A legacy of service: Four generations of the Duffy family

Brian Duffy with his son, S1 Derek Duffy, on the Dartmouth side of the harbour with the Dockyard in the background. S1 Duffy received Sailor of the Quarter in February and is the fourth generation in his family to serve in the military.

A legacy of service: Four generations of the Duffy family

By Joanie Veitch,
Trident Staff

When S1 Derek Duffy received a Sailor of the Quarter award from Canadian Fleet Atlantic earlier this year, his father was at the ceremony with him — but as the fourth generation to sign up for military service, the 27-year-old sailor had a bit of his grandfather and great-grandfather in the room with him also.

“I’m proud to know I’m carrying on the tradition,” S1 Duffy said. “It’s my family heritage, I guess. It means a lot…to get the award, and to be part of this legacy of service.”

Clockwise from top: S1 Derek Duffy, Theodore Duffy, Peter Duffy and Brian Duffy.

First generation

S1 Duffy’s great-grandfather, Peter Ernest Duffy, was part of the Irish settlement on Prince Edward Island following the Irish Potato Famine. Born in 1896, he was just a young man when he and his brother went off to fight in the First World War, where he was a Lance Corporal with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

His brother, Wilfred James Duffy, died in 1916 and is buried at the Vimy Memorial in France.

Returning to PEI after the war, the senior Duffy took up the boilermaker trade until the Second World War called him back to military service, this time with the Royal Canadian Navy. From 1940 to 1943 he served as chief stoker on several Flower-class corvettes, eventually working his way up to chief engineer.

Fortunate to survive the war once again, the senior Duffy went back to family life, moving with his wife, Margaret, and family to Halifax, where he worked at the Dockyard as a pipefitter.

“He survived two wars. The luck of the Irish, maybe,” said Brian Duffy, S1 Duffy’s father. “My grandfather went through a lot, but never talked about it. He never talked about the war at all.”

Peter Duffy died in 1975, at Camp Hill Hospital in Halifax.

Second generation

Theodore Duffy was born in 1937 and grew up in Halifax’s north end. One of 12 children, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the RCN as a fire control technician in 1955. He served until his retirement in 1985.

After retirement, Ted Duffy continued to wear a uniform as he went on to work for more than 20 years with the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires.

Well-known to many at Stadacona and HMC Dockyard, when he died in 2015 the memorial service at the Royal Canadian Legion on Main Street in Dartmouth was standing room only.

“The overflow had to go upstairs and listen on a speaker, there were so many people. He left a legacy for sure,” said Brian Duffy.

Third generation

Growing up in Shannon Park military housing in the 60s and 70s, it just seemed natural for Brian Duffy to join the military after finishing high school in 1980. Three of his siblings also joined up, two with the Navy and one with the Air Force.

Working as a Naval Electronic Technician, Brian Duffy left the Navy to go work on the Canadian Patrol Frigate Program, which was building the Halifax-class frigates in Saint John, New Brunswick in the early 1990s.

He may have left the military, he said, but he was still working on Navy projects, “just not in uniform.”

Duffy eventually moved to the Department of National Defence, where he worked as an Electronic Technologist on the Halifax-class frigate modernization project and, after that, with the new Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships .

He retired from DND in 2020, just two years after his son Derek — S1 Duffy — had also joined the Navy.

Fourth generation

Not wanting to go the military route straight out of high school, S1 Duffy went to Nova Scotia Community College to study Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC).  He worked in the trade for four years but during a long lay off period decided to sign up with the RCN as a Marine Technician (Mar Tech).

Posted to HMCS St. John’s just before the ship conducted a hull swap with HMCS Ville de Quebec, S1 Duffy earned the Sailor of the Quarter award for his technical expertise in helping to fix a mechanical problem onboard Ville de Quebec while sailing on Exercise Joint Warrior.

The problem was in the chilled water cooling system — an area S1 Duffy was very familiar with from his former HVAC work.

“My previous knowledge of refrigeration helped to get them back up and running… it felt good to know I could help, and it benefited everyone,” he said.

Even before he heard about his son’s award, Brian Duffy had a framed photo montage made of the four generations of Duffys — all in uniform — to give to Derek for Christmas last year.

“We are so proud of him. He’s keeping the family tradition alive,” Brian Duffy said. “I just wish my Dad could have seen him getting his award. He would have loved it.”