the Canadian delegation for the first ever general session of the newly founded United Nations.[2] In 1946, Côté played an important role in writing the charter of newly formed World Health Organization.[2] In 1947 and 1948, he served as the secretary-general of the Canadian delegation at the sessions of the United Nations, which were now being held in New York.[2] At the 1948 fall sessions of the United Nations held in Paris, the Canadian delegation was headed by the Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Côté served as one of his advisers.[2] Côté met every Canadian prime minister from Mackenzie King to Stephen Harper.[10] In 1949, Côté was stationed with the Canadian high commission in London, where he studied geopolitics at the Imperial Defence College, and then served as the legal adviser in the high commission based in Canada House.[2] In 1952, he returned to Ottawa to take charge of the Consular Division and then served as the head of the Americas Division.[2] In 1952, he also appointed legal counsel to the International Joint Commission in charge of waters shared by the United States and Canada.[1]

In 1955, he was appointed assistant deputy minister in the national resources sector of Northern Affairs department.[2] During this time, he oversaw the restoration of the Fortress Louisbourg in Cape Breton Island, negotiated a treaty with the United States concerning migratory birds and worked with the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway.[2] During the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the U.S. government wanted control of all three locks, but Côté during his negotiations with the Americans ensured that Canada had control of one of the locks and a say in the running of the other two.[16] In 1963, he was appointed deputy minister of Northern Affairs.[2] In 1965, he was appointed by Prime Minister Lester Pearson to head the committee that planned the Centennial celebrations of 1967 to mark the 100th anniversary of Confederation.[2]

From 1968 to 1972, Côté sat on the board of governors of the University of Ottawa representing Saint Paul University.[2] During the time of campus protests at Canadian universities, his daughter Denyse, was invoked in the protests at the University of Ottawa while he sat on the board of the University of Ottawa.[16] She recalled: ""I remember it because I was a leftie at the time. He was a very liberal man and we never argued. At one point he drove me to a demonstration at the University of Ottawa and said, 'Good luck with your revolution.' And I said, 'Good look with your repression.' The fact that I was a leftie, he didn't take it personally."[16] As a French-Canadian from Alberta, Côté was against Quebec separatism, seeing all of Canada as his homeland and rejected the concept that Quebec was the special homeland of French-Canadians.

In 1968 after briefly working as a deputy minister at Veteran Affairs, he appointed deputy solicitor-general, making him in charge of overseeing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and as such he found himself in the eye of the storm during the 1970 October Crisis.[2] During the October crisis, Côté was in charge of a task force that reported to the prime minister Pierre Trudeau with the responsibility of analyzing intelligence about what was happening in Quebec.[17] Côté role as a deputy solicitor-general caused much tension within his family with one of his children supporting the FLQ as "freedom fighters".[16] Côté himself was somewhat surprised by the Trudeau's use of the War Measure Act to fight the FLQ as he wrote in his memoirs: "The Armed Forces, fully armed, patrolled the streets of Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa and stood guard at the residences of important people. Unheard of in the 20th century!"[16] In December 1970, Côté submitted a report to Trudeau that claimed the FLQ had a total membership of about 150 organized in 30 cells, and concluded: "The Task Force is convinced that the revolutionary thrust of groups in Canada is towards the total breakdown of government as a step towards establishing international socialism".[18]

Côté had a poor working relationship with the Solicitor-General Jean-Pierre Goyer, who was the only cabinet minister he criticized in his memoirs.[16] Goyer appointed his mistress as his chief of staff despite her manifest lack of qualifications and awarded her various privileges such as a free pass with Air Canada allowing to fly anywhere she wanted at the expense of the taxpayers.[16] Making things more awkward was the fact that Goyer was already married, thus forcing Côté to constantly lie to his wife when she called the solicitor-general's office inquiring as to where her husband was. Côté accused Goyer of having "clearly decided to exercise the functions of deputy minister, contrary to instructions he had received from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau", and resigned in protest in 1972 against his corruption.[16] In 1972, he was appointed Canadian ambassador to Finland.[1] He retired in 1975.[1]


After his retirement, he settled in Ottawa, where he became a member of Association des communautés francophones d’Ottawa and was active in campaigning for Ontario to support French language secondary schools.[2] Côté's lobbying was successful and Ontario agreed to fund French language high schools.[10] He was active on the board of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, where served as a director and governor.[1] Denis St. Onge, the former president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society recalled: "He was very proud of his country and its flag. He was such a great guy".[1] In 1991, his wife Madeline died. In 2004, the French government made him a Knight of the Legion of Honour.[2] In 2014, he returned to France three times. On 20 April 2014, Côté returned to Normandy to attend the premiere of the film Code Secret:Les Carottes Sont Cuites, a documentary directed by the Montreal journalist Alain Stanké.[19] On 6 June 2014, he returned to Juno Beach at the age of 100 to take part in the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.[15] On 11 November 2014, Côté returned to Juno Beach again to lay a wreath to honor the Canadians killed in the Normandy campaign, where his presence as the last living colonel who served in the Canadian Army in World War Two attracted large crowds.[20]

