Imagine turning a corner and seeing rows upon rows of green painted wooden buildings as far as the eye can see. One minute, there was nothing. The next minute, an entire town appeared in front of me.
For just a moment, I shared a bit of the awe my ancestors must have felt on day one of their military training during WWII.
The experience took place while I was touring wineries near Picton Ontario last summer.
A former airfield and military base on County Road 22 operates as the Picton Airport and Loch-Sloy Business Park. It includes 54 historic buildings and six airplane hangars on 701 acres of land.
The Prince Edward Flying Club offers “prior permission required” landing services for pilots.
Fifteen other business tenants rent space there too. I saw listings for carpenters, furniture makers, glass manufacturers, landscapers, mechanics, and stone distributors. There’s even a yoga studio on site.
The Picton airfield originally opened on April 28, 1941 as a bombing and gunnery school for the war effort.
Canada, with the support of Britain, built new or expanded existing fields into more than 100 such facilities in less than four years.
The effort became known as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
Looking back it is difficult to grasp the BCATP in all its dimensions,” wrote J.F. Hatch, in his 1983 book describing the project. “In themselves, the statistics are impressive: 131,553 [plus 5,296 RAF and Fleet Air Arm personnel trained prior to July 1, 1942] aircrew trained for battle, through a ground structure embracing 105 flying training schools of various kinds, 184 support units and a staff numbering 104,000. When war was declared the RCAF had less than two hundred aircraft suitable for training, many of them obsolete. In December 1943 there were 11,000 aircraft on strength of the BCATP.” 
My ancestors Paul Emile Hurtubise, Jean Charles Mathieu and Richard Himphen all trained at Ontario-based military installations just like this one, although the ones they went to were in Camp Borden, Dunnville and St. Thomas rather than Picton.
Camp Borden still operates as an active military training facility. The ones in Dunnville and St. Thomas are long gone.
Picton is probably the last BCATP centre in existence—with original buildings and triangle airfield layout intact—anywhere in the world.
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) used the buildings and hangars for storage and equipment maintenance after WWII.
After that, the Royal Canadian School of Artillery (anti-aircraft) moved in to train anti-aircraft gunners, gunnery radar operators, technical assistants and artillery instructors. The first battalion Canadian Guards infantry unit also used the site for a while.
During part of that time, AVRO Arrow test models could be found in some of the hangars.
In 1969, the Department of Defense closed down CFB Picton and the H.J. McFarland Company purchased the land and buildings.
Loch-Sloy bought the site from the McFarland family in 1999.
That’s when the company began a slow challenging effort of reconstructing the former buildings into a period museum that they hope will eventually open full-time. They produced a fun video describing their dreams in April 2013.
Until that happens, you can arrange private tours of the site or contact them for upcoming public events.
I highly recommend the experience. It connects you to the past in a way that reading documents just can’t achieve.
– 30 –
If you want to read more about my WWII military ancestors and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, refer to the following stories:
 Hatch, F. J. The Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945. Ottawa: Directorate of History, Dept. of National Defence, 1983, 222 pages.
This week, we commemorate the public service contributions of trained dietitian and Montreal philanthropist Mary Catherine “Kitty” Freeman. Freeman was born in Prescott, Ontario 98 years ago Sunday.
During the war years, Freeman helped feed wounded soldiers using limited rations at hospitals in Liverpool, England and Bruges, Belgium . She described her experiences to Bronwyn Chester in 2004 for a newsletter article.
If someone became diabetic, for instance, you’d look after that,” she told Chester. “But mostly you did the best you could with what you had. We had 600 patients at one time, and to break the monotony of meat with a lot of fat in it, along with potatoes and canned and dried food, you’d just go out and buy strawberries.”
Freeman frequently donated to McGill during her lifetime. She also left Macdonald College a million dollar endowment after her death on March 13, 2009. Today, a well-equipped 12-person food laboratory commemorates her contributions. Another $25,000 went to the Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research.
Clearly, the study of food and nutrition meant a great deal to her, perhaps because she grew up during the Great Depression.
As a young woman, Freeman pursued a Bachelor of Household Science from Macdonald College and dietitian training at Royal Victoria College.
