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?
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.
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.
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.
|NAMES FROM THE AURA LEE CLUB PLAQUE
|J. Russell Aikins
||Roy F. McMurtry
|E. Lambert Bach
||George H. Morang
|Quintin W. Bannister
||Bertram T. Nevitt
||G. Courtland Noxon
|Fred J. Blakey
|Edward B. Booth
|H. Stewart Boulter
||John H. Pipon
||John A. Proctor
|Norman A. Brown
|Walter W. Conyers
||Roy R. Riggs
||John E. Ryerson
||Alex W. Scott
|Douglas Q. Ellis
||J. Murray Skeaff
||Dr. Harry R. Smith
||Langley W. Smith
|Eric Clarence Gardner
||W. Burton Tait
||W. Gordon Tait
||Geoffrey B. Taylor
|Fred J. Hore
|Francis C. Howard
||N. Eden Walker
|Herbert N. Klotz
||Arthur C. Williams
|Basil R. Lepper
|C. Gordon Likens
||William B. Yuille
|Richard L. Lyall