On June 6, 1944, Allied forces, including 14,000 Canadians, stormed Normandy’s Juno Beach to liberate Europe. For British, American and Canadian forces, Operation Overlord was carnage; machine gun fire pelted the beach, landmines exploded and fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued.
Just four hours after the first wave of soldiers landed, Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Côté stepped onto the surf. “We lost more than 350 soldiers right there and some 1,600 were wounded,” Côté told the Toronto Sun in June, prior to returning to France to take part in ceremonies marking the invasion’s 70th anniversary. “It’s a lot but we all knew that was the price of liberty.”
Now 101, Côté was just 26 when he left Edmonton to join the Royal 22nd Regiment in 1939. Later that year, the young lieutenant was deployed to England. Côté eventually became lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and participated in planning the D-Day attack.
When Côté returned home, he pursued the law career he’d left behind when he joined the military. In 1948 he became the legal advisor to the Canadian High Commissioner in London and occupied the same role in 1952 for the Canadian Section of the International Joint Commission. Over the next two decades, Côté moved into public service and was appointed deputy minister to the Department of Foreign Affairs and later to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
During this time, Côté became involved in The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, serving as a director twice, from 1964 to 1973 and from 1977 to 1988. His commitment to imparting a broader knowledge of the country he served in the war saw him become a governor and then vice-president of the Society.