What’s in the database right now?

Number of schools: 107
Names on memorials: 42,240
Just added:
Birch Cliff Heights Public School
Malvern Collegiate Institute
Parkdale Collegiate Institute

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A Memorial Mystery—Solved.

An enduring mystery at an east end Toronto café is the memorial shown here. Names on a bronze plaque with dates (1914-1918) indicate a tribute to those who died in the Great War. The inscription reads:

Our comrades / Who / Sixty-three in all / “Played the game” / Even unto death

Who were these comrades? Most such plaques name a school, a church, a business, a regiment—or in some way tell what group is remembered. The café owners don’t know the plaque’s history. Was this even a Toronto group?

Aura Lee Club war memorial plaque

The memorial that gave few clues to its origin

We started our search with the less common names. Library and Archives Canada’s digitized World War I attestation papers give addresses of enlisted persons or their next-of-kin.

Familiar addresses popped up: Huron Street, Summerhill Avenue; St. George Street; Sussex Avenue; Brunswick Avenue; Walmer Road, and so on. All pointed to “Old Toronto.”

Religious denominations varied (Attestation Papers, p.1 or p.2): Church of England; Presbyterian; Methodist. Not a church memorial.

Occupations also varied (Attestation Papers, p.1): chauffeur; bank clerk; student; furrier; draughtsman; chemist, and others. Not the memorial of a business.

Pre-war military experience (Attestation Papers, p.1) mentioned Queen’s Own Rifles; 48th Highlanders; The Governor General’s Body Guard. Again, not one cohesive group.

Our own “For King and Country” database revealed former students of North Toronto Collegiate Institute; public schools such as Rosedale, Dewson, and Winchester; more than seven for University of Toronto Schools (UTS)—one of our schools-in-progress—but not one specific school that had perhaps misplaced a memorial.

Toronto Star article about the Aura Lee Club

The news item that named the club—Toronto Daily Star, Jan 16, 1915.

Not a church; school; business; military group. What was left? Perhaps a social or fraternal club—probably with emphasis on sports. The “comrades” had “played the game” even unto death.

Sifting through (ProQuest) digitized Toronto newspapers—available online through many Ontario public libraries—was slow, but productive. Our search term “Herbert Klotz” (a name from the memorial) brought up a headline: 16 Aura Lee Men for the Empire. In the article about club members going off to war were three other names from the plaque: Percival Gibson; Richard L. Lyall; Bertram T. Nevitt.

Our new search term, “Aura Lee Club,” found the November 1917 death notice of Gunner G.A. Renfrew, also named on the plaque—and confirmed his club membership.

The Aura Lee Club, three acres of land around Avenue Road and Roxborough Street West—with a branch in North Toronto—had a whirl of social and sports activities: dances; tennis; canoe trips. Founder and long-time president, James Edmund Jones, had dedicated his book: Camping and canoeing: what to take, how to travel, how to cook, where to go “to my comrades of Aura Lee Camp.” City groups used the grounds for rugby and skating.

Aura Lee’s junior and senior hockey teams in the Ontario Hockey Association (O.H.A.) played many games at Arena Gardens (also known as the Mutual Street Arena)—between Dundas and Shuter streets—from 1916 to 1926.

Death notice for George Renfrew

Gunner Renfrew’s death notice mentioned his Aura Lee Club membership.

Seventeen members went on to play in the National Hockey League; four were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Aura Lee Club was founded in 1887. The competitive athletics part of the club began about 1903. In 1925, the property was turned over to the University of Toronto for use by its preparatory school (UTS).

Hockey, canoeing, other sports and social events evoke the lighter side of a Toronto club’s life, but this memorial shows the darker side—naming 63 comrades who went from the playing fields to the battlefields and didn’t come back.

Gordon Applegath Charles McHenry
J. Russell Aikins Roy F. McMurtry
E. Lambert Bach Sidney McWhinney
Roy Bailey George H. Morang
Beverley Ball William Munro
Quintin W. Bannister Bertram T. Nevitt
E.O. Bath G. Courtland Noxon
Fred J. Blakey Donald Osborne
Edward B. Booth Paul Pettit
H. Stewart Boulter John H. Pipon
Wilfred Britnell John A. Proctor
Norman A. Brown William Proudfoot
J.P. Cavers Gaynor Reid
Duncan Chisholm George Renfrew
Walter W. Conyers Roy R. Riggs
Melville Crawford Francis Rolph
Beverley Crowther John E. Ryerson
Lindsay Drummond Alex W. Scott
Douglas Q. Ellis J. Murray Skeaff
George Evans Dr. Harry R. Smith
Thomas Freebairn Langley W. Smith
Eric Clarence Gardner W. Burton Tait
Percival Gibson W. Gordon Tait
Carl Heebner Geoffrey B. Taylor
Fred J. Hore Jack Topp
Francis C. Howard E.C. VanEeghan
Fred Hutty N. Eden Walker
Ralph Jones Frank Waltho
Herbert N. Klotz Arthur C. Williams
Basil R. Lepper Lynn Wright
C. Gordon Likens William B. Yuille
Richard L. Lyall

Stories of Vimy—and Parkdale boys...

W. John Maize, a member of Parkdale CI Alumni Association, and former Head of History at the school, responded to our November 11, 2015 blog post Vimy Cross fragment brought home for a Parkdale boy.

Quietly munching near the Vimy cross...a deer then stands to gaze steadily at a visitor. (Photo courtesy John Maize)

Quietly munching near the Vimy cross… a deer then stands to gaze steadily at a visitor. (Photo courtesy John Maize)

“I was fascinated to see the photo of the Jones family stone and to read your write-up…I went to visit it almost immediately and was moved by the inscription and by the Vimy cross. There are a number of families whose ‘Parkdale’ sons were killed or died as a result of military service buried at Park Lawn, and I took the opportunity to visit several of them as a result of your Jones article.