She signed up for the Canadian Army’s Medical Corp as soon as she turned 21 and became eligible for service.
Freeman told Chester that she travelled from Halifax Canada to Liverpool England as the only dietitian on one of three Army hospital ships.
Hospital ships carried wounded soldiers from Europe to Pier 21 in Halifax. There, trained technicians transferred patients to hospital trains sent to hospitals across Canada. Military personnel and soldiers then boarded empty ships, just as Freeman did. The ship then returned to Europe for more patients.
Painted white hospital ships displayed large red crosses on each side to indicate that they should receive safe passage.
You can see a photo of one such ship on Roger Litwiller’s website. We can assume that this photo shows a later probably larger ship than the one Freeman sailed on. The Lady Nelson hospital ship didn’t exist until April 1943. It boasted an operating theatre, x-ray machine and wards for 515 people. The December 1944 Index to British Warships document shows only the Lady Nelson in existence that particular year, only two years after Freeman’s passage. That couldn’t be accurate, however. The Letitia hospital ship was refitted with 200 medical personnel and the ability to ship 1,000 patients in 1943 and continued to sail in 1944.
The Geneva Convention specified that enemy bombers and submarines weren’t supposed to target hospital ships, but there were no guarantees. According to Wikipedia, 25 hospital ships were sunk during WWII.
The hospital ship Freeman was on arrived safely in Liverpool with its two mates in 1941. There, her expertise became a much-needed commodity. Britain struggled to feed itself. Canadian exports accounted for 77% of the wheat and flour consumed in the country. The following year, rations would be introduced across Canada to ensure that enough food went overseas.
Freeman took charge of the military hospital food service. Later, they sent her to Belgium to perform a similar role in harsher conditions. After five years of service, she returned to Montreal. She immediately joined the staff of the veteran’s Saint Anne de Bellevue Hospital as a dietitian
She moved to Queen Mary’s Veteran Hospital before retiring in 1978.
According to a 2005 Veteran’s Affairs pamphlet, Freeman’s experiences were duplicated by many women of her generation.
No account of military service in the Second World War would be complete without mention of the contribution made by the four special branches of the nursing service – the Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Dietitians and Home Sisters. Also, the sisters who served on the hospital trains returning the wounded to destinations across Canada. The end of the Second World War brought the closure of military and station hospitals across Canada. A total of 80 nurses, 30 RCAMC, 30 RCAF and 20 RCN sisters joined the permanent force and served at military establishments across the country; many more staffed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospitals to care for hundreds of returning Veterans.
We need to remember the service of these courageous women, including Mary Catherine Freeman.
 Chester, Bronwyn, “Fueling the Forces,” In Focus Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, McGill, Spring 2004, p15, https://www.mcgill.ca/macdonald/files/macdonald/InFocusSpring2004.pdf, accessed September 24, 2019.
 “Generous legacy supports dietetic and nutrition research, CFDR Keeping in Touch, Fall 2009, p3.
 Index to British Warships, Division of Naval Intelligence, December 1944, http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ref/ONI/ONI-201/ONI-201-I/ONI-201-I.pdf, accessed September 24, 2019.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hospital_ships_sunk_in_World_War_II, accessed September 24, 2019.
 “The Nursing Sisters of Canada,” Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada represented by the Minister of Veterans Affairs, 2005. Catalogue No. V32-146/2005 ISBN 0-662-69038-9 Accessed September 24, 2019, http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/women-and-war/nursing-sisters#sisterhist3
They sat and stood calmly for the formal portrait. No one smiled.
An accompanying photocopy with names scrawled on each person identifies the people. Four chairs in the middle hold Remi, Sophie, Joseph Gabriel and Pete. Billy, Augusta, Joe, Sophie, Aldous, Lucy and Eddy stand behind the chairs. Jean-Baptiste sits in front.
Notes from my grandmother cram the back, including her title “the original Arial family of Western Canada.”
These notes are useful, but they don’t include some of the basic things Grandma knew, so I’m flailing around trying to understand what she meant.
I’ve always known that Gabriel and Sophie Arial were my great great grandfather and grandmother, for instance, but it took me a while to discover that I’m also the great grandchild of “Pete.”
