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Names on memorials: 47,679
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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.


NAMES FROM THE AURA LEE CLUB PLAQUE
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

13 comments to A Memorial Mystery—Solved.

  • Janet Lee Evans

    This article does not credit Sandy McNamara who has done a lot of work to determine the origin of this plaque. Are you aware she has been researching it?

  • Jane

    Hi Janet. Yes, we’ve been in touch with Sandy.

  • Sandra McNamara

    Janet Lee Evans, thank you for mentioning my work. I have continued to research and have made contact with descendants of the men named on the plaque worldwide, many even before above article was posted. Considering only a couple of the men were married, that is quite an accomplishment, I think.
    Sandra McNamara UE

  • Thanks for looking into the references to Aura Lee and the valiant men who died in WWI.

    In researching a new book by Maria Popova called ‘Figuring’ which I am producing in the U.K. as an audiobook, I came across references to Aurora Leigh, the poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Do you think there is any connection between the name of the Aura Lee Club (and the sports field where we at UTS trained for football games in the 1950’s) was in any way a shortening of the Browning poem?

    Best,

    G.H.

  • Martha Jackson

    Hello Garrick,

    I recall that there is a definite connection between the Aura Lee Club and the UTS playing field, but will have to look for paragraph(s) that will confirm this, and send you the ref.

    Will let you know asap. Please let me know if you have a deadline.

    Did not consider a possible shortening of a Barrett Browning poem when I was researching the Aura Lee Club, but will look into it. The song “Aura Lee” dates from the U.S. Civil War—at least—origins of folk tunes often hard to pin down, but will look further.

    Would like to know the address—even if approximate—of the 1950s field where you practised. Toronto is undergoing constant changes, and I’ve meant to go back and walk the area. This will spur me on.

    Martha Jackson
    Project Coordinator
    For King and Country: War Memorials in Toronto Schools

    P.S. Have photographed the UTS memorials, and attended an open house there. Will also check my notes from that visit.

  • The Aura Lee playing field and clubhouse was located on the north-east corner of Avenue Road and Davenport.

  • Martha Jackson

    Hello again, Garrick.

    The Aurora Lee playing grounds on Avenue Road, remembered from your UTS days, did belong to the Aura Lee Club. When the club closed in 1925, the deed—and mortgage—were transferred to the University of Toronto, which kept the name. It was “the intention of the university to take steps for the preservation of the name of Aura Lee in some way.” Many UTS students had been members of the club. (Details of the land transfer are in the Globe-April 10, 1925.)

    The Aura Lee Club took its name from the song “Aura Lee,” published in 1861. The song’s popularity grew during the American Civil War. I could not find any connection between the Barrett Browning epic poem “Aurora Leigh” (written in 1856) and the song.

    Best wishes with your audiobook production.

    Martha Jackson

  • Martha Jackson

    Thanks, Kevin Shea, for pinpointing the playing grounds’ location.

  • Anne Stuart

    Hello
    Charles McHenry was my paternal great-uncle. I remember his brother, Eric H., and his sisters Doris (my grandmother) and Eileen fondly. I would be grateful for the address of the memorial plaque. Thank you.
    Anne Stuart

  • Martha Jackson

    Hello Anne. At last report the small café and bakery which housed the plaque had closed. The owners treasure the memorial and plan to keep it for now.

  • Monica Small

    I found a picture in my attic yesterday of the aura lee junior hockey league and 3 of the names on the plaque are on my picture

  • Martha Jackson

    If you can arrange it, Monica, we would love a scanned copy of the photo—including the plaque info—to share with followers of this story. Also, do you know how the picture ended up in your attic? Is there a family connection, or is there perhaps another mystery to be solved…

  • Doug Scott

    My great grandfather is Francis Rolph . I have some of his sports medals one from 1900 and a 1909 NCHL medal it is a hockey league medal but I don’t know what N C stands for maybe North(ern) maybe Collegiate ?? Thanks Doug Scott , Kirkland Lake

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