June 26, 2017
Chronicle Journal (A2)

Thousands of men and women from Port Arthur, Fort William and the region served in the armed forces during the First World War. The poppy was adopted as a national symbol of remembrance in Port Arthur in 1921.This monthly column will share stories and photos about life here in Thunder Bay and overseas during World War One.

During World War One, the Government of Ontario funded and built the Ontario Military Hospital in Orpington, England. At the time it was the biggest and most modern hospital of its kind in the world, providing over 1000 beds for wounded soldiers from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Over 30,000 soldiers were admitted to the hospital between August 1916 and May 1919, including over 16,000 Canadians. Of these only 184 died. This was a remarkably low mortality rate – 0.6%. The hospital doubled in size in 1917 when it became the No. 16 Canadian General Hospital.

From 1916 to 1919, soldiers who died at the Military Hospital were buried in the churchyard of All Saints’ Orpington, the ancient parish church of Orpington. 88 Canadians were buried in the churchyard in an area which became known as ‘Canadian Corner’. One of these Canadian soldiers was Victor Lilia. He was born in Karin, Finland in 1884. He lived in Fort William. He joined the 78th Battalion (Manitoba Regiment), Canadian Infantry, at Port Arthur in January 1918 and sailed for England a month later. He arrived in France in June 1918 and went straight into action. He was wounded and gassed in August 1918 and admitted to hospital. He was admitted to hospital again in April 1919 suffering from chest and stomach pains. He was transferred to the Ontario Military Hospital, Orpington, in May 1919 where he was diagnosed with cancer. He died on 6 June 1919 and was buried in ‘Canadian Corner’.

Every year an annual service of remembrance is held in Canadian Corner on Remembrance Sunday. A senior representative of the Canadian High Commission in the UK attends the service. The parish church flies the Canadian national flag. Very recently the Coat of Arms of the Province of Ontario which used to hang in the Orpington Hospital was hung on the wall of the church. Orpington is very proud of its historic and well-established link to Canada.

Brian McHenry, the vicar of All Saints’ in Orpington, preached twice at St Paul’s in Thunder Bay on May 28, 2017 about the history of the link between the two churches and between Orpington and Thunder Bay:

“It is very easy to draw a deeply pessimistic view of humankind and the future of the world, from the history of the First World War. How could anyone be hopeful after all that carnage and suffering? Our countries were full of grieving men and women for the dead of that War, for decades afterwards…

We are not downhearted. The reverse is the case!

This is the hope which sustained many of the generation who served in the First World War and in particular your compatriots who lie in the churchyard at Orpington.”

The next step in this emerging link will be to explore the possibility of a Friendship City Relationship – in the fields of education, culture, business, sport and tourism – between Thunder Bay and the London Borough of Bromley, which is the local authority whose area covers Orpington.  A Friendship City relationship is often formed by cities as a ‘stepping-stone’ to a more formal ‘Sister City’ agreement. In addition, the Scouting community in Orpington is now giving thought to plans for a visit to Thunder Bay in 2019.

This article runs on the fourth Monday of each month. John Pateman is a member of the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project committee. Please visit www.tbayworldwarone.com for more information about this project or to contribute personal stories and photos.