Retired Navy Commander’s Life Dedicated to the Navy

VAdm. Peter Cairns, former Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), passed away at the age of 84 on Feb. 18, 2023.

“Although Peter served in many ships, he had an affinity with submarines and treasured his time below the surface with his fearless submariner mates,” reads an obituary Cairns’ wife wrote for the Ottawa Citizen’s  website.

Whether it was his life on the sea with the RCN or his work with the Canadian Shipbuilding Association later in life, VAdm. Cairns demonstrated his immense passion for the Navy.

HMCS Gatineau, courtesy of CAF.

From Orillia to the RCN

Born in Orillia, ON, VAdm. Cairns joined the RCN as a Cadet in 1956. He studied at Queen’s University.

From 1958 to 1965, VAdm. Cairns served aboard HMCS Skeena, HMCS Stadacona, HMCS Sioux, HMCS Chaudiere, and HMCS Gatineau. He then went on to specialize in submarines and served aboard several submarines.

Over the course of his distinguished military career, VAdm. Cairns commanded three helicopter-carrying destroyer escorts, Commander Fifth Canadian Destroyer Squadron, Director-General Personnel Careers Officers at NDHQ, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia and Commander Maritime Forces Pacific and Deputy Commander Maritime Command.

He also served as the 24th Commander of the RCN until his retirement in 1994.

Left, HMCS Skeena was one of the many ships VAdm. (ret’d) Peter Cairn served on. HMCS Skeena image courtesy of CAF. Right, the Vice Admiral’s image. 

A Passion for the Navy

VAdm. Cairn’s love and passion for the Navy did not end with his retirement. After a brief stint with SPAR Aerospace, Cairns went on to serve as the President of the Canadian Shipbuilding Association, according to the Naval Association of Canada.

In this role, he demonstrated he could still serve the Navy and live out his passions. For more than twenty years, he “tirelessly advocated” for the Canadian maritime industry and was known to promote the building of warships and government ships.

According to the Naval Association, His tireless work inspired the National Shipbuilding Strategy. And, again, due to his tireless work promoting the cause of the Canadian maritime industry and the RCN, the government of Canada announced in 2017 its 35-year plan to invest $5.2 billion in modernizing the RCN fleet.

“Vice-Admiral (Ret’d) Cairns stewardship and persistence in his associations and participation in the development and championship of the National Shipbuilding Strategy will ultimately provide stability for the marine sector, the RCN, the Coast Guard, and the maritime community in Canada,” writes the Navy League in a post announcing the Peter Cairns Leadership Award.

The award was created to honour Cairns’ legacy and support those in Canada’s marine industry who wish to follow in his footsteps.

1989 – RAdm P.W. Cairns, CMM, CD. Image courtesy of CAF. 

Remembering His Legacy

He passed away in Ottawa, ON, after battling a long illness. He is survived by his wife, Carolyn, his boys, Simon, Nicholas, Michael and Christopher and their spouses, grandchildren, Luke and Phoebe, his sister, Carol, a niece and a nephew and their respective families, according to the obituary.

According to the obituary, a celebration of life was held in the spring at the Rideau Club by his family and friends of The Navy League of Canada and the Ottawa branch of the Naval Association of Canada.

Because of his love for the sea, according to his wife, VAdm. Cairns’ ashes were scattered over the ocean.

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Mishall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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