Major-General Christine Whitecross – Empowering Future Female Leaders

Major-General Christine Whitecross

In addition to her exemplary contributions to the Defence Team, towards delivering the Canada First Defence Strategy and in recognition of her rise to be among the highest-ranking members of the CF, Major-General Christine Whitecross is also featured in this edition of My Role in the CFDS in celebration of Women’s History Month.

As a Middleton Regional High School student in the Annapolis Valley, N.S., Christine Whitecross didn’t know engineering would be in her future.

Today, Major-General (MGen) Whitecross fills a valued role in the Canada First Defence Strategy as the Chief Military Engineer in the CF, leading and delivering engineering excellence through the work of over 6,000 military and civilian engineers across Canada and around the world.

“My father was convinced I should study engineering at Queen’s University after he met with my Grade 9 science teacher,” said MGen Whitecross. “I enjoyed maths and sciences so I followed through with my Dad’s advice.”

She hasn’t looked back since.

Early service in the CF

Joining the CF in 1982 as a second-year chemical engineering student at Queen’s University, MGen Whitecross was only one of five women on a 40-person military engineering officer course in Chilliwack, B.C. Later posted to West Germany for three years, she completed a year-long tour in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-90s.

“The mission to Yugoslavia was tough because of the hundreds of mine fields throughout the country. At least the majority were identified – unlike in Afghanistan,” said MGen Whitecross.

MGen Whitecross’ position as Chief Military Engineer also sees her serving as Chief of Staff for Assistant Deputy Minister Infrastructure and Environment, where she ensures that infrastructure and engineering programmes are staffed and implemented nationally and internationally.

MGen Whitecross has etched an historic milestone: She is the first female appointed as Chief Military Engineer. Yet, she shies away from “first of” accolades.

But, they can’t be ignored.

Senior appointments

MGen Whitecross was the first female commanding officer of 1 Construction Engineering Unit, based in Moncton, N.B. That unit’s mission was to provide rapidly deployable specialist military engineering services all over the world. She was also the first female commander of Joint Task Force North from 2006 to 2008 and for 14 months in 2010 and 2011, she was the Deputy Chief of Staff of Strategic Communications at ISAF Headquarters in Kabul.

“I’ve never been comfortable with the phrase ‘first female,’” she said. “And I never engaged in women’s issues until I became a CO and had the opportunity to mentor. I realized that you can really make a difference by opening doors for people, which is so satisfying. So I see myself here in terms of the grander scheme where women before me took huge steps - like BGen Hilary Jaeger and Rear-Admiral Jennifer Bennett. And I’m humbled when I look at the talented women who are coming up through the ranks and making huge gains. In 10 or 20 years, we’re not going to be talking about ‘their’gains as a novelty because it’s going to be common-place.”

Major-General Christine Whitecross

Service before self

When she’s not leading engineers, MGen Whitecross serves as the president of the South Nepean chapter of the Rotary Club of Canada.

“Rotarians stress service above self, which aligns nicely with what we do in the military. And Rotarians stress community-related work as well as international development, so I identified with these principles and got involved in my belief that it’s not what you get out of your community, it’s what you put into it.”

And MGen Whitecross puts her words into action: During mid-deployment leave from Afghanistan in 2011, she raised over $4,000 to help two Afghan schools – building 40 desks and benches for the School for Peace, and providing food and supplies for the Kabul School of Developmentally Challenged Children – all in her ‘spare’ time.

“That was an incredible memory,” she said. “But also working with youth and women’s programmes and seeing them empowered to earn a living for themselves and their families - that’s what I appreciate and what’s most significant for me.”

Of all her time away on deployments, MGen Whitecross’ experiences in Afghanistan made the most significant impact on her personal outlook.

“I look at life differently,” she declared. “I appreciate my family more, but I’m a little less tolerant of people who want more and more, and not just personally but professionally. And I find that whatever sense of urgency that I may have had in the past has lessened now. Life is very good here and we need to appreciate what we have. And we really need to give back; this really is such a small world.”

Date modified: