What’s in the database right now?

Number of schools: 118
Other organizations: 3
Names on memorials: 47,232
Latest additions:
Mimico High School
David Hornell Junior School
New Toronto Soldiers’ Comforts Association
Wesley Mimico United (Methodist) Church

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Memorials Moved but Remembered: Etobicoke’s Lakeshore Communities

Our 2018 fall collection consists of four memorials from three Lakeshore communities of Etobicoke.

The southwest boundary of Etobicoke sits along the north shore of Lake Ontario. A few miles east of “the Lakeshore,” concrete roadways and condo canyons hide the lake, except for occasional glimpses. Mimico, New Toronto, and Long Branch still have traces of their historic reasons for developing along the water.

The 1998 amalgamation of Toronto sometimes blurred, but did not bury, Toronto’s distinctive neighbourhoods. As you walk, drive, or TTC-it through the megacity, traces—often strong—of older communities are visible. If you live in Mimico, you know you are in Mimico. Step onto side streets and you pick up the sense of a settled neighbourhood; architecture that developed gradually over time, rather than being imposed overnight by developers.

Many Mimico Avenue businesses have moved to busier streets.

Thus we are featuring memorial lists from former villages that had a strong sense of self, long before the spreading metropolis of Toronto was even a political dream.

Mimico High School:(896 names)
Although the school closed in 1988, many records not only survive, but are available for online searching. A sincere thank you to Susan Murphy of Parry Sound who indexed Mimico’s Second World War names for us.

David Hornell Junior School: (8 names)
This post-war school was named for Flight- Lieutenant David Hornell, a World War II recipient of the Victoria Cross, and Mimico resident, who attended Mimico High and nearby John English elementary schools.

Wesley Mimico United Church: (226 names)
We do not usually include church memorials, but this church building dating from 1862 is now used as a Montessori school. The congregation is currently (2018) meeting in Mimico Public Library, with a future that seems unsettled. We have not been able to find the current location of the two (WWI and WWII) memorials, but photos were forwarded to Mimico resident and local history buff, Sharon Stewart Kettlewell who indexed them for us.

New Toronto Soldiers’ Comforts Association: (19 names)
New Toronto is the middle Lakeshore municipality, between Mimico on the east and Long Branch of the west. The delightfully-named sponsors of this memorial chose a practical fountain to remember those who died in the Great War. The fountain has moved a number of times. We want to give the names of those who died a permanent home on our website.

Vimy Ridge Parkette recalls 300 or more who served in the Great War.

We have previously indexed the 453 names of Long Branch Continuation School, which closed in 1951. James S. Bell (elementary) school—named for a principal of 21 years— moved into the building, staying until 1966, when it opened in a new—and current—location on Thirty-First Street in Long Branch.

These three Lakeshore communities preserve their past thorough various local history groups and memorials. Mimico’s Memorial Park recalls the Great War. Nearby Vimy Ridge Parkette proudly displays a cenotaph and two bronze honour-roll lists of about 300 names. Local historian Michael Harrison has tracked in great detail the lives of many soldiers of the Great War on these sites we recommend to researchers:


In Flanders Fields the poppies blow— at home and far away

Finding new things to say about “In Flanders Fields” is tricky. Most Canadians can recite a line or two. Many know the whole poem off by heart; maybe pausing to ponder did the poppies “blow” or “grow.” (The answer is “blow” in the first line; “grow” in the last verse.)

On May 3, 1915, John McCrae, soldier and surgeon of the Great War, sat on the back of a field ambulance writing about what he saw around him. It was the Second Battle of Ypres—infamous for the first mass use of poison gas—and other horrors. He had just presided over the battlefield burial of friend and fellow soldier, Alexis Helmer, of Ottawa.

On the University of Toronto’s memorial wall: “In Flanders Fields” is inscribed beneath a symbolic torch—John McCrae (B.A. 1894; M.B. 1898)

The story goes that after finishing his poem, McCrae crumpled it and threw it away. Perhaps, like many writers, he believed he hadn’t got it quite right. His poetry writing began at Guelph Collegiate, and his work had been published in magazines. An accomplished student, at age 16 he was the first graduate from his home town to win a scholarship to the University of Toronto. (The university still has a John McCrae admission scholarship awarded to the Guelph C.I. student with the highest average.)

Thus, Lt.-Col J. McCrae is one of 629 names carved on the University of Toronto’s memorial wall for those who died in the Great War. Nearby on the memorial is the full text of “In Flanders Fields.” Every person on the wall left a legacy. McCrae’s legacy lives on in countless Remembrance Day observances and the school-day memories of many of us.

John McCrae attended University College from 1888 to 1898. He took one year off to return to the cleaner air of Guelph because of asthma, a life- long ailment. He worked as a resident master at Ontario Agricultural College, at the time an associate college of the University of Toronto.

