Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Lionel J. Goffart, QC, OStJ was born in 1928 in Paris, France to Belgian parents. He was brought to Canada in 1941 due to WWII, eventually becoming a Canadian Citizen in 1953. He married his late wife Mary Parent in 1953 and they had two sons. He attended the University of Montreal where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts and then the University of Toronto where he received a Bachelor of Laws. He was called to the Ontario Bar in 1954 where he practiced business law with a large Toronto law firm. Goffart was made a Queen’s Counsel in 1975 by the Government of Ontario and retired in 1993.
In 1954 HLCol Goffart graduated from the Canadian Officers Training Corp and joined The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada as a Lieutenant. He retired from service in 1961 due to pressures of professional obligations. in 2003 he was elected to the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada Trust Fund and has served several years on its Executive Committee.
On 3 October 2015 he was appointed Honorary Lieutenant Colonel, succeeding HLCol Brendan Caldwell.
Goffart’s military and professional careers have brought forth numerous highlights and accomplishments including his time as Vice President of the Belgium-Canadian Chamber of Commerce during which time he was awarded the decorations of Commander of the Order of Leopold II (Belgium) and Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium). He is also the recipient of the Officer of the Order of St. John and the Gold Cross of Merit (Poland).
A conversation with Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Lionel J. Goffart
Edited for brevity and clarity.
On Escaping the Nazi Invasion of Europe
“It was quite the sensible journey. I was living in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, at the time. My father was in the Belgian Diplomatic Corps, and served as First Secretary in the Embassy. A few days before the invasion, the British Embassy called its allies to let them know that the Germans would be invading at such-and-such time, at this particular location. Well, my father thanked them profusely, and my mother went out to acquire train tickets. We ended up on the last train to Istanbul, though it was quite the civilized journey. The diplomatic staff in Istanbul took very good care of us, and the Belgian government directed us to Jerusalem. At that time, the extent of my English was “Thank you, hope to see you soon again!”
The British Mandate of Palestine was beautifully run, and we were able to visit many places. Eventually, we headed for Cairo to board a ship to New York. The ship was chartered by a Jewish man, and it was filled with refugees. We were all very fortunate that Montgomery had won the Battle of El Alamein against Rommel! We departed from the Port of Suez, and made a stop in Mombasa, Kenya. We were warned of German cruisers in the Indian Ocean, but thankfully they never appeared. We ended up in Cape Town after the crew mutinied, as they were so ill-treated. The Belgian consul-general looked after us, and we were able to leave after the mutiny was quelled. As we sailed from Cape Town to Brazil, we coincidentally passed by the point where our sister ship had been sunk by German U-boats the year before.
After stopping in Trinidad, we finally arrived in New York. The Belgian government sent us to Montreal, of course, as we were able to speak the language.”
On Life in a New Country
“Diplomats moved every 3 years to a new country, so it was no big deal. Except for my mother, who had to find us a new home while my father went to the office. She never received a shred of recognition for that. We were not used to the French accent in Montreal at first, but people were very nice to us. Best of all, there were no German bombs, and the rationing was much less strict! My brother and sister started their schooling in English, but I was sent to Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, where the Trudeau children went. In the end, we adapted because we always moved.”
On Joining the Armed Forces
“My father was an officer in a Guards regiment, and it was always understood that I would end up in the armed forces. I joined the Air Cadets, which had the first French-Canadian squadron. I rose to the rank of Flight Sergeant, which was the second-highest rank. Afterwards, it was logical for me to join the Officer Training Corps—first at the University of Montreal, then at the University of Toronto. In the end, it was a matter of tradition.”
On Serving with the PPCLI
“After the end of Phase 3, you had to spend 3 months with a Regular Force battalion. Everyone wanted to go to the 27th Brigade in Germany, but I had just got out of Europe! Instead, I went as far west as possible, to the Patricias in Calgary. Many of the lieutenants in the 2nd Battalion had fought in the Battle of Kapyong as corporals and sergeants, and they were the nicest possible people. They helped me at every turn, and I have the highest regard for them. When I was ready to leave, the CO invited me to remain. Unfortunately, I had just gone through 8 years of education, and it was difficult to switch careers at that point.”
On Career Advice for Officers
“Do your job, and learn everything you possibly can. I’m awfully glad for the years I had in the Officer Training Corps, especially my time with the Patricias. It was quite the education, and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
On Joining the Queen’s Own Rifles
“I wanted to join a respectable regiment after completing my training courses. I had hoped to join the 48th Highlanders, but they made it blatantly clear that I would not be considered because of my French accent. Nobody questioned that at the Queen’s Own Rifles, and it was a pleasure to join such a regiment. I enjoyed the company of my fellow lieutenants, and it was the logical thing for me to return as an Honorary many years later.”
On his Proudest Moment with the Queen’s Own Rifles
“My proudest moment was accompanying 80 Riflemen to France for the Vimy centennial. It was a well-done trip, and the men loved it. I’m glad to have made three trips back to Europe, to see the battlefields and the military cemeteries. A number of Riflemen thanked me for the opportunity to visit Europe, and to follow in the footsteps of the Regiment during wartime.”
On His Favourite Drink
“I prefer Irish Whiskey, as my wife could not tolerate Scotch. I enjoy Writers’ Tears, which harkens back to Ireland’s tradition of producing superb writers.”