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AMONG FRIENDS: Former Pictou town councillor is new chair of the 144 Construction Engineering Flight

Cameron Beaton, new chair of the community advisory board at 144 Construction Engineering Flight Pictou County, looks over some history while sharing plans for a recruitment open house at 237 Welsford Street in Pictou, Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cameron Beaton, new chair of the community advisory board at 144 Construction Engineering Flight Pictou County, looks over some history while sharing plans for a recruitment open house at 237 Welsford Street in Pictou, Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. - Rosalie MacEachern

Cameron Beaton joined the navy at 17 and, more recently, he has taken up with the air force reserve.

He is energetically finding his way around as the community advisory board chair with 144 Construction Engineering Flight (CEF) Pictou County, part of the Royal Canadian Air Force Reserve, having been appointed by the Town of Pictou. If you have a community project that could provide training for reservists, he’s the guy to contact.

Beaton is a little older and wiser than when he joined the navy but has the same conviction that the days ahead will be interesting.

“We’ve got a great reserve unit that provides trades and training while contributing an awful lot to the county. Our numbers are down in the twenties but we’d like to see them up around 40 and there are lots of people who could fit in here with the fine people we already have,” he said.

The CEF’s recruiter is currently in Kuwait but Beaton can quickly point to a few advantages in joining.

“You get paid and have benefits while you learn and that is a hard combination to beat,” he said.

Young people just out of school can be good candidates but the CEF is also interested in older people who may want to add to their resumes.

“There is training in military skills and engineering trades such as carpentry and electrical. You are very well trained because, being reservists, you may be called up to supplement the regular forces. In the meantime, you can be improving your skills and contributing to your community.”

It is a far cry from the way Beaton or his father joined the military.

“I had to get my parents to sign for me because I was too young. My father had been in the army and my brother had joined the peacekeepers. My father would have preferred I join the army but I wanted the navy.”

His mother agreed but with great reluctance.

“My brother was six months old when my father went overseas in the Second World War and he was in school by the time my father got back so that was her experience of the military.”

Ruefully, he remembers he’d only been in the navy a year when his ship encountered a fierce storm on the way to the Gaza Strip.

“My poor mother was listening to the radio and heard how the badly battered HMCS Saguenay was limping into Halifax harbour.”

He became a marine engineering technician and remembers his training as excellent.

“It was the discipline that was difficult – as it may still be for young people – but it was well worth it. The navy took me all over the Caribbean, to Alaska, Japan, much of Asia and Hawaii, all up and down the Pacific coast.”

As exciting as he found the travel, it was also the reason he left the navy in 1976.

“I took a program in heavy equipment repair with the understanding I would then go on to serve at a land base. That only lasted a short time and then I was back onboard ship because there was a shortage of marine engineering technicians.”

Beaton and his wife met in their hometown of New Waterford when they were 15.

“Eventually the decision came down to whether I wanted to be a sailor or raise a family. I chose a family but by that time, I knew I could take my training with me.”

With his mind made up to leave the military, Beaton had two job prospects, a position with DEVCO in Sydney or firefighting in Halifax but a friend directed him to an advertisement the Michelin plant in Granton had placed for someone with security, first aid and firefighting training.

“I applied for that position but with my background, they asked me to take their mechanical tests and they hired me as an industrial mechanic.”

Before that happened he had to go through the company’s physical tests, part of which included being bused to Sutherland Harris Memorial Hospital for a chest x-ray.

“I phoned my wife in Cape Breton afterwards and told her about this beautiful little town. I thought it would be the perfect place to look for a house and we bought a townhouse. We found people very welcoming and later we built our own house and raised our two kids here.”

Beaton later went on to work in the tire company’s IT department, retiring in 2010.

His time on town council coincided with the contentious regional governance study.

“It was a challenging time to be part of any municipal government. I suppose it is still as challenging because we still have the same problems.”

As a councillor he became involved with the CET program and his military background makes him a good fit.

“I still understand military skills and the way things are done so that certainly makes my transition here easier and I think it helps the CEF, too.”

An avid reader, Beaton usually gets through two books a week and prefers mysteries. He was deep into Canadian mystery writer Bill Deverell’s High Crimes when he got the strong sense he was reading about something he had been involved in with the navy.

“It is a detailed story about a navy ship intercepting a drug smuggling ship. Although the name was not used in the book, I was certain it had to be the HMCS MacKenzie because I was on it at the time. I contacted Deverell and asked if that incident had been part of his research and he confirmed it.”

A grandfather to four boys, Beaton began writing Christmas stories for them when they were young.

“I had great fun with it and I still enjoy it but the boys are getting too old.”

Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs they love the most. If you have someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at r.maceachern@ns.sympatico.ca

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