Retired General Paul Manson

Oct 19th, 2018 | By | Category: Connecting With, On The Cover

General Paul Manson of Ottawa is one of Canada’s most honoured and respected citizens, even though many people are unaware of his achievements and his devotion to his country. His work played an enormous part in establishing the Canadian War Museum, and yet the general public have little knowledge of his role.

Mary Cook talked with General Paul Manson about his lifelong commitment to Canada’s aviation history, and the part he played in the birth of our Canadian War Museum.

Y@H: Before we get into talking about the War Museum, I’d like to go back –  way back –  to that time in your life when you first became interested in aviation. When did it all begin?

PM: As a young lad in Montreal during World War II, I was captivated by stories of Canada’s military aviators and their huge contribution to victory in 1945. It was then that I set my mind on becoming a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, a dream that came true seven years
later.

Y@H: Actually, you have a deep connection to the Ottawa Valley … how did you end up in Renfrew County?

PM: In 1947, my father who was an experienced industrial engineer, joined what was then the National Research Council’s fledgling Atomic Energy project at Chalk River, Ontario. That summer our family of six moved from Montreal to the project’s residential town of Deep River, one hundred miles west of Ottawa. It was there that I spent all my high school years, and I still call Deep River my home town.

Y@H: You were the top cadet graduate in both Royal Roads and Royal Military College. Would you say these two schools were the take-off point that led you into a lifelong love of aviation?

PM: My four years at these two military colleges were certainly a formative period in many respects. I learned the value of leadership and discipline, both of which served me well in my 38-year military career. But the pilot training I experienced each summer through to graduation was sheer joy, instilling a love of aviation that has never waned, right through to today.

Y@H: Your first operational flying tour was in West Germany. What was it like?

PM: As a young Flying Officer, newly married, flying daily missions close to the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, I learned a lot. Flying the CF-100 jet interceptor, often at night and in bad weather, with equipment that was primitive by today’s standards, was always a challenge. And living in Germany was a great family experience (we had two children by the time we returned to Canada five years later), although the threat of nuclear war was always present in those days.

Y@H: Your interests and experience led you into broader fields within the Air Force. Did this diminish your flying experience?

PM: Not at all. Inevitably, as my flying hours built up and rank increased, I was assigned to staff jobs in various headquarters. Because of my flying experience and engineering training, these almost always involved the high technology that was becoming so important in military aviation. Moreover, the staff jobs were thankfully interspersed with additional flying tours, which took me into the air flying almost all the RCAF’s postwar fighters. That, in turn, led to my appointment as Program Manager of the New Fighter Aircraft program, which resulted in the selection of the CF-18 Hornet in 1980, which is still Canada’s fighter 38 years later.

Y@H: You became a full general in 1986. Was that when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney took notice of you?

PM: It was a genuine surprise when, in April of that year, the Prime Minister called me in to inform me of my promotion and appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff. The three-year term as head of the Canadian Forces was memorable, to say the least. This being the final years of the Cold War, there were countless challenges, both military and what you might call political. I spent much time travelling, with opportunities to meet thousands of men and women in uniform. All in all, it was a happy and fulfilling time.

Y@H: You have received many honours over your long span as an expert on aviation, what are some of the highlights?

PM: Looking back over the fifty-six years that have passed since I first reported to Royal Roads as a fledgling cadet, three honours stand out prominently in my mind. The first was receiving my pilot’s wings in those early years, the second was being named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002, and the third –  which came just this year – was being inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

Y@H: When did you become interested in the development of a new Canadian War Museum?

PM: Always a keen student of military history, and being thoroughly familiar with the inadequacy of the old War Museum on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, I became thoroughly convinced that a new facility was needed by a little book by Canada’s pre-eminent military historian, Jack Granatstein, called Who Killed Canadian History, written in the late 1990s. The idea caught on. Jack was joined in the call for a new museum by the Hon. Barney Danson and many others, and by 2005, the beautiful new facility was officially opened; today it is generally considered to be the best military history museum in the world.

Y@H:  You raised a lot of money during a campaign called Passing The Torch. What did you do to raise more than $16 million dollars?

PM: In 1998, having recently retired from my post-military business career,  I was asked to chair the fundraising campaign in support of the new museum. For the next seven years I worked as a full-time volunteer, leading a superb team comprising mostly of volunteers like myself. It was hugely successful and a lot of fun. I often boast that raising $16 million was easy –  because the cause was so right!

Y@H: You even have one of the rooms at the museum named after you.

PM: Yes, another great honour.

Y@H: I’m surprised that you had time to pursue one of your other passions –  music. Tell us about that part of your life.

PM: My father was a fine jazz pianist, and at age 14, as a very young trombonist, I joined him in a swing band in nearby Pembroke, Ontario. This was in the midst of the great Swing Era, and I was captivated. During my years in uniform I frankly had relatively little time to pursue music, but upon
retirement I took it up in a big way, playing in several concert and jazz bands. A highlight of my recent musical life was being trombonist in the Polished Brass Quintet for twenty years, during which I played in more than five hundred concerts. Unfortunately severe deafness has recently caused me to give up the trombone. But what memories.

Y@H: In a nutshell, to what do you owe your success?

PM: Many things, but three stand out: a love of aviation, superb people to work with at all levels, and a wonderfully supportive wife and family.

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