CHICAGO – A 44-year-old Filipino-Canadian, who volunteered in Afghanistan’s rebuilding effort, took over command last June 4 of the Royal Regiment of Canada, at Fort York Armoury, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, becoming the first Filipino Canadian to lead one of Canada’s oldest and largest regiments.
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Nonato, whose parents are from Manila and Camarines Norte, told the Toronto Star that when he joined the military, it was “out of a sense of adventure and patriotism, as well as a desire to give back to Canada through his service.”
Although, Nonato and his siblings were not taught their native Tagalog language “so they wouldn’t have (a Filipino) accent,” he rekindled his kinship with Filipino workers he met in his overseas missions, including Sudan, causing him to take two trips to the Philippines while on breaks from Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, they (Filipino workers) saw me in Canadian (military) uniform. They just stopped what they were doing and looked at me. It’s a look of pride. They have this dream to go to a new land. The dream is not for themselves, but for their children,” Nonato was quoted by the Star as saying.
In his video report, Romy Marquez of the Filipino Web Channel said, “Yesterday, Sunday, June 4, was a proud and shining moment for all Filipinos and Filipino Canadians. A son of Filipino immigrants, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Nonato has taken command of one of the oldest military units in Canada, the Royal Regiment of Canada. His parents are from Manila and Camarines Norte. The whole clan on both sides of the families gathered at Fort York Armoury to witness this proud moment in Canadian history.”
Marquez said Nonato is “a first for the unit to have a Filipino commander, and for the Filipino communities all over Canada.”
Nonato’s father, Rod, said that as a child, Joe took an early interest in Philippine military experience from his father, uncles and cousins. “I guess that really inspired him.”
Rod Nonato, 71, said when he moved in 1971 to Canada, where he met his wife, Nancy, a registered nurse, they “planned to stay in Canada only for two years just for the experience but we thought Canada would be the best place to raise a family. All our four children went to university … We are already very proud of them.”
While in high school, Joseph Nonato joined the cadet program and made it to the highly competitive Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, which according to Rod is Canada’s equivalent of the Philippine Military Academy.
Rod added, “We were so proud of him (Joseph) when he graduated from the military college because he worked so hard and accomplished what he always wanted to accomplish. And there were very few minorities there.”
Joseph Nonato took command of the Royal Regiment from Col. Tom Payne during the ceremonies attended by members of their families.
The Royal Regiment of Canada is a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Army based in Toronto, part of the 4th Canadian Division’s 32 Canadian Brigade Group. Today, the regiment has a total of three companies – Grenadier (Rifle Company), Toronto (Training Company) and 58th (HQ & Service Company).
And there are two Army Cadet corps that wear the Royal Regiment of Canada cap badge: 2736 RCAC Fort York Armoury, which parades with the regiments as “Batoche Company” and 3045 RCACC Arctic Bay, Canada’s northernmost Army Cadet corps.