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Thursday, May 3, 2018

David Dillon of Chapleau shares highlights of career starting as deck hand travelling the world rising through ranks to ship Captain

Captain David Dillon
David Dillon, born and raised in Chapleau, has been promoted to the rank of ship Captain, Currently he is Captain of a ship  called FERBEC and travels a steady run between Havre St-Pierre QC and Sorel QC carrying limenite rock which makes titanium steel. The ship travels the world also and in the past year has traded in Australia, Asia, Turkey a nd Venezuela. The ship is 187 meters long (Two football fields), 32 meters wide, 14 stories and load to a draft of 12 meters deep.

After seeing an announcement on Facebook that he had risen to Captain of a ship, I contacted him, and he kindly agreed to share his fascinating story of life at sea. I extend my most sincere congratulations to David on his achievement. 

David's father Jim Dillon was in large part responsible for the revival of Chapleau Winter Carnival in the mid 1950s. When I was president of the Student Council at Chapleau High School in 1957-58, he appointed me to the carnival committee as the youth representative.  Jim was also manager of the Chapleau Intermediate Huskies. David's brother Mark played on the last hockey team I coached in Chapleau.  My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Here is David's story. 

By David Dillon
 Born and raised in Chapleau by two great parents (Jim and Noella) I was always encouraged to try things. Chapleau brought the adventure out in me starting with camping and fishing in the wilderness, gazing at stars in clear skies and surrounded by nature I wondered about the world outside of our small town. As I got older I wanted more adventure and high school gave me the opportunity to travel on school trips meeting other people and seeing other towns. There was no internet so travelling was the way to go and when you're 14/15 years old the only way was hitch hiking or hop the freight train. 

Well it wasn't long before I found myself wanting that adventure all the time so I left high school before graduating (I actually quit at 15 and left to find work in Wawa). After working in construction for the winter I returned to Chapleau to go back to school but was bored so I decided to leave school again and work at Lafreniere's lumber mill, then in the summer of 1973 I went to visit some friends in Parry Sound. They convinced me to stay so I started looking for work and although it wasn't my first choice I was given the opportunity to work as a deck hand on a ship called the CCGS Alexander Henry, a Canadian Coast Guard buoy tender and icebreaker built in 1959 serving on the Great Lakes. 

In 1975 I transferred to the Louis S. St Laurent, Canada's largest icebreaker, based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I spent the following 3 years travelling to the high Arctic escorting ships to supply the small and isolated communities. I reached 79 degrees northern latitude at an abandoned RCMP station setting up fuel caches on Ellesmere Island, 600 miles from the North Pole (about the same distance as Chapleau from Toronto). I slept under the Midnight Sun in nothing more than a sleeping bag to keep me warm and a piece of canvas to keep the summer snow off of me.

As I stood at the last known encampment of Sir John Franklin, I gazed upon this great vastness witth the same eyes and wonder of these people before me. I travelled through the Northwest passage through 12 feet of ice, the very passage that Franklin and his expedition sought. I was in awe and I was hooked, it was no longer a job but a career and lifestyle that chose me and I chose it.

I moved up the ranks to leading seaman and wheelsman and it was then that I decided it was time to do my licensing to be a navigating officer. I went to the Nova Scotia Nautical Institute in Halifax which was located in Pier 21 which is now a museum and historic site where immigrants from all over the world first came to Canada to start their new life, how fitting, seeing as how it was my new life I was embarking on also. 

I completed my watchkeeper's license in 1978 and was on my way, looking to travel and see more of the world. I started working on cargo ships and now I was no longer the student but th the same eyes and wonder of these people before me. I travelled through the Northwest passage through 12 feet of ice, the very passage that Franklin and his expedition sought. I was in awe and I was hooked, it was no longer a job but a career and lifestyle that chose me and I chose it.

I found myself on a ship called the Marlhill, a steamship built in 1909, riveted together and sailing as 3rd mate carrying cargo on the Great Lakes. I continued with my certification going to nautical school when I needed to and studying books at home preparing to write exams. Today there are cadet programs in Nautical Science covering subjects such as math, science, engineering, electricity, naval architect, business, law, firefighting, security/terrorism/piracy and more. To reach the level of Master you must be competent in all subjects.

When opportunity came to travel to another part of the world I asked "where do I sign up?" 

As I completed my certifications to Chief Officer and Master I travelled the Great Lakes, Caribbean, North America and Europe on cargo ships of all types, through storms and hurricanes, good weather and good times. You learned to survive, to depend on your shipmates, to become resourceful and use whatever you had on hand to fix or repair something that was broken... there's no Canadian Tire 1000 miles out at sea. 



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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet

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