Former Ceremonial Guard drum major pilots a flypast at Fortissimo

Royal Canadian Air Force flight instructor Captain Erik Temple began his military career as a Canadian Army musician with the Governor General’s Foot Guards and later the Ceremonial Guard (CG). Capt Temple (seen here at centre as part of a Guard Mount) served as the CG’s Drum Major. Photo: provided by Captain Erik Temple. ***Le capitaine Erik Temple, instructeur de pilotage de l’Aviation royale du Canada, a entrepris sa carrière militaire comme musicien de l’Armée canadienne avec le Governor General’s Foot Guards et, plus tard, il l’a poursuivi avec la Garde de cérémonie (GC). Le Capt Temple (ici au centre, lors de la Relève de la garde) a servi comme tambour-major de la GC. Photo : fournie par la capitaine Erik Temple.

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan — For Captain Erik Temple, a former drum major with the Ceremonial Guard (CG) of the Canadian Armed Forces, Fortissimo 2019 was a reunion.

Fortissimo is a military and musical spectacular performed every summer in Ottawa. Prominently featuring the CG, it never fails to inspire awe in the thousands of spectators it draws to Parliament Hill.

Now a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) flight instructor, Capt Temple was invited to pilot a CT-156 Harvard II in the flypast that is always an exciting part of the Fortissimo experience. This year’s event took place from July 18 to 20.

Capt Temple was happy to share, in a recent interview, his many fond memories of serving with the CG. One might assume Army musicians and Air Force pilots are worlds apart but, said Capt Temple, they have at least one important quality in common: passion.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q1: What drew you to the CG?

I was born and raised in Ottawa. Growing up, seeing the Guard on Canada Day and the daily Changing of the Guard was very inspiring. I used to have a poster of the Guard on my wall as a child and always wanted to do it.

I joined the Governor General’s Foot Guards first. I was in Grade 10 at the time, 16 years old. Mum and Dad had to sign the bottom line for me. At the time, I went to Canterbury High School, which is arts-centred.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Frances Chilton-MacKay was teaching at the time, before becoming the Foot Guards’ Director of Music. She said, ’Erik, are you interested in joining the Foot Guards?’ And I said, ‘Are you kidding me? What an amazing opportunity!’ And that’s how it all linked together.

After graduating high school, I went to the University of Ottawa to stay in Ottawa with the Guards. My first year, I auditioned successfully for the Ceremonial Guard.

When I finished university, I moved into a full-time position co-ordinating the nationwide audition tour and all the administration in the off-season, as well as teaching Basic Military Qualification courses. I spent six summer seasons there.

My family has a military background, which inspired me to join the CAF. Both my grandfathers left me some rather large shoes to fill.

One was an Army Major with the Dental Corps and the Royal Canadian Regiment. The other was a Lancaster pilot in World War Two, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. He later went on to serve as Minister of National Defence and deputy PM as well. In fact, his service to Canada and background in aviation was so extensive the Yukon Government renamed the airport in Whitehorse in his honour: Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport.

Q2: What was your main instrument?

I was a drummer/percussionist. Historically, a senior infantry warrant officer held the Drum Major position, but things worked out over the years and with the support of the senior leadership at the time I was able to serve as a Drum Major in my final year with CG. What a privilege. It was just such an honour to wear the scarlet and gold embroidered tunic and step onto Parliament Hill at 10 o’clock precisely every morning.

I studied piano my whole life and always wanted to play another instrument. I subjected my parents to the agony of a teenager wanting a drum set [laughs]. They supported me fully as I was always fascinated by the sound of the drums and their prominence in military music. 

Q3: Looking back on those years, what moments stand out in your memory?

One that comes to mind is Canada Day on Parliament Hill. I believe it was 2010 when Her Majesty was in attendance. Performing in front of her on Canada’s birthday in front of thousands of peoplethat just makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. The following year, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were there.

In 2009, we travelled to Washington DC and performed with the U.S. Army band ‘Pershing’s Own’ a joint concert with them on Capitol Hill. Those were some pretty unique opportunities.

Q4: What made you want to move over to the Air Force?

I was slightly obsessed with planes as a kid. With my family background, it was always meant to be, it was just a question of how to make it happen. Being an RCAF pilot wasn’t an option for me when I first joined due to poor eyesight. In the CG’s off-season, I would go to work during the day and went to complete my civilian pilot licenses at night and on the weekends. At some point, they opened laser eye surgery to pilots so I had the surgery, which opened the Air Force door that I thought was closed. I then applied for the component transfer and it took about a year for it all to happen. 

Q5: You’re now a flight instructor. What was your path to that role?

I was awarded my wings as a Rotary Wing Pilot. I was posted to 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Edmonton. I actually spent a few years there flying the CH-146 Griffon working once again with the Army. We were part of Operation LENTUS for the Fort McMurray forest fires. I got the chance to fly across our country from coast to coast on the Griffon.

From there, I was able to return to Moose Jaw as there was a flight instructor opening at the time. I have been in Moose Jaw for two years now on the CT-156 Harvard II. You get to train student pilots from scratch. Almost every pilot in the RCAF is trained at 15 Wing in Moose Jaw.

It is such a reward when you see your students work tirelessly to earn their wings and end up flying operationally.

Q6: How did you feel about the idea of returning to Fortissimo?

Fortissimo is the premier CG event of the summer. They had flypasts back when I was there. I said I’d love to do it one day and it’s been on the bucket list for a while. I don’t think there’s anything better than playing the 1812 Overture as the sun sets in the massed band with the guns of 30th Field Regiment and the Dominion Carilloneur [the musician who plays the Peace Tower carillion, an instrument consisting of 53 bells].

Q7: Are there lessons from the CG that still apply in the RCAF?

Absolutely. The Guard instils attention to detail, accuracy and precision. The psychomotor skills and technique of playing an instrument and flying an aircraft are quite similar.

The teamwork required and crew cohesion are nearly identical. These highly motivated soldiers and air personnel are extremely passionate about their craft.

With the CG it was the love of music, and the passion pilots have for aviation is the same. When you do something you love, you never really work a day in your life.

To do those things in service to Canada it’s an honour.

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