Vice-Admiral Peter William Cairns, CMM, CD

Vice-Admiral Peter William Cairns was the 24th Commander of the Canadian Navy.


Vice-Admiral Cairns joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) as a Cadet in 1956. He studied at Queen’s University. 

From 1958 to 1965, he served in:

  • HMCS Skeena
  • HMCS Stadacona
  • HMCS Sioux
  • HMCS Chaudière
  • HMCS Gatineau

In 1965, he specialized in submarines at the Royal Navy (RN) submarine officers training at HMS Dolphin. In 1965, he was appointed Navigating Officer on the British submarine HMS Orpheus. 

In 1967, he joined the submarine HMCS Onondaga on commissioning. In 1969, he became Executive Officer of the submarine HMCS Rainbow. In 1970, he became Executive Officer of the submarine HMCS Okanagan. 

In 1971, he took the RN Submarine Commanding Officer Qualifying Course (Perisher). He then assumed command of the submarine HMCS Onondaga.   On promotion to Commander in 1974, he assumed command of the First Canadian Submarine Squadron.

Cairns studied at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1975.

From 1976 to 1978, he commanded 3 helicopter-carrying destroyer-escorts:

  • HMCS Fraser
  • HMCS Margaree
  • HMCS Assiniboine

At the same time, he was the Deputy Commandant of the Canadian Forces Fleet School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

Promoted to Captain(N) in 1979, he served as the Command Personnel and Training Officer at Maritime Command Headquarters (MARCOMHQ). Later that year, he was named Commandant of the Canadian Forces Maritime Warfare School.

In 1981, he became Commander Fifth Canadian Destroyer Squadron. In 1983, he served in National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) in Ottawa as Director Personnel Careers Officers.  On promotion to Commodore in 1985, he was appointed Director-General Personnel Careers Officers at NDHQ.

He was promoted to Rear-Admiral in 1987. He served as Deputy Chief of Staff Operations to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia. 

He returned to Canada in 1989 as Commander Maritime Forces Pacific and Deputy Commander Maritime Command.

He was promoted to his current rank in 1992. Vice-Admiral Cairns was appointed Commander Maritime Command in July 1992. He served in this position until he retired in August 1994.

Page details

Date modified: