Newly minted Lt. Colonel Joseph Nonato, commanding general of the Royal Regiment of Canada is the latest source of pride of the Canadian Filipino community.
Last June, Nonato officially took the reins of the Canadian Army’s primary reserve regiment, one of the oldest army regiments in the Canadian Forces, which traces its roots to 1862. The Royal Regiment of Canada counts the Prince of Wales as honourary colonel-in-chief.
“Being commanding officer, I feel proud, honoured and at the same time humbled by this appointment,” Nonato said in a phone interview. “I’m proud that many of our kababayans are doing their best and reaping the fruits of their labour,” he added.
The son of Filipino immigrants, Nonato, 44, is the eldest of four children and the only one in the military. “All four of us are teachers,” he said. The military reservist considers his appointment as “a full-time job on part-time hours.” He is glad he has his day job as a teacher at De la Salle College.
He grew up in the largely immigrant enclave of Brampton, Ont. There, his budding interest in becoming a soldier was reinforced by stories of relatives who served in the Philippine Armed Forces.
“When I was young, my cousins and uncles would regale me with stories about their cadetships. They would show me pictures of them training. Even as a small child, I remember dressing up like a soldier,” he chuckled.
Nonato considers his father, Rod, a huge influence, too. Rod took up nautical science in the Philippines hoping to be a Marine someday, but Canada beckoned in 1971. Rod’s military dream was fulfilled by his eldest, who after finishing high school at Cardinal Leger, joined the cadet program and made it to the prestigious Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston. “RMC is the counterpart of the Philippine Military Academy,” he explained.
“We were so proud of him 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,” Rod told The Star in a previous interview.
Nonato’s interest in the military grew out of a sense of adventure and patriotism, as well as a desire to give back to Canada through his service.
His time at the military college was tough because it’s highly disciplined and students must perform well in their academics, fitness, military training and a second language, or they get kicked out, Nonato once said in his blog.
After graduation, Nonato worked for Scotiabank while serving as a primary reservist. In 2008, he experienced being at the war zones in Afghanistan, and in 2012, was part of Canada’s peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.
Being at the heart of conflict is a far cry from teaching Social Studies, Church History and Religion at a private Catholic school in Toronto. But according to Nonato, “you can’t lead troops without the frontline experience.” He described both his stints as “eye-opening spiritual journeys.”
Nonato is married to Sheila Dabu Nonato, a former journalist, with whom he has two daughters, aged one and three.