The thrown-away poem, reportedly retrieved by someone who suggested it deserved a wider audience, first appeared in Punch magazine in December 1915. An immediate success, it was reprinted many times —not always accurately—to McCrae’s bemusement. Translations into many languages followed.

Literary types argue there are better poems about the Great War—more thoughtful; more sensitive; deeper in meaning—but “In Flanders Fields” is the most remembered and the most quoted. Plain words of one or two syllables; rhyme; rhythm; three short verses; “the Dead” who speak, all add to its enduring quality.

In present-day Ieper (Ypres) Belgium, visitors enjoying hearty Flemish stew and a local beer at a modest hotel can see on an opposite wall McCrae’s poem reproduced in full. Steps away in the market square stands Flanders Fields Museum. Originally called Ypres Salient Memorial Museum, the 1998 name change shows the power of a simple poem.

In Flanders Fields Museum—on the 2nd floor of Ieper’s historic Cloth Hall, rebuilt after WWI destruction (photo by Martha Jackson)

Local tour groups offer trips to John McCrae’s dressing station. “In Flanders Fields” helped to imprint poppies as a symbol of the Great War. Poppies abound on posters children decorate for the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual contests. Remembrance Day is Poppy Day to many a school child.

McCrae was 41 when he entered the Great War, older than many of his comrades. His life so far had read like a Boy’s Own adventure. After his 1898 graduation from the University of Toronto medical program, he became first resident house-officer at Toronto General Hospital, then went off to South Africa to serve in the Boer War, combining career success—in Quebec and the U.S.A. as well as Ontario—with travel and other challenges. In 1910, as expedition physician, he journeyed by canoe and ice breaker on Governor General Earl Grey’s trip from Lake Winnipeg to York Factory on Hudson Bay.

En route to England for a holiday in August 1914, McCrae cut short his trip when war broke out. He returned to enlist at Valcartier, Quebec, on September 22, 1914. He died in a British hospital in Wimereux, France, of pneumonia and meningitis on January 28, 1918. He was 45 years old. Nursing sisters found poppies for his grave.

Guelph’s famous son is remembered at home and far away from his birthplace cottage, now a museum proudly bearing his name. Toronto is honoured to have played a part in preparation for an outstanding life.

On November 11, 2018, John McCrae’s words remind us that poppies still blow—and grow—one hundred years after the Great War’s end.

A tribute left at the medical station where McCrae worked—his poem copied in English and French (photo by Martha Jackson)

Humberside was home: a neighbour’s tribute to those who died

I think it caught people’s attention, and maybe made them think about Remembrance Day just a little bit longer.
Claire Franceschetti commenting on her Remembrance Day project

Thirty-four simple wooden crosses honour some of the Humberside students who died in the World Wars.

They had lived down the street, around the corner, or maybe right next door. They were young Humbersiders who went off to two World Wars and didn’t come back. The local newspapers reported the losses—always mentioning their old school. Parents, loved ones, and friends absorbed the grief. Humberside Collegiate listed their names on memorials which still hang proudly in the entranceway.

The world moved on.

In 2017, living happily in the Humberside neighbourhood, but moved by the uneasy political climate of our times, Claire Franceschetti decided on a personal tribute to the young people who had fought and died. As a mother of three, aware that it is the young who go to war, Claire wanted to remind us of the freedom Canadians take for granted.

Within this binder—clippings with home addresses, parents’ names, mentions of school—poignant reminders of close neighbourhood connection.

Claire’s grandfather, James Madden, had been at Dunkirk with the British army in 1940. Her father knew some of the family stories of that time. There were many reasons for remembrance.

In Claire’s words, this is how the project evolved,

“I went to my local Home Depot where a helpful lumber clerk named Peter cut the scrap wood to appropriate lengths. With the “help” of my 10-year-old son, I painted the lumber, and then assembled the crosses, and attached a red poppy to each one…

… I went to Humberside Collegiate Institute and took pictures of the WWI and WWII memorial plaques with the HCI student names. From there, I used the Canadian Virtual War Memorial online search tool to find the soldiers’ details.

Where possible, I noted the soldiers’ home addresses… when I found that some of these soldiers lived right around the corner from me… it occurred to me that it would be really striking to include their home addresses (on the crosses) where possible.

Many of the names from the plaque did not lead to info on the Virtual War Memorial site, so I tried to pull the names that had some info. My selection of names was random. I printed off the details that I found, and included them in a binder for interested passersby to read.

The Little Free Library holds a binder of information about the students

The binder was housed in the Little Free Library that I had previously installed on my corner lot.

Finally, the installation took place on a sunny afternoon one week before Remembrance Day. My dad was happy to help me do this. In total, 34 crosses were installed. All in all, it was a good project.”

Groups of teacher-led students, mums with strollers, homeward-bound workers, and seniors with walkers were among the many who stopped to look at the memorial during For King and Country’s visit.

Thank you to Claire and her family for this one-of-a-kind tribute.