On 18 December 2014, a local thug and criminal named Ian Bush robbed Côté's home and tied him up with a plastic bag around his head with the intention of killing him.[1] Côté told the media at the time: "Some people think that if you’re 101 years of age, you crumble up and wonder, ‘Oh why, what was happening.’ No, I was just mad."[2] Côté was break to free and call the Ottawa police who arrested Bush.[2] Bush was charged with robbery and attempted murder.[2] DNA testing subsequently showed that Bush was responsible for a brutal triple murder in June 2007 of an Ottawa judge Alban Garon, his wife Raymonde, and their neighbour, Marie-Claire Beniskos.[1] In another interview, Côté stated: "Life is such that when you see these things happen to you, you try to get out. The important thing is to concentrate on how to get out of the position in which you happen to be. If you’re afraid and paralyzed, you don’t move. I was never afraid. I was not afraid of the landing, the D-Day landing. I was not afraid of this attacker."[1] Côté's neighbor, J. Blair Seaborn, told the media: "He had the wits about him to realize he had to get the damn bag off his head if he was going to live. He crawled across the floor to where he knew there was some scissors and cut the thing off. He had a good deal of presence of mind for someone who’s just been attacked by a much younger man. He didn’t panic. He did what was necessary. Even at 101 he was not intimidated".[1]

On 18 May 2017, Bush was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder relating to the triple murder of 2007.[21] On 1 December 2017, Bush was found guilty of one count of attempted murder and one count of robbery relating to the December 2014 break-in of Côté's home.[22] Justice Robert Beaudoin stated when sentencing Bush: "I consider Ernest Côté to be a hero. He was certainly a hero when he landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. His friends and family would say that he's a hero every day of his life and throughout his career of public service. He most certainly was a hero on Dec. 18, 2014."[22]

Côte died of natural causes on 25 February 2015.[1] One of his friends, Louise Maffett said of him: "He was an old-school gentleman and with his death an era has passed."[1] His daughter Denyse described him: "Ernest Côté was of course an old-school gentleman. He belonged to this generation of men, always impeccably dressed...fond of rituals most probably acquired from his prolonged stays in Great Britain. He embraced passionately his new role as a single dad when his dear Madeleine passed away, facing the culinary challenges of his sister-in-law, initiating family get-togethers and taking care of children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces".[23] In April 2015, the French government posthumously awarded Côté the Order of La Pléiade to honor him for his work in fighting for more French language schools in Ontario.[2]

Books and articlesEdit

  • Bosher, J. F. (2000). The Gaullist Attack on Canada, 1967-1997. Montreal: McGill University Press. ISBN 9780773520257.
  • Granatstein, Jack (2016). The Weight of Command Voices of Canada’s Second World War Generals and Those Who Knew Them. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 9780774833028.
  • McLoughlin, Michael (1998). Last Stop, Paris The Assassination of Mario Bachand and the Death of the FLQ. Toronto: 9780670881963. ISBN 9780670881963.
  • Zuehlke, Mark (2005). Juno Beach: Canada's D-Day Victory. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 1553650506.
  • Zuehlke, Mark (2009). Holding Juno Canada's Heroic Defence of the D-Day Beaches: June 7-12, 1944. Toronto: Douglas and McIntyre. ISBN 9781926685953.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Crawford, Brian; Sibley, Robert (27 February 2015). "Ernest Côté (1913-2015), D-Day veteran, 'a true Canadian hero'". The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao Lambert, Maude-Emmanuelle. "Ernest Adolphe Côté". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  3. ^ Pearson, Matthew (8 March 2015). "Ernest Côté: D-Day veteran, diplomat 'never stopped giving' (with video)". The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  4. ^ "D-Day veteran Ernest Cote remembered as man of ethics, humility". CTV News. 7 March 2015. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Granatstein 2016, p. 178.
  6. ^ a b c Granatstein 2016, p. 177.
  7. ^ Granatstein 2016, p. 177-178.
  8. ^ Granatstein 2016, p. 178-179.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Granatstein 2016, p. 179.
  10. ^ a b c "The planner Ernest Côté was a WWII veteran who helped plan the invasion of Normandy". University of Alberta. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  11. ^ a b Zuehlke 2005, p. 45.
  12. ^ Zuehlke 2005, p. 31.
  13. ^ a b Zuehlke 2009, p. 279.
  14. ^ a b c Zuehlke 2005, p. 338.
  15. ^ a b "Lest We Forget – Ernest Côté". Juno Beach Center. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h Langan, Fred (8 March 2015). "D-Day veteran Ernest Côté was a centenarian with a multifaceted life". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  17. ^ Bosher 2000, p. 137.
  18. ^ McLoughlin 1998, p. 196.
  19. ^ "The Last Colonel — A Visit from Ernest Côté". Juno Beach Center.
  20. ^ "The Last Colonel". Juno Beach Cener. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  21. ^ Nease, Kristy (18 May 2017). "Ian Bush found guilty of 'brutal, gratuitous' 2007 triple murder". CBC. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  22. ^ a b "Ian Bush handed 2 more life sentences for attempted murder of WW II vet". CBC. 20 December 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  23. ^ "Ernest Côté, WW II veteran, remembered as 'old-school gentleman'". CBC. 7 March 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2020.

External linksEdit