Combining the notes with an analysis of our family tree led to many other questions too. If these are the first Arial’s who migrated to Western Canada, why did they go? Did they fit within a trend? Were their lives difficult? What made my branch of the family move back east? How did Great Grandpa Pete die when he was only 46 years old?
Since I know that most of my ancestors were farmers, my assumption is that the formal portrait includes people who moved west to take advantage of homesteading land grants offered in Alberta under the Dominion Lands Act after 1870. This program surveyed Crown land to make it available for settlement. According to the Alberta Genealogical Society
…individuals could apply to homestead a quarter section (160 acres) of their choice. Then, after paying a $10 filing fee and ‘proving up’ their homestead claim (occupying the land for at least three years and performing certain improvements, including building a house and barn, fencing, breaking and cropping a portion of the land), the homesteader could apply for patent (title) to the land.
Records exist for three Arials: Gabriel, Joseph V. and J.B, so those are the next documents I plan to check out.
Hopefully the Gabriel Arial in the homestead records matches the older Joseph Gabriel on my photo. He and his wife Sophie pioneered Western Canadian for my family. He came from St. Roch, Quebec and Sophie came from St. Paul, Minnesota. Everyone else’s birth took place in St. Boniface, Alberta.
Given my families’ predilection for confusing nicknames, however, Gabriel, Joseph V. and J.B. Arial could be just about anyone.
My great grandfather legally went by the name “Joseph Gabriel Antoine Remi Arial.” Only after I read the notes about his burial on the Ariaill family website did I discover his nickname “Pete.” The same notation led to his death certificate, which includes the name “Pete Arial” and the names “Joseph Gabrial Arial” and “Joseph Gabriel Arial.”
Now I know that there are two Joseph Gabriel’s in the photo: great great grandpa in the centre and great grandpa Pete to his left. There are two Sophies also, although the elder sitting woman’s legally went by Marie Sophie.
A source note on the back tells me when and how my grandma got the photo.
This picture was given to Marguerite and Joe (Gabe) Arial on their 50th Wedding Anniversary, April 6, 1992 by Happy and Dot Arial.”
I knew Happy growing up and he made the best barbecue spices I’ve ever tasted. I don’t remember asking about his nickname. He’s probably the fellow called Billy in the formal portrait. Billy legally went by the name of Wilfred, although one of the documents I have also shows a William, which would definitely explain how Wilfred became Billy.
I’m pretty sure Eddy is Edgar, but maybe not.
There’s no hint about when the photograph was taken either. I suspect it was in the early 1930s. Great grandpa Pete seems to be in his forties in the shot, and his birth took place on May 5, 1888 in St. Boniface, Manitoba. He died of acute myocarditis (heart failure) on January 30, 1935, so it’s definitely prior to that.
Pete’s death certificate says he caught rheumatic fever in 1931. Since he’s sitting in a chair in the photograph, I suspect the photo dates from sometime between then and Joseph’s death on December 7, 1933.
When rheumatic fever becomes acute, it not only causes heart valve damage, but it can also lead to skin rashes, swollen joints especially around the knees and ankles, lumps under the skin, a shortness of breath, chest discomfort and uncontrollable muscle spasms. No wonder the poor man needed to sit in a chair!
Rheumatic fever hardly makes the news in developed countries these days. That’s because penicillin and other antibiotics prevent scarlet fever and strep throat (streptococcal) infections from turning into rheumatic fever. All three of these diseases used to kill thousands in Canada every year, however, and a 2005 source shows 15 million, 244,000 deaths around the world. 
Dr. W.W. Eadie signed the death certificate placing Pete’s death in Spedden, Alberta. In another pen, someone else wrote that Pete regularly resided at 9632-107a Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta. His race was French. His father came from Quebec and his mother from St. Paul, Minnesota. Connelly and McKinley buried Pete in the R.C. Edmonton cemetery. He had been a bar tender and house painter before he contracted the disease. A third writer crossed out the words bartender next to last occupation and the address Spedden next to the length of time in the town or district where death occurred. That person wrote in “contractor” next to last occupation and specified that Pete had been in Spedden for “1 month” prior to his death.
