Standing at the head of St. John’s harbour, surrounded by ships and people who serve on ships, Canada’s Governor General couldn’t help but feel a close connection.
It wasn’t that long ago that Julie Payette served on “a ship” — a spaceship, that is.
But in taking part in a ceremony at the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Atlantic regional headquarters, Payette, a former Canadian Space Agency astronaut, could relate to the officers’ deep sense of duty to their country.
“Being part of an operational group, like the Coast Guard, is really dear to my heart,” said Payette, who was invested as CCG’s honorary chief commissioner during a ceremony Thursday morning.
“In my previous life, that’s what I did for a living — serving Canada on a ship. It was a different ship, but it was a ship,” she said.
“The teamwork that is required, the attention to detail, the dedication that is required every day is something that’s really dear to my heart.”
As Governor General, Payette said she feels “privileged” to serve as the military’s commander-in-chief.
“To me, that’s the part of my work that I enjoy very much — showcasing what Canadians do well and being a spokesperson for that,” said Payette, who also has military experience, having qualified as a military jet captain in 1996.
Payette — the 29th Governor General and fourth female to hold that position as the monarch’s representative in Canada — became the eighth governor general to be invested as the CCG’s honorary chief commissioner.
Following the ceremony, Payette presented exemplary service medals to four CCG members — Capt. Fergus Francey, Janet McCabe, Irving Barney and Daisy White — and was treated to singing of the “Ode to Newfoundland” and the national anthem by the Holy Heart Chamber Choir.
It was part of what was a busy first day of Payette’s first official visit to the province.
But the 54-year-old, who is originally from Montreal, has been here many times before and has a special bond with the people here — with a particular one to a renowned musical group.
Payette, the first Canadian female to board the International Space Station, in 1999, said she took a Great Big Sea CD along on her first mission that year and again on her second space flight, in 2009.
After the first mission, she gave the framed CD to the band.
After the second mission, she said, “I had that extraordinary pleasure of returning that CD to lead singer Alan Doyle when he received the Order of Canada just a few months ago. I was presiding over the ceremony, so I think I surprised him.”
Later in the chilly, rainy day, Payette participated in a hike on Signal Hill National Park, where she invited members of the public to join her.
She was first welcomed to the province by Premier Dwight Ball during a ceremony earlier in the morning at Confederation Building.
On Friday, Payette heads to Labrador, where she will visit 5 Wing Goose Bay, meet with the mayors of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and North West River, participate in a community walk along the Birch Island boardwalk and take a tour of the Labrador Interpretation Centre.