The oldest and the youngest: Colombian-born dad’s dream leads him sailing with his daughter

S1 Ivan Vanegas Lopez, a Marine Technician aboard HMCS Calgary, stands with his daughter, S1 Susana Vanegas Tobon, a Human Resources Administrator aboard the ship. Photo by Cpl Lynette Ai Dang, Imagery Technician

S1 Ivan Vanegas Lopez, a Marine Technician aboard HMCS Calgary, stands with his daughter, S1 Susana Vanegas Tobon, a Human Resources Administrator aboard the ship. Photo by Cpl Lynette Ai Dang, Imagery Technician

Capt Jeff Klassen
HMCS Calgary PAO
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It took seven years for Sailor First Class (S1) Ivan Dario Vanegas Lopez and his family to become Canadian citizens. Learning the language, job hunting, and trying to make friends were all the hardships the new immigrant family went through.

Finally, the Vanegas family walked out of their long-awaited citizenship ceremony in Montreal, Quebec, as full Canadian citizens. They were ecstatic and headed off to a restaurant to celebrate. But they didn’t go straight there.

On the way, they stopped at a Canadian Armed Forces recruiting centre where mom and the kids sat in the waiting room as dad applied to join the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). It was his lifelong dream, and it became an experience that inspired his daughter to join.

Another seven years have passed, and now Sailor First Class (S1) Ivan Dario Vanegas Lopez, 53, and his daughter S1 Susana Vanegas Tobon, 20, are serving together in the same Canadian warship – HMCS Calgary. It’s rare for families to sail together in the same ship and it makes this deployment very special for the two of them.

The ship is currently sailing throughout Middle Eastern waters as part of the multinational Combined Task Force 150, combatting smuggling that is used to fund terrorism.

As a child in Medellin, Colombia, Ivan wanted to join the Colombian National Navy as an officer but his financial circumstances after high school led him to become an electrician. Over the years he married, had three children, and in 2007 they immigrated to Montreal. During his first months in the country, he attended a job fair and saw that, if he became a Canadian citizen, he would be able to join the Royal Canadian Navy and fulfill his childhood dream.

While awaiting his citizenship, he continued working as an electrician, and when he applied to join the navy, it was as an electrical technician.

In 2016, at 49 years old, he was the oldest person out of all the platoons that year to graduate after basic training. Susana saw her dad’s successes and was inspired to join the navy as a human resources administrator with the Montreal-based Naval Reserve Division HMCS Donnacona. When she graduated basic training in 2018, at 17 years old, she was the youngest person out of all the platoons that year.

When the chance to deploy with HMCS Calgary came up, she put her name in immediately and now father and daughter are sailing together during the ship’s current seven-month deployment.

The two are happy to have each other for support, especially after the recent death of Susana’s grandmother on her mother’s side.

“I’m just so grateful to be able to be here for my daughter after the death of her grandmother. If she were alone during this time, it would be very difficult,” said Ivan.

In 2021, one of the sons in the family, Acting Sub Lieutenant Sebastián Vanegas Pizarro, began his Basic Military Officer Qualification Course to become a Naval Warfare Officer. Mother Jenny Alexandra Tobon Alvarez is also considering joining the military.

 “I feel that – for my family – it started off as my dad’s dream and then it became every one of our dreams. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have joined. He inspired us all,” said Susana.

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  1. CDR ret'd) Fraser McKee says:

    My father was Army Militia (Brig, RCCS) for some 50 years. My elder son the same, for about 25 years (LCol, QYR). I was a Naval Reserve for 30+ years. I figure I added some spice to the family history! You don’t want the family history stuck in a run for generations!

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