The only other info I’ve found about my great grandfather’s life dates from a short newspaper article about a school picnic on the front page of the Medicine Hat News on Thursday, July 1896.
That brief mentions that Pete Arial won an “under 12” race at a Gleichen school picnic. He would have been 8 years old at the time. The reporter also listed Aldos, Sophie and Joe Arial winning prizes from other races the same day. Joe won both the three-legged and donkey races.
Arial is an uncommon name. The chances another family with similar names lived in small-town Gleichen is unlikely.
Pete married Leonore Doucet on November 24, 1908, when he was 20 and she was only 16 years old. They had their first child, my grandfather Joseph Isidore Alfred Gabriel, four years minus a week later.
After that, I can find no more traces of Pete until he died.
Pete’s not mentioned at all in the tiny squished notes grandma made on the back of that formal photo, although her family tree shows him dying in Spedden, Cold Lake, Alberta.
She does identify Billy, Joe, Aldous and Remi as interior decorators, by which I think she meant contractor. Eddy had status as “a maintenance man, interior decorator, etc.”
She identified women by the people they married. “Augusta married Charles Turgeon,” she wrote. “Sophie married Brasseau, then he died and she married Auger.” “Lucy married James or Gibson.”
Only the elder Sophie had a personal identity of her own: “Grandma Arial was a Metis from the USA.”
The notes about Joseph Gabriel contain the most information.
Grampa Arial had a hotel in Saint Boniface where he had many meetings with Louis Riel in the basement in his hotel and in later years, he own the Palace Hotel in Gleichan, Alberta. After his hotel burned, they moved to Edmonton, Alberta.”
There’s no room for anything more.
I recently found the Find-a-Grave memorial page for Pete’s burial place. He was buried with his father in Saint Joachims Cemetery in Edmonton on February 2, 1935. Less than 11 months later, his mother died too. Thanks to Alison for photographing their joint tombstone.
 Alberta Vital Statistics Death Index # 402 556 for J Gabriel Arial ~ 30 Jan 1935 ~ Place of death ~ Spedden, Alberta, Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, form 6, February 28, 1935.
 Carapetis JR, Steer A, Mulholland E, et al. The global burden of group A streptococcal diseases. Lancet Infect Dis 2005;5:685-94
 Medicine Hat News, Thursday, July 1896, p1, https://medicinehatnews.newspaperarchive.com/medicine-hat-news/1896-07-09/, accessed May 21, 2019.
 Alberta Vital Statistics Death Index # 402 556 for J Gabriel Arial ~ 30 Jan 1935 ~ Place of death ~ Spedden, Alberta, Find A Grave, digital images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/156782821/joseph-gabriel_antoine-arial : accessed May 21, 2019), memorial number 156782821.
I never asked my great granny Charlotte about her wedding, but the records I’ve found hint at lots of intrigue.
Did they plan a summer wedding and then rush things to avoid conscription? Had they initially hoped to marry in the church next to her home but lost the opportunity due to community infighting?
Probably, but not yet proven.
What I do know is that my great grandparents—then 23-year-old groom Arthur Johnson and his 22-year-old bride Charlotte Charbonneau—chose to marry on Friday, February 9, 1917 in an unfinished church basement blocks away from her home instead of in the church right next door.
The direct information I have about that day appears in an affidavit filled out by Arthur on January 22, signed by the witnesses and solemniser, and turned in to the Registrar on February 17.
When looking at it, I couldn’t help wondering two things: why then and why there?
She wasn’t pregnant—their first son wouldn’t be born for another two years.
Money would be tight later, but at that point both had jobs. Arthur worked as a machinist and Charlotte served as a fore-lady, probably supervising women at a factory producing something for the war.
Did the impetus to marry early in 2017 have something to do with federal government musings about conscription at that time? Prime Minister Robert Borden promised publicly that he’d send 500,000 Canadian soldiers to Europe by the end of 1916. Only 300,000 men volunteered by December 2016, and numbers dwindled as horrific details about the Battle of the Somme reached Canada.
