Torontonians of diverse backgrounds and experiences contributed to war efforts in the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, Afghanistan and in Peacekeeping missions. These contributions took various forms and for many, included facing systemic barriers. While some served overseas at the front, others were engaged on the home front training pilots, working on statistics to support wartime planning and management, and in munitions factories, among many other contributions. Here are some of their stories.
Lieutenant in the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion who served in France
Died: April 24, 1915 at the 2nd Battle of Ypres at age 28
Cameron Daniel Brant (1887-1915), was a member of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and was one of the first enlistees soon after war was declared in 1914. Commissioned a Lieutenant, Brant sailed for England in October 1914, completed training at Salisbury Plain, and was shortly after sent to France. A capable soldier and confident leader, Lt. Brant was killed leading his men in a counter attack at the 2nd Battle of Ypres on April 24, 1915.
To commemorate Brant’s service, a plaque was erected in the New Credit United Church and his name was etched on the New Credit Veterans Memorial. In 2014, the Mississaugas of the Credit Public Library received a call from the Picton Town Library with the offer of a book once owned by Cameron Brant. It was a book of poetry titled Songs of a Sourdough by Robert Service.
The inscription inside the book revealed Brant’s signature and proved it had once belonged to Brant. It was a precious addition to their collection. To learn more about this story, please see this video created by the City of Toronto Historic Sites: A Poetry Book Comes Home
Story courtesy of the Mississaugas of the Credit Public Library.
Served as a dispatch carrier with the 107th Pioneer Battalion in France
Tom was a champion long-distance runner who lived and trained in Toronto during his athletic career. He was a very accomplished athlete, winning the Boston Marathon in 1907, Toronto Ward’s Island Marathon from 1906-09, and the 1909 World Professional Marathon Championships, in New York City.
On February 17th, 1916, at the age of 29, Longboat enlisted in the Armed Forces. He served as a dispatch carrier with the 107th Pioneer Battalion, where he ran messages and orders between units. He continued to run competitively while in the Army. In 1918, he won the eight-mile race at the Canadian Corps Dominion Day competitions.
He was injured twice while in service, but survived the war and returned to Canada in 1919. After returning to Canada, he lived and worked in Toronto until eventually retiring to his home community of Six Nations where he died in 1949.
Private in 78th Canadian Infantry Battalion (the Winnipeg Grenadiers). Served in France.
Died: March 15, 1954 at age 70 in Toronto.
Ethelbert ‘Curley’ Christian enlisted in the Canadian Army during the First World War at the age of 32. He served in France and fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where he was injured by artillery fire that buried him in a trench. Christian was trapped in the trench for two days and all four of his limbs were crushed by debris.
While being carried from the battlefield, Christian again survived enemy fire when two of his stretcher bearers were killed. He developed gangrene and both arms and legs had to be amputated. He was discharged on September 3, 1918 at age 36 and moved back to Toronto where he underwent rehabilitation at Euclid Hall on Jarvis Street.
Ethelbert was well known for his advocacy for veterans. While he was in rehabilitation, Christian, along with his wife and the hospital director, appealed to the government and won an allowance for full-time caregivers of veterans who were wounded during the war.
He died in Toronto on March 15, 1954, at age 70 and is buried at Prospect Cemetery.
Served as a Private in the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion in France
Died: 1919 in Kitchener, Ontario at age 25
Buckam Singh immigrated to British Columbia in 1907 at the age of 14, eventually moving to Toronto in 1912. During this time, South Asian immigrants faced many barriers including a requirement that all immigration to Canada was to occur through a continuous journey from their country of origin. This was at a time when there were no direct ships from India to Canada. In addition, Sikh men were not allowed to immigrate with their families.
Despite these deterrents, Singh enlisted to fight in the First World War in 1915 at age 22, in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He became the first Sikh man to enlist in the Canadian Army during the First World War. He was posted in France and served with 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion in Flanders. Singh was wounded twice in separate battles. While recovering in England, he contracted tuberculosis and was sent to Canada to recover. He spent his final days in a Kitchener, Ontario military hospital, dying in 1919 at age 25. His burial place is the only known WWI Sikh Canadian soldier’s military grave in Canada.
Served in the 18th Battalion from Western Ontario, in France during the First World War and in the Veterans Guard of Canada in Toronto during the Second World War.
Mathew Solomon Mandawoub was born on the Saugeen First Nation on October 26, 1896. On March 28, 1918, he joined the 18th Battalion from Western Ontario and served in France. On August 1918, Mathew’s Battalion was part of the 100 Days Offensive, the push to move the Germans out of France and end the war. During battle, he was shot above the elbow on his left arm. He was taken to a General Hospital near the English Channel and had surgery to remove the bullet. He remained in hospital until November 29 and was discharged on January 13, 1919, in London, Ontario.
Mathew returned to the Saugeen First Nation and married Laura James. They raised a family of nine children. In 1940, Mathew joined the Veterans Guard of Canada made up of First World War veterans who supported the war effort on the home front. Mathew was assigned to guard a Prisoner of War camp in Mimico.
Mathew did not report for one of his shifts and was identified as “absent without leave”. Five days later, the body of a soldier was found in the Keating Cut, off Villiers St. near Cherry Beach, in Toronto. The commanding officer identified the body as belonging to Mathew Solomon, aged 45.
He was awarded a military cross and his personal effects were sent to his wife. His remains were delivered to Southampton and he was buried in the Saugeen Village Cemetery.
From a story researched and written by G. William Streeter
Private in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. Served in Dieppe, France
Died: August 19, 1942 in Dieppe, France at age 25
Private Maxwell Jacob King was the son of Mr. Frank L. King, who served as a long-time Chief Councillor of the Mississaugas of the Credit.
Thirty-two band members from the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation enlisted, with five of them paying the ultimate price in the Second World War.
While overseas, Maxwell King wrote an article for the January 2, 1942 issue of “The Pine Tree Chief”, which provides some clues as to his motivation for service:
“Eight months ago today, about 10 a.m., a train loaded with Canadian soldiers pulled into Aldershot [England] and unloaded a battalion of wide-eyed cheering men. We had answered the call of adventure in our hearts and here we were with the first contingent of the second division. Up until this time war had meant glory to us. It was a grand feeling to walk down the streets in our nice new uniform. It gave us an aggressiveness which we had not known before. We had heard lots of stories of the good times of those other soldiers (God bless them) who were youngsters like us twenty-five years ago. England was far away and we thought the war would be over before we got here anyway. While at Camp Borden we heard rumors that we were to guard Canadian shores. On out last leave we laughed and said good-by to our families. We were sure we would be home again in three or four months. We were overjoyed when they told us we were coming to England. We would see many sights we had heard about so many times before.”
Seven months after his article was published, Private Maxwell was killed in the ill-fated raid on Dieppe on August 19, 1942, leaving behind his mother, widow, and young son Maxwell.
Story courtesy of the Mississaugas of the Credit Public Library.
Served as a Major in the Second Battalion of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada in France
Ben Dunkelman was born to David and Rose Dunkelman, Polish-Jewish immigrants who founded Tip Top Tailors. When the Second World War began, Dunkelman attempted to enlist in the Royal Canadian Navy. Due to antisemitism he experienced there, he instead joined the 2nd Battalion of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.
Dunkelman served on D-Day, in the second wave at Normandy, on June 6, 1944. He also fought in campaigns in northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. For his service, Dunkelman earned numerous commendations and the Distinguished Service Order for his service in the Hochwold campaign. After the war, he joined other Jewish veterans in fighting in the first Arab-Israeli war.
When Ben returned to civilian life in Toronto, he worked as an entrepreneur, art gallery owner, restauranteur, and co-founder of the Toronto Island Yacht Club.
He died in 1997.
Trained Royal Canadian Air Force pilots
During his youth, Robert Wong was fascinated by flight. He built a small airplane based on drawings from a Popular Mechanics Magazine, with his brother, Tommy. In 1937, their plane, Sky Scout, flew its first flight.
During the Second World War, Robert worked as a civilian on contract with the federal government to train pilots. He was based at Windsor Airport, training pilots in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan on their maneuvers, landings, and on how to read instruments and navigate cross country.
Despite their extensive knowledge of flying, Robert and Tommy were not allowed to serve in the Air Force, due to discrimination against Chinese Canadians. As the war went on, the rules were changed. Tommy became a Royal Canadian Air Force Warrant Officer.
After the war, Robert settled in East York and Tommy in Etobicoke, where they continued to train pilots. They opened Wong’s Air School in 1945 at Barker Airport, located at Dufferin and Lawrence. A fire destroyed their hanger and they eventually took a lease at the Toronto Island Airport, where they opened Central Airways. It offered lessons, charters, and sales of new and used planes.
Robert died in 1987.
Worked in the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in Ottawa to support the war effort
During the Second World War, Kay Livingstone moved to Ottawa to work as a secretary in the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, supporting the war effort. She married George Livingstone, a Corporal in the Canadian Army, during the war. She moved to Toronto after the war, where she had a career in radio and the performing arts.
She was a prominent member of the Toronto Black community, founding the Canadian Negro Women’s Association in 1951. It was dedicated to community service including providing wheelchairs for injured Black soldiers.
Kay served as the first president of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association from 1951-1953 and organized the first National Black Women’s Congress in 1973.
Major in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Women’s Division
In 1941, Norda Bennett began an honours program in Philosophy and English at the University of Toronto. She interrupted her studies in 1943 to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Her mother, Sophie Bennett, was also very involved in the war effort, serving as Vice-Chair of the Women’s War Efforts Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
The RCAF allowed women to join through the creation of the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force that later became the RCAF Women’s Division (WD). Prior to this time, women were only allowed to fill the role of Nursing Sisters in the RCAF Medical Service. In the Women’s Division, they were permitted to fill support jobs. In 1946, the RCAF WD was disbanded and women were permitted to join the RCAF in 1951.
After Bennett was discharged in 1944, she resumed her studies at the University of Toronto where she was a reporter for the Varsity News and participated in the Player’s Guild.
During the Second World War, the GECO (General Engineering Company) munitions plant, located in Scarborough, was a key part of the war effort. The plant was built in 1941 and employed 5,400 people, of which 3,400 were women. The plant closed after the war. But its legacy is memorialized with a mural dedicated to the Bomb Girls on an underpass at Warden and St. Clair East, near Warden Station.
At 20 years of age, Leonard Braithwaite visited a recruitment centre at Bay and Wellington Streets once a month for four months in an effort to enlist, but was rejected every time by recruiting officers unwilling to accept Black Canadians into the Armed Forces. Leonard was eventually accepted when a new recruiting officer of Ukrainian descent accepted his application. The recruiting officer had shared with Leonard the experiences of Ukrainian and Polish people who had faced also faced discrimination when trying to enlist.
He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Safety Equipment Operator, stationed overseas in England. He served with the No. 6 Bomber Command in Yorkshire, England as an engine mechanic and a safety equipment worker.
After the war, Leonard studied at the University of Toronto, Harvard Business School and Osgoode Hall Law School. Following a legal career he served as a Member of Provincial Parliament representing Etobicoke from 1963 to 1975, the first Black Canadian to be elected to the Ontario Legislature.
Leonard died in March 2012.
Many women worked on the home front doing vital jobs in various industries, such as working in munitions factories and shipbuilding yards.
The John Inglis Company munitions plant in Toronto was awarded a British-Canadian joint contract to produce 12,000 Bren light machine guns and by 1943 was producing 60 per cent of the global output of the guns. The plant also manufactured Browning Hi-Power handguns.
Cecilia Butler, a former night club singer and dancer, worked as a reamer in the small arms section of the plant. A picture of Cecilia at work was widely circulated by the National Film Board of Canada in its attempt to tackle work job discrimination against equity-deserving workers, including people of colour. The caption accompanying her photo, however, stated “Negro girl workers are highly regarded in majority of munition plants and display exceptional aptitude for work of precision nature.” This only perpetuated stereotypes and discrimination faced by people of colour, despite their contributions to the war effort.
The General Engineering Company (CECO) located in rural Scarborough produced military weapons, ammunition, equipment and stores. It hired women to work on heavy machinery, as well as handle gunpowder and explosives, including pouring TNT into shells. Operating 24 hours a day, six days a week from 1942 to 1945, the plant produced 256 million munitions.
Anne Wilmot Parkin worked in the high explosives area of the plant, filling No. 119 fuses. She worked with tetryl, a highly volatile yellow powder which had the ability to stain skin. The powder turned Anne’s skin and fingernails orange. Anne worked at GECO until the war ended.
Anne moved to Vancouver when she married. She passed away in 2016.
Private and First Nation First Nation Code Talker, Canadian Army during the Second World War
Ernie Edgar, member of the Mississaugas of Scucog Island First Nation, enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1942 at age 20. Racially biased recruitment policies limited Indigenous people from entering the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy until 1943.
That same year, the U.S. and Canadian military began recruiting Indigenous soldiers to use their native languages to disguise Allied communications. Ernie was called upon as an Ojibwe code talker in Europe. Code talkers translated vital information about Allied forces, including orders for troop movement and the identification of supply lines or aircraft that were to carry out bombing runs. Code talkers translated the messages into their Indigenous languages before they were sent to battlefields in Europe, where another code talker translated them back into English and sent them to military commanders.
Indigenous North American languages were used because they were unique and distinct and, in many cases, had never been written down. Although their contributions remained hidden until recently, in part because the code talkers were sworn to secrecy, their service helped protect the Allies and win the war. Indeed, the Allies’ enemies were never able to break the code.
Following his discharge in 1945, Ernie went on to work at General Motors and became Chief of Scugog Island First Nation.
He died in November, 1987.
Jean Suey Zee Lee enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942, the first and only Chinese-Canadian to be accepted into the RCAF’s Women’s Division during the war, a division of more than 17,000 women. She took her basic training in Toronto and served primarily at the Eastern Air Command RCAF depot in Rockcliffe, Ontario until the end of the war in 1945. Her brothers, Wilson and William Lee, also served in the Canadian military – Wilson with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and William in the Korean War.
During her time in the RCAF, Jean was invited to meet Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1943, and was in the Guard of Honour for China’s then first lady, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, during her visit to Canada in June, 1943.
Jean and two fellow Chinese-Canadian Second World War veterans, Corporal Lila Wong and Private Marion Laura Mah, were among the first Chinese-Canadians to receive their Canadian citizenship certificates under the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1946, which created the new category of Canadian citizenship. Prior to that, Canadians were British subjects. In his speech to the recipients, Chief Justice Farris said, “You have earned your right to a citizenship by the part you played in the armed forces of the World War just over”.
Jean turned 98 years old on October 11, 2021.
Flying Control Operator in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.
Katherine was completing her General Arts degree at Queens University when she decided instead to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force at 20 years old. She was offered different positions including photographer, cook or general office clerk and chose to be a Flying Control Operator.
After training in Halifax, Katherine was stationed ‘overseas’ at the Air Force Base in Gander, Newfoundland which at that time, was not part of Canada. Gander was the largest airport in the world during the war and was the closest refueling station to the UK. Cross-oceanic bound planes flew through Gander.
Katherine’s responsibilities were to communicate with pilots in radio range upon their approach and take-off, and assign runways. Planes were sent in fleets so there was constant contact with pilots from the control tower, with planes often landing every two minutes. If there was a crash, Katherine had to call in the emergency trucks, and crashes were frequent. The American pilots in particular had little flying experience and Gander was a tricky location with a down draft from a nearby lake and a hill that trapped air currents at night.
Fighter Jet Navigator (CF100 and CF101 jets) and member of the 425 AW Squadron in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Cold War
Bill proudly served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he was known as “Shimbo.” He served as a fighter jet navigator from 1956 to 1964 during the Cold War, a rivalry waged on political, economic and propaganda fronts between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and their respective allies. During the early Cold War years, Canada recognized the Air Force as the service that would be Canada’s main line of defense against the Soviet threat. Bill flew the CF100 and CF101, the last Canadian-designed and built fighters manufactured by A.V. Roe Canada (Avro).
Bill flew the CF100 as a member of 425 Squadron, nicknamed the Alouettes, in its role of all-weather fighter interceptor within the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD). The crew maintained their skills in the air-to-air and air-to-ground roles by participating in numerous deployments, in addition to routine training which included NORAD exercises in Canada’s north, contingency exercises, and combined exercises with US Forces.
The Alouette nickname for the 425 Squadron came from the French-Canadian squadron’s use of the lark from a folk song as its emblem. The lark is shown in a hovering position indicative of a bomber over a target, about to strike the enemy. During the Second World War, the Alouettes carried out more than 287 bombing raids.
Bill passed away on May 6, 2021 at the age of 85.
Served as a Corporal in 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, in Afghanistan
Died: April 17, 2002 at age 24, as a result of a friendly-fire incident
Ainsworth Dyer grew up in Toronto and enlisted in 1997. In 2000, he was a member of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who served in peace support efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In 2002, Dyer was deployed to Afghanistan, where he lost his life at the age of 24 in a friendly fire incident. He was buried with full military honours in the Necropolis Cemetery in Toronto. The Royal Canadian Legion named his mother, Mrs. Agatha Dyer, the 2004 National Silver Cross Mother.
The City of Toronto interviewed residents from Carefree Lodge about their families’ experiences in wartime.
Helen Theodoridis shares stories from her uncles’ service in the Second World War:
Gull-Britt Lepa speaks about her childhood in neutral Sweden during the Second World War:
Elizabeth Gillan speaks about her father’s service as a cyclist in the First World War:
City of Toronto D-Day commemorative ceremonies have featured Canadian veterans as guest speakers over the years.
This video highlights speeches our veterans gave in past D-Day commemorations.
We were honoured to listen to the stories of the following D-Day veterans in the past few years:
Martin Maxwell, a Captain in the Glider Pilot Regiment, British 6th Airborne Division and a Veteran of D-Day, enlisted in the British Army in 1942. He was among the first few to land in Normandy the night before D-Day. You can also listen to Capt. Maxwell at The Memory Project.
Seventh-generation soldier, Captain Charles Scot-Brown was 17 years old when he enlisted in the Canadian Army. He received his commission in 1943 when he turned 19. He volunteered with the British Army, and was assigned to the Gordon Highlanders.
Edward Stafford joined the Governor General’s Horse Guards as a trooper on June 30, 1941. He served primarily in the United Kingdom and in Italy, driving a Daimler Dingo: an armoured reconnaissance vehicle.
Honorary Lieutenant-General Richard Rohmer – Royal Canadian Air Force and veteran of D-Day – began his military career in 1936 serving in the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) at Eagle Rock High School in Pasadena, California. Arguably one of Canada’s most decorated citizens, he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a fighter-reconnaissance pilot during 1942-1945.
Jim J. Parks (Joseph James) joined the Army Cadets at the age of 10 in 1934. At 15 years of age, he joined the Winnipeg Rifles. In 1940 he joined the Active Force in the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders. In May 1941, he transferred back as a Rifleman in the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.
Please share additional stories with us by posting online tagging #TorontoRemembers or contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Other Resources and Related Projects
Veterans Affairs Canada: