Nova Scotia

Halifax crowd welcomes HMCS Toronto home after six months at sea

Alexandra Levesque knew she would be the first to greet sailor Nathan Durette upon the return of HMCS Toronto. What she didn't know was that Durette would get down on one knee.

First crew member off returning frigate thrills waiting crowd with dockside marriage proposal

HMCS Toronto's Leading Seaman Nathan Durette wins the ship's First Kiss Lottery to be the first Royal Canadian Navy sailor off the ship. He proposed to his awaiting girlfriend, Alexandra Levesque at the naval dockyard in Halifax on Sunday. (Renzo Ruiz Haas/The Canadian Press/HO, AVR)

Alexandra Levesque knew she would be the first to greet sailor Nathan Durette upon the return of HMCS Toronto. What she didn't know was that Durette would get down on one knee.

Families, friends and pets of the crew gathered at the Halifax waterfront on Sunday morning to welcome loved ones home from a six-month deployment.

The Canadian frigate left in January for Operation Reassurance in support of international co-operation efforts and security in the Adriatic, Black and Mediterranean Seas.

Commanding officer Capt. Martin Fluet said the operation, which saw the crew visit nine countries, was successful.

The vessel also carried crew of the 12 Wing's Helicopter Air Detachment, which provides helicopter support to the Royal Canadian Navy.

HMCS Toronto sails into Halifax Harbour on Sunday, August 4. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Those gathered at the dockyard cheered, whistled and waved signs and Canadian flags as the ship pulled in.

Crews stood outside on the vessel and waved at people below, some were lucky enough to spot family members in the crowd before disembarking.

Proposal months in the making

For Levesque, the six-month wait to see Durette was well worth it.

"I almost passed out," Levesque said of the dockside marriage proposal. "I don't even know what to say."

Durette, who is a Leading Seaman, won the ship's First Kiss Lottery to be the first sailor off the ship.

Levesque knew the kiss was coming, but the proposal was a surprise.

"I was planning for about four months," Durette said, admitting the scheme involved some well-intentioned misdirection.

"I came home about three months ago, played it off and told her that (an engagement) would be about a year after I get back."

The crowd cheered as Durette got on one knee — accidentally dropping the ring — and then put the ring on Levesque's finger.

"I was fine until I started walking across the bow, then it started to hit me," Durette said.

"I want to say I practiced but I just sort of winged it, I guess."

The couple has been together for seven years.

Family ties to ship

For others like Wendy Jensen, whose husband petty officer Rob Jensen has been in the military for 21 years, the wait never gets any easier.

"It's been pretty rough for six-and-a-half months with two boys, but we've made it and we're here," Jensen said, crediting support from family and friends for helping her get through long stretches of deployment.

She said the HMCS Toronto is an important ship for the whole family.

"Both of the boys got baptized on that ship as well — so it's a pretty special ship," Jensen said.

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