A story from that day in early December when I visited Park Lawn in search of the Jones grave… I had parked my car at the office, received general directions to the area of the grave and was wandering slowly, reading stones. A sudden movement attracted my attention near the Jones gravesite—and I spotted a large male white-tailed deer lying behind two stones, munching on greenery. I was stunned, with Bloor Street nearby…he stood and continued grazing…I watched him and he me for five minutes or so before I broke away to find the stone. I didn’t see him again, but it was an incredible experience, and a strong connection to life in amongst the dead.”

Mr. Maize, who was on the Parkdale staff from 1979 to 2013, continues to work in the school’s Nellie Spence Archive Room, and added, “Many thanks for the info that the Parkdale CI war memorials were up on the website. It is an excellent contribution to the project. I have included an article on the war memorials which I wrote shortly before Remembrance Day this year—there are so many new Parkdale staff that I wanted them to understand a bit more about the school’s heritage and past.”

George Rathbone

George Rathbone’s parents searched in vain for their son’s remains. He was shot down near Vimy by the “Red Baron.”

The following is an excerpt from Mr. Maize’s article:

“In her memoir on the Parkdale boys in World War I, Their Name Liveth, Nellie Spence documents a number of families where one parent or the other was never able to recover from the shock of their loved-one’s death, and who passed away shortly thereafter. Some families travelled to Europe to try to find word of their boy and the location of his remains.

In 1921, Mr. and Mrs. George Rathbone travelled to the area around Vimy to try to find information concerning their son, Lieutenant George Rathbone, reported missing in April 1917 while doing artillery observation work over German lines with the Royal Flying Corps – he and his pilot had been reported shot down by the German “ace” Manfred von Richtofen.

The Rathbones were unable to find the last resting place of their son, but did find the grave of former Parkdalian Harry Saxon Pell, another pilot who had been declared missing two weeks before Rathbone. His remains were located in a German cemetery near Vimy. His body was retrieved and reburied in a British cemetery shortly thereafter.

The Pell family, at least, had a measure of closure with respect to their son Harry; sadly, their son Will was declared “missing, presumed dead” one year after Harry’s disappearance. Will is commemorated at the Arras Flying Services Memorial, as is his classmate George Rathbone.”

Harry and Willard Pell

Left: Downed flying over Vimy to destroy German observation balloons. Harry Pell’s grave in a German cemetery was discovered by George Rathbone’s parents. He was reburied in a Commonwealth War Grave. Right: Last seen battling four German planes, Willard Pell was reported missing a year after his brother’s death. No known grave.

A “Vanished” School Reappears

Back in March, we wrote about three “vanished” schools and invited contributions of photos or reminiscences. Thanks to two blog readers, we add a few details to the story of Grand Avenue School, in Humber Bay, Etobicoke.

Kjell Nordenson, shown here with his father and sister, enjoyed Grand Avenue School days.

Kjell Nordenson, shown here with his father and sister, enjoyed Grand Avenue School days.

Kjell Nordenson attended Grand Avenue School in the 1960s. He didn’t have a photo of the building, but sent a description.

“The building was probably the standard three-storey school building construction of that time—probably about half the size of the General Mercer PS shown on your link. The students’ entrance was through the smaller side door to the south. Parents and visitors would come through the north doors. Believe there were at least four classrooms on each floor. On the main floor, this would also have included the “office” and the principal’s office plus sub-divided areas such as the nurse’s room. There were stairs on each end of the building and a full basement where kindergarten, washrooms, and the janitor rooms were located. An auditorium was added on the west side in the early 60s. Directly west of the school was York Litho Ltd. where I worked for a number of years. In winter, there was a skating rink.”



Wendy Gamble lives on Seventh Street, New Toronto, in the house her maternal grandparents moved into in 1917. She has sent us additional information about Grand Avenue School, Humber Bay, New Toronto, and family connections to both World Wars. In 2014, the Etobicoke Historical Society gave Wendy the Jean Hibbert Memorial Award for her long commitment to local history.

Sailor in uniform in front of house

Ross Gamble of the Royal Canadian Navy ready for WWII

“My dad and two uncles were in the navy in World War II. My dad, John Ross Gamble, was born in 1917. He lived at 9 Afton Avenue, Humber Bay until he was nine years old, so he went to Grand Avenue School for a few years. His house was on what became the lawn of Christie’s Bakery (Park Lawn and Lakeshore). He was named after a next-door neighbour, John Ross Pollard, a Great War motorcycle driver who died at Vimy.

I have a story about my grandmother’s brother coming to visit during WWI. My grandfather, Jack Wylie, whose eyesight kept him from serving, met his brother-in-law, John Kelusky, at the train station. Heading home, they got as far as Sunnyside, where the rail car service stopped for the night. My grandfather and my great uncle walked from Sunnyside all the way to New Toronto along the old Lakeshore road. The road was not lighted, so they struck matches along the way to get their bearings.

That great uncle, John Kelusky, and his brother William, were both in the army. They looked after ambulance horses. John was gassed, and although he made it back to Canada, died of lung disease (caused by the gas) in 1918. He is buried in Maynooth, Hastings County, near the family farm, and is named on the war memorial in Bancroft.”

As a young couple, Jack and Etta (Kelusky) Wylie welcomed Etta's brother for one last visit.

As a young couple, Jack and Etta (Kelusky) Wylie welcomed Etta’s brother for one last visit.


John Kelusky walked by match light five miles or more to see family before going off to the Great War.