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Commanding presence: 20 Questions with Michele Tessier of Grand Bank

Michele Tessier of Grand Bank became just the third woman to command a Canadian navy warship in 2010. She is planning to retire this fall after a rewarding 25-year military career. — Contributed photo
Michele Tessier of Grand Bank became just the third woman to command a Canadian navy warship in 2010. She is planning to retire this fall after a rewarding 25-year military career. — Contributed

Two islands on opposite ends of the country each hold a special place in Cdr. Michele Tessier’s heart. 

Tessier was born and raised in Grand Bank, while much of her career in the Canadian navy was spent on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

“As I like to say, I’m an island girl, so from the rock on the East Coast to the rock on the West Coast,” she said with a laugh over the phone from Halifax, where she is stationed as the commanding officer for the future HMCS Margaret Brooke. 

Tessier signed up for the naval reserve in 1996 in St. John’s while attending Memorial University.



She had met and befriended some regular force sailors doing a program at the Marine Institute and was intrigued. One suggested she join, but Tessier had some doubts. When he mentioned the reserves, she was sold. 

Tessier wound up working full-time for her entire reserve career, then transferred over to the regular force in 2017. 

Tessier holds the distinction as being the third woman to command a Canadian naval warship, taking control of HMCS Nanaimo, based out of Esquimalt, B.C., in 2010.

The process to become a commander in the navy is long and arduous, she explained, requiring serious dedication, and it was not a goal initially on her radar.

She took the first step, however, and slowly, but surely, progressed along the path, eventually earning the support of the command board panel.   

Tessier relocated to Halifax in 2018 to become the first commanding officer of the Margaret Brooke, an Arctic and offshore patrol vessel under construction at Irving Shipyards in the city. 



Grand Bank native Michele Tessier was announced as one of the Women’s Executive Network’s top 100 most powerful women in Canada on Wednesday. Tessier was appointed as commander of Coastal Forces Pacific in 2016 and was recently announced as commanding officer of the HMCS Margaret Brooke. —Canadian Armed Forces
Grand Bank native Michele Tessier was announced as one of the Women’s Executive Network’s top 100 most powerful women in Canada on Wednesday. Tessier was appointed as commander of Coastal Forces Pacific in 2016 and was recently announced as commanding officer of the HMCS Margaret Brooke. —Canadian Armed Forces

There have been some delays in the work, and unfortunately, Tessier will turn over command of the vessel this spring before the ship is delivered. 

Tessier, who said she has had a few injuries over the years that serve as reminders she isn’t as young as she used to be, plans to retire from the navy after a 25-year career in October. 

“Some of (the injuries) make it pretty difficult to do some of the things that I’m expected to do,” she said. 

Now is probably a good time to start looking after herself a bit more and open an opportunity for someone else, she said. 

“It makes me feel good that I’ve had command at sea. I’ve been there. I know that I can do it,” she said.

“It’s a little bittersweet to be leaving a ship’s company that’s been so amazing, but I’m just excited to see what happens now with them when they get the ship after I’m gone.”


"I can’t even believe I accomplished some of the things that I did." — Michele Tessier


Tessier said her career has been extremely rewarding and has been made more special by those she works with and who work for her.

“They’re the ones who make it worthwhile to go to work every day,” she said. 

“To go in and have a chat with one of your sailors and see them smiling and enjoying what they do, that’s the reward in and of itself.”

Reflecting on the past two and a half decades, Tessier said she’s really glad about the chance she took back in 1996.

“Here I am 25 years later just looking back on a career... I can’t even believe I accomplished some of the things that I did,” she said


20 Questions

1. What is your full name?
Michele Anne Tessier.

2. Where and when were you born?
I was born in Grand Bank in 1973 – on my mom’s birthday. 

3. Where do you live today?
Halifax.

4. Who do you follow on social media?
Oh gosh, I follow a number of my family and friends. I follow a number of military sites. Who else do I follow? Some of the media outlets that have interviewed me in the past (laughs). Um, and I guess, a number of sort of strong, influential women that I’ve met over the years, through my career and some of the other interesting things that I’ve gotten to do because of my job.

5. What is your favourite movie or book?
Oh boy, that’s quite a good one. My favourite book is probably “Change Your Thoughts-Change Your Life” by Dr. Wayne Dyer. 

6. What is your favourite place in the world?
I’m an island girl, and as much as I love Newfoundland, I have to say that Hawaii is my favourite place in the world. 

7. What has been your favourite year and why?
I think it would have to be 2010. It was the year that I took command of HMCS Nanaimo, my first command. 


HMCS Nanaimo. - Canadian Armed Forces
HMCS Nanaimo. - Canadian Armed Forces

8. What is your most treasured possession?
You’re making me emotional by asking me these questions. It’s a letter that my grandmother, who recently passed away, wrote to me after I took command of my ship. 

9. What is your biggest regret?
Oh, God! These are tough questions. You guys are mean (laughs). My biggest regret? Anything I did that disappointed my parents (laughs). 

10. What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
I’m going to say learn to walk again. I had hip surgery when I was five years old, and I was in a body cast for almost a year and had to learn to walk again. So, that’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

11. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Hmmm, that I’m actually a bit of an introvert. 

12. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
It would have been moving to Thunder Bay, Ont., when I took command of HMCS Griffon. I had recently ended a long-term relationship, and I was caught in a bit of a rut when it came to work. Moving there without knowing anybody and having to sort of start life all over again was something that absolutely changed my life. I also discovered yoga there, which was a big part of that.

13. If you were singing karaoke what would be your song?
“If I Had a Million Dollars” by the Barenaked Ladies. 



14. How do you like to relax?
A walk by the ocean or a hot bubble bath.

15. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
Wow… sense of humour. More from my dad than my mom, both of them, but more from my dad. 

16. If you didn’t take this career path what would you have chosen?  
I probably would have been a teacher. 

17. What is your best quality and what is your worst quality?
My best quality I think is that I’m a good communicator. My worse quality is that I’m extremely hard on myself. I’m very self-critical.

18. What is your greatest fear?
Dying alone (laughs). 

19. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
Matt Damon (laughs) … umm, actually scratch Matt Damon. I’m going to put my two grandfathers (Capt. Bill Stewart and Fred Tessier) at that table and, oh I know, (USS Truxtun shipwreck survivor). That’s who I would put at my dinner table. 

20. What music are you listening to right now? 
It constantly changes. Right now, we are listening to jazz and blues.

[email protected]
 


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