Borden passed conscription in August the summer after Arthur and Charlotte wed. Had they married after July 6, 2017, Arthur might have been conscripted. I might not exist.
I’m not sure why Arthur didn’t serve. He certainly had close ties with Europe having immigrated to Canada from Lancashire England ten years earlier. He came to Canada with his brother Albert and his parents, Mary Young and William Johnson.
Neither Arthur nor Albert volunteered for the Armed Forces and the family remained close. Albert and his wife Amie served as witnesses at Arthur and Charlotte’s wedding.
I also wonder how they selected the location of their marriage.
Both families worshipped in the Presbyterian faith. At the time, Charlotte still lived with her parents on Cross Street in Weston, right next to a Presbyterian Church called the Old Kirk at 11 Cross Street.
Turns out that the building couldn’t offer a legally-sanctioned marriage between March 2013 and June 2017, despite more than 200 of the 247 congregation members working hard to keep the place open.
The problem began in March 2013, when fewer than 38 people voted to close the facilities and sell the Cross Street building. Given that the snow kept 209 people at home that day, I suspect that the meeting in question took place in the Main Street building purchased for Sunday School services a year earlier.
The sordid affair appears in a wonderful history of the Church in Weston called “From Then to Now.”
At a congregational meeting in March 1913, bad weather kept attendance to 38 out of 245 members. A majority of the 38 voted to hold all future services at the new facility and to sell the Cross Street site. Westminster Presbyterian Church was then fully established on the new site and the Cross Street site was sold.
The church on Cross Street was then re-purchased by some of the old members and services resumed on January 18th, 1914. Presbytery refused to recognize this congregation though, so it operated as an independent Presbyterian Church known as The Old Kirk The group continued to worship steadfastly and endured three failed petitions to Toronto Presbytery asking to be recognized as a second Presbyterian congregation in Weston (one petition was signed by 259 members). They appealed to the General Assembly, held in Montreal in June 1917, and the appeal was sustained. The church was then named The Old Presbyterian Church. From June 1917 to 1925 there were two official Presbyterian Churches in Weston.
In 1925 Westminster Presbyterian voted for church union and The Old Presbyterian Church opted to remain Presbyterian. It was then named Weston Presbyterian Church and Westminster became Westminster United Church. 
I haven’t yet found definitive proof that Charlotte and her family took part in the purchase or petitions of the Cross Street building. Given that Arthur and Charlotte married within a completely different congregation, however, it’s likely that they did.
Perhaps the couple hoped to be the first marriage in the renewed building, but then chose to wed rapidly so Arthur could avoid conscription. They needed a legally-sanctioned marriage.
Arthur’s affidavit provides the address. It indicates that Reverend Charles A. Mustard presided over Charlotte and Arthur’s wedding ceremony at 38 Harvie Avenue, a building at the corner of St. Clair Avenue.
Information contained within a Presbyterian Museum article about the Church after it was torn down in 1999 gives context. The St. David’s Church congregation purchasing the Harvie site in 1911. They began operations by moving an original frame church from the south side of St. Clair Avenue opposite McRoberts to the new site. That building opened in 1912.
The community grew rapidly. By 1914, they hired Toronto architect Herbert George Paul to incorporate their original wood frame structure into a new larger building. He finished constructing only the basement, however, when the bank pulled the Church loan due to World War I.
A speech by John Barron in June 1918 describes what happened.
In the year 1911 the present site was secured. Seventy-two feet of the frontage being presented by Westminster Church, to which the Church building was moved and alterations made. This building was opened on Nov. 12, 1912.
The congregation outgrew this accommodation, and in the year 1914 plans were prepared and the present building was commenced, but owing to conditions brought about by the war, the basement only was finished and used for services to the present time.
So, instead of getting married in a perfectly good building on Charlotte’s street, community infighting and a war forced the couple to wed in an unfinished basement in St. David’s Presbyterian Church.
 Johnson, Arthur. Affadavid, 022461, loose paper, Office of the Registar General Ontario. Rec. Date: Jan 22, 2019. Ontario Canada Select Marriages. Archives of Ontario. Toronto. MS932, Reel 440, Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Ancestry. www.ancestry