Stories of courage and bravery during the First World War are plentiful the world over. One of the stories with a Thunder Bay/Northwestern Ontario connection that is noteworthy in its own right is that of Captain Christopher O’Kelly, VC, MC. Born in Winnipeg in 1895, O’Kelly was drafted to the 52nd Battalion (based out of Port Arthur) in February 1917. By the time he was 22 years old he had been awarded both the Military Cross and the Victoria Cross for gallantry, devotion to duty, and leadership. Local newspapers and press releases at the time followed his achievements in details and with great fanfare. O’Kelley himself was noted to seem overwhelmed by it all, including his selection to stand for a portrait by Captain F. H. Varley (later to become a member of the Group of Seven).
Following demobilization in Port Arthur in 1919, O’Kelly became a prospector in and around Red Lake. A potentially hasty trip set out in November 1922 by canoe, after which time O’Kelly and his partner were last seen on Lac Seul near Goose Island. The memory of this decorated and respected officer is captured in the Varley portrait, photos taken during the war, and in his medals which remain to this day. O’Kelly’s full story can be found in detail through the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project as contributed by Captain George Romick (Thunder Bay Military Museum).