Sergeant Ghislain Cotton, CD

In June 2019, Sergeant Ghislain Cotton humbly and proudly represented First Nations, Métis and Inuit CAF members as Eagle Staff bearer. As he did, his two oldest sons are following in his father’s and his maternal grandfather’s boots of military service. They are carrying on this family tradition. Sgt Cotton recently accepted the Eagle Staff bearer role for the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign.

Share this article on:
Eagle Staff bearer Sgt Ghislain Cotton during the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, France (Photo: DND Image tech)

Sergeant Ghislain Cotton was born on 9 February 1970 in Loretteville, Quebec. His father, Jean‑Charles Cotton is Scottish/Irish and his mother, Micheline Bond, is First Nations of Atikamekw/Wendat ancestry. His family lived across Canada and in Europe. His father enlisted in 1964 and served first as an infantryman with the Royal 22e Régiment. He took a brief break from the military to help his family as a fisherman in Rivière‑au‑Renard. In the early 1970s, he rejoined the forces to pursue his passion as an Intelligence Operator.

“I suspect my father had our family as his ‘cover’ to gather intelligence, as obscure backgrounds, such as communications antennae, appear in some photos.”
Warrant Officer Jean-Charles Cotton presents his son, Private Ghislain Cotton

From left to right: Warrant Officer Jean-Charles Cotton presents his son, Private Ghislain Cotton, with his Basic Military Qualification certificate in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, November 1989. (Photo: Garrison St-Jean, Imagery Section)

Sgt Cotton spent his best childhood years in Lahr, Germany. During his 5‑year posting there, his father took many family photos of their mini “vacations” in Europe. Sgt Cotton says now, “I suspect my father had our family as his ‘cover’ to gather intelligence, as obscure backgrounds, such as communications antennae, appear in some photos.”

Growing up, his mother shared few stories about her father, Irené Bond, who served in the Merchant Marine in the Second World War. He sailed on ships taking munition and supplies from Québec City to Halifax, and crossed the Atlantic a few times to the United Kingdom. “I know little about my grandfather’s service as my mother grew up in a convent with little contact with him,” explains Sgt Cotton. "He died when I was a teenager.” His mother drew on her Indigenous traditions and teachings when he and his brothers were sick. “Rather than telling stories,” he says, “she always sourced ingredients in the forest to make natural remedies for us.”

Sgt Cotton joined the CAF on 31 Aug 1989 in Chicoutimi. He completed the QL5 Photo Technician training in Halifax. He shot events, incidents or investigative photography on many ships including a submarine (ironically, the HMCS Ojibwa). He continued his public relations and photography career across Canada. He filmed the 1996 Saguenay floods in Quebec from a Griffon helicopter and took investigative photos of the CF18 crash in Iqualuit in 1998. Sgt Cotton worked to produce, print, retouch process and do digital imagery in the CAF Photo Unit in Ottawa. He deployed to National Defence Headquarters after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in 2001.

Promoted in 2003, Master Corporal Cotton taught at the CAF photo school in Borden and at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in St Jean sur Richelieu, Quebec, in 2010. He was promoted to Sergeant in 2016 and since then, is posted at the CAF recruiting detachment in Sudbury, Ontario.

“I’d say [it’s] more than an honour, as it is also a privilege and…oh so humbling…to represent all First Nation, Métis and Inuit people of the CAF.”

He is very involved with the Ojibwe First Nation community in Sudbury. “It feels really good for my family and I to reconnect and learn my Indigenous roots,” he says. This spring, he was speechless when offered the role of Eagle Staff bearer for official events commemorating the 75th anniversary of D Day and the Battle of Normandy overseas. “I’d say [it’s] more than an honour, as it is also a privilege and…oh so humbling…to represent all First Nation, Métis and Inuit people of the CAF,” he explains. Sgt Cotton recently accepted to once again take on this role for the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign.

 Sgt Cotton with his wife, Darlene Jeffreys and son Pierre-Alexandre

From left to right: Sgt Cotton with his wife, Darlene Jeffreys and son Pierre-Alexandre at Atikameksheng Pow-wow, summer 2019. (Photo: Ghislain Cotton)

“Without my wife, Darlene, I would never have become who I am today. Every soldier needs people for support. The real heroes are our partners who stand behind us.”

Of his 30 year military service, Sgt Cotton’s trip as Eagle Staff bearer stands out the most. But his years in uniform are peppered by good and bad memories. “People expect only those who serve outside Canada to live atrocities. We live them here too and those memories keep coming back—which is why I keep thinking of the good ones. It helps,” he says. “Without my wife, Darlene, I would never have become who I am today. Every soldier needs people for support. The real heroes are our partners who stand behind us.”

His sons continue the family tradition of military service. Pierre Alexandre, a retired infantry officer with the 6th Battalion R22R, will study international political science and may become an Intelligence Officer. This summer, Sylvain completed the first CAF Aboriginal Grey Wolf basic training program as a supply tech. He plans to train “as a regular forces construction tech and go to war torn countries to help rebuild their hospitals and schools.” Anthony, his third son, wishes to become a teacher.

In honour of Veterans’ Week, Sgt Cotton represents his family and ancestors as a Face of Freedom. “I really appreciate this week as it honours those who served or are currently serving” he says. “It is very important everyone knows what was done for them in the past so future generations have a good place to live.”


Date modified: