WHERE OLD SOLDIERS GO TO REMEMBER

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In 1942, with the war in Europe raging, my father, big for his age but only 17, chafed to enlist. The Canadian Navy was where the strapping lad set his sights. He headed to the local recruitment office to sign up.
He might have slipped through, other under-agers did. But my grandmother, no slouch in the knowing-what-was-going-on- under-her-nose department, got wind of the plan. Steam escaping liberally from her ears, she marched into the office, produced her boy’s birth certificate and dragged him home.
The very day of his 18th birthday, Dad was first in line when the doors of the recruitment office opened. This time he was legally off to war.

He left the next day for Wolseley Barracks, in nearby London, Ontario. There he’d learn to march and shoot and gain the strength to kill, if need be. This was Basic Training.

Fifty years later, he recalls the routine he followed, over the next months:
We were given a rifle and taught to shoot it. We also learned to march and were taken on 20-mile route marches over the countryside. But it wasn’t just physical fitness we needed to practice. It was mental discipline too. And not just obeying our officers. Our cots had to be clean and tidy or we were punished.
Training for combat didn’t happen overnight. Almost 19 months after he entered Basic Training, my father left Canadian Forces Base Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, bound for England. There he would meet his ship, the Canadian minesweeper Caraquet.
His role in the war would be as a coder, relaying and receiving Morse code messages. Over the next seven months, until German surrender in early June 1945, the Caraquet would ply the coast of northern Africa and Europe searching for German mines.

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Almost 70 years after young men like my father headed off to help save the world, Wolseley Barracks still stands.
With the British military withdrawal from Canada in 1871, the government of Canada would construct barracks across the country to train and house its own officers.
Built over 1886 to 1888, Wolseley Barracks in London formed Company “D” of the Infantry School Corps of the Royal Canadian Regiment. Other military training centres were located in Toronto, St. Jean, Quebec; and Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Only officers would train and be stationed at these facilities. Enlisted rank-and-file soldiers, farm boys and labourers received scant training, save for a rifle in their hand.
Designed in a U-shape around a parade and drill ground, Wolseley was “state of the art” for the day. Its residential quarters, offices, classrooms, mess quarters (dining room and kitchen), and library and were the essence of modernity and convenience.

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“It’s quite beautiful,” I comment to Jane Morphew as we stroll the sprawling Wolseley grounds. Jane is Co-coordinator of Visitor Services and Education at the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum. The Museum is the only building of the Wolseley complex which is open to the public today. She agrees it is a “treasure.” Indeed, architecture was an important factor in Wolseley Barrack’s designation as a National Historic Site in 1963.

Designed in the Italianate style, these heritage buildings are surprisingly elegant. Only the presence of World War II vintage tanks, jeeps and armoured cars give its former purpose away.
Tag along with us, as we walk around the grounds. Let’s start at Wolseley Hall. This is where the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum is housed.

Now look up—way up. The roofscape must rank among the most outstanding among public buildings in Ontario.
Covered with fish-scale slate tiles, the roofline is an eclectic combination of steeply pitched gabled design, side-by-side mansard (flat) roof and iron cresting. An imposing tower creates a medieval effect.
Massive corbelled (stacked) chimneys and intricately carved finials reach toward heaven.
Wolseley windows are equally intriguing. They’re a varied lot of circular, square and rectangulars and lend eclecticism to the effect.

Near the roof-line, oriel (small, round) windows are encircled with red brick. Against the dominant yellow brick façade, they appear as curious bulls’-eyes.
Below the oriels are a series of triple tall, very narrow “arrow-hole” windows. Were these placed with design, or fortification in mind? One can almost imagine military protectors behind them, rifles in hand, surveying the landscape for attack.

There’s more window serendipity. Contrasting red-brick in a half-circle pattern perches above rectangular windows. Within the half circle is an intricate pattern of raised brickwork called “stringed courses.”
Windows in themselves are worth a Wolseley visit.
With much more to discover, I’ll leave the rest of the architectural sleuthing to you. Let’s go inside to see the Museum. Feel free to wander on your own, but Wolseley guides—retired Regiment men—are happy to give you a tour.

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An extensive number of displays tell the story of Canada’s military history from the Northwest (Riel) Rebellion of 1885 to modern day Canadian military presence in world trouble spots.
They include military uniforms and helmets; medals, silverware, weapons and various pictorial images. A large collection of military documents are held in Museum archives.
One wall is devoted to military badges and medals, including the highest Canadian honours, the Victoria Cross and the Star of Military Valour.

Prior to 1993, 94 Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadians for military valour. Since that time no V.C’s have been invested.

My guide informs me that veterans and their families often will medals and military memorabilia to the Museum on their passing.

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My Dad returned from Europe in early August 1945. Apparently the taste of war had been purged from his system. Dad declined the invitation to set sail for the Pacific in the war against Japan.
His first act after setting his feet on Canadian soil at Canadian Forces Base, Cornwallis Nova Scotia was to call his sweetheart, Audrey.

“I’ll be home in a couple of weeks,” he told her. “Can you get a wedding planned by then?”
Norm and Audrey were married at the bride’s home on August 25, 1945. The dashing groom proudly wore his navy uniform.

Wolseley Barracks and
The Royal Canadian Regiment
701 Oxford Street East
London, Ontario
N5Y 4T7
519-660-5275
rcrcurator@rogers.com

FAREWELL TO THE DONNELLYS AND PEG-LEG BROWN

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    Farewell to the Donnellys and Peg-Leg Brown

    It’s the crenellations you notice first. It’s those characteristic castle battlements peeking over the trees in the midst of an urban 21st century cityscape….

    But this is no faux castle-amusement park attraction, but the real thing: the early 19th century Middlesex County Courthouse. Built in 1827 when the future province was little more than a wilderness, the Gothic structure stands in good health today, as London’s most famous landmark.

    And what stories it has to tell….

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    It’s 1798—and the Parliament of Upper Canada has created the District of London. They place the centre of government in Vittoria (today nothing more than blink-and-it’s gone-settlement south of the town of Simcoe.)

    But as settlers continue to arrive and were drawn to the fertile lands around the Thames River where the town of London was sprouting braches, Vittoria was abandoned and the County Seat moved there. What was Vittoria’s eternal loss was London’s gain.

    And as befitting such an honour, a fine Country Court House would be constructed. None other than the esteemed Toronto architect John Ewart, who’d also envisioned Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, would be the designer.

    No shrinking violet, or fly-beneath-the- radar architect was Ewart. He favoured Scottish Gothic in his designs, including the distinctive up-and-down, crenellated parapets; tall, elegant lancet windows; octagonal towers; polygon bay windows; and massive wooden doors.

    Positioning the building on top of a hill completed the wow! statement.  

    A more modest gaol was constructed on the back of the Courthouse to make quick work of sentencing and housing the ne’er-do-wells of the day.  

    And rapscallions they were.

    The most notorious involved the outlaw Black Donnellys. In 1880, the Lucan neighbours of James Donnelly, who’d just been freed from a seven year lock-up in the Kingston Penitentiary for the murder of Patrick Ferrell, gave him a rousing homecoming.  

    Before the prodigal James had time to wash out his socks, the mob-neighbours murdered him, his wife, and two sons. Ringleaders who’d orchestrated the Donnelly murders were later tried in the Middlesex County Court House. Both of the trials were dismissed.

    The legend of the Donnelly faded into Ontario history.

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    A less notorious case, but less compelling involves one Marion “Peg-Leg” Brown. A murderous Texan with a missing leg and a scar over one eye, he’d flown his Texan coop and landed in Ontario. A warrant was out for his arrest.

    In London, he’d been recognized, thanks to his distinctive peg-leg footprint, and a member of the Constabulary apprehended him. The policeman promptly met his maker, thanks to a Peg-Leg and a gunshot to head.

    The search for the murdering American was on across the country. Citizens came forward regularly with sightings of various Peg-Legged men. In total 15 peg-leggers were apprehended on suspicion of murder—and released.

    As time passed, the hunt for the real Peg-Leg Brown became an embarrassment for London Police Force.

    Eventually, the varmint was apprehended, selling liquor to Indians in his native U.S. He was brought to the Middlesex County Court House for trial. Peg-Leg Brown’s trial was a cause celebre, with over 300 spectators crowding into the Courthouse. Evidence showed that he’d killed at least 5 other men while on the lam.  

    In the end Marion “Peg-Leg” Brown was convicted of murder. As he was led away to the gallows, he prophesied: “Another innocent man has been convicted. The fact that no grass shall form on my grave shall prove my innocence.”

    At this pronouncement, a lightning bolt struck the courthouse.

    History has proved Peg-Leg’s prediction true. In 1985, his unmarked grave was dug up from under the tarmac of the Middlesex County House parking lot. It had been graveled for years. Peg-Leg’s ghost is said to haunt the halls and passageway of the building too. Especially on the anniversary of his sentencing. May 11, 1899.  

    As always, fact is stranger than fiction.  

     

DR. FRED’S INSOMNIA

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At Banting House in London, Ontario, there’s a map of the world on the wall. Hundreds of push pins with brightly coloured tops are stuck into various countries of the world.

“These are the countries our visitors come from,” says Grant Maltman, Curator of Banting House. The National Historic Site honours the memory of Dr. Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of insulin.

The biggest cluster of pins covers the map of Canada. It’s followed by the U.S and The United Kingdom. But the pins show visitors from the nations of Africa, the Middle East, South America, the Far East and Australia.

Many of the visitors are diabetics, says Grant, come to pay homage to the great man who saved their lives, and of others who went before them.

As visitors walk through the museum–once the home and medical office of Dr. Banting, they enter his small bedroom and immediately head for the bed. Some touch it reverently; others sit on it. For many, the experience brings tears to their eyes.

 “People who come to visit us, especially those with diabetes just feel a need to sit on the bed, to have that connection to Dr. Banting,” says Grant Maltman.

With no diabetes in my family, or friends, I still followed this ritual. And I was moved. Dr. Frederick Banting is my hero.

 

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For this was the very bed where Dr. Banting, an insomniac, worried about his unsuccessful medical practice and consumed by a burning desire to find the cure for the ravages of diabetes, had a blinding epiphany.

It was here in the dead of one sleepless night, pouring over his medical textbooks in bed, he unlocked the insulin secret, hitherto undiscovered.    

Visitors to Banting House can read Banting’s hand-written diary entry of October 31, 1920 that describes what transpired on that fateful night.

It was one of those nights when I was disturbed and could not sleep…Finally about two in the morning, the idea came to me…I got up and wrote down the idea and spent most of the night thinking about it.  

Banting’s idea was that extracting insulin from a dog’s pancreas might be useful in treating human diabetes. He scribbled down a 24 word formula and made plans to share it with the medical world.  

Photos and letters on the walls of Banting House tell other stories. A child, no more than five or six, little frame wasted, his face pinched and drawn stands before the camera. Diabetes has ravaged his body and taken away his boyish spirit.

A second image shows the child again. Robust, smiling and spirited, he rides his tricycle and looks confidently at the world.

Between the two photos is a letter from the boy to Dr. Banting.

Dear Dr. Banting:

I wish you could come to see me. I am a fat boy now and I can climb a tree. Margaret would like to see you.

Lots of love from

Teddy Ryder

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A stroll through Banting House will show you the examining room where the treated his patients. But there were so few of them. One week he counted one–a World War 1 veteran looking for alcohol.  

His medical tools—tweezers, needles, forceps and stethoscope–are there too. So seldom were they used, that the good doctor bought himself some oil paints, a few brushes and canvass to fill the long hours waiting for patients to come. His failure drove him to despair—and into debt.

Then one memorable night, the insulin epiphany came—and Dr. Fred Banting’s life irrevocably changed. So did the world’s…

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Many visitors to Banting House are surprised when they enter a second floor room to see an art gallery. The art displayed is Dr. Frederick Banting’s.

After Banting closed his London practice and moved to Toronto, he took up the hobby in earnest, rubbing shoulders with the Group of Seven. Group founder A.Y. Jackson became Banting’s friend and mentor. A photo of friends Alex and Fred draws many comments from visitors.

Dr. Frederick Banting’s War Medals, his Knighthood which made this shy country doctor from Allison, Ontario a “Sir,” and a replica of his Nobel Prize for Medicine are also on display.

Outside Banting House an eternal flame burns. It was lit by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother when she visited London in 1989. The flame burns as a reminder that insulin is only a treatment, not a cure for diabetes. When a cure if found, the flame will be extinguished.

Banting House was designated a National Historic Site in 1997.

442 Adelaide Street N

London,  

Telephone: (519) 673-1752

E-mail: banting@diabetes.ca