Third son of Senator Jean Léon Côté and of Cécile (Gagnon) Côté, he was born in Edmonton, Alberta on June 12, 1913. He studied at the Edmonton Jesuit College and obtained a BSc degree from the Laval University in 1931. He worked as Office Boy and Clerk with the provincial Auditor-General’s Department (1931-1935) and, in 1935, he enrolled at the Law Faculty of the University of Alberta. In 1938, he graduated with an LLB degree and also graduated from the Canadian Officers’ Corps. He was admitted to the Alberta Bar in October 1939.
On November 29, 1939, he left Edmonton to join the Royal 22ième Régiment as a lieutenant. On December 8, the Regiment left Québec City for England. In February 1940, he was appointed Adjudant of the Regiment. In the summer of 1940 he was transferred as a staff officer to the 7th Army Corps HQ (commanded by Gen. McNaughton). Late in 1940, and early in 1941, he attended the Staff College at Minley Manor, England. During the next two years he was appointed Deputy Assistant Adjudant General (DAAG) of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, Brigade Major of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, DAAG of the 1st Canadian Corps. In 1943, he became Assistant Adjudant and Quartermaster-General (AA&QMG) of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He participated in the planning of the logistics for the Division’s operations in Normandy where he landed on June 6, 1944. He was mentioned in despatches and received the MBE.
Throughout the Division’s campaign in Western Europe from June to December 1944,l/col Côté was its principal logistics officer. In December 1944, he left the Division at Nijmegen (Holland) to return to Canada after having been overseas 5 years. At the beginning of 1945, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and appointed Assistant Vice-Adjudant General at NDHQ. Colonel Côté left the Armed Forces in July 1945 to become Second Secretary in the Department of External Affairs.
In June 1945 he married Madeleine Frémont of Québec City. They have four children: Michel Frémont-Côté, Benoît, Denyse and Lucie.
As an advisor to the Canadian Delegation, he participated in the first meetings for the United Nations’ General Assembly in London, New York and Paris. He also participated in drafting the charter of the World Health Organisation. In 1948-49, he attended the Imperial Defence College of London, and thereafter became legal advisor to the Canadian High Commissioner in London.
In 1952 he became Head of the Department’s American Division in Ottawa and also the legal advisor to the Canadian Section of the International Joint Commission. In 1955 he was transferred as an Assistant Deputy Minister to the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources. In 1963, he became Deputy Minister of that Department. In 1968, he was appointed Deputy Minister of Veteran’s Affairs. He later became Deputy Solicitor General of Canada, an office he held from 1968 to 1972 when he was appointed Canada’s Ambassador to Finland (1972-1975). He was a Governor of the University of Ottawa (1968-1972), and also a Regent of the University of Sudbury. He retired from the Public Service in 1975.
From 1964 to 1973 and from 1977 to 1988 he was one of the Directors of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. He became one of its Governors, one of its Vice-Presidents and its Secretary during different times between 1988 and June 2000. For many years he was also a member and President of the Board of Directors of the Ottawa Public Library. He is a member of the Canadian Foundation for the Battle of Normandy and also an Honorary Member of l’Association de l’Hôpital Montfort.
On June 6 2004, the French Ambassador to Canada gave him the insignia of la Légion d’Honneur in recognition of his military service seventy years earlier during the landing of the 3rd Canadian Division in Normandy for the liberation of France from the Nazi bondage.
Ernest Côté died on February 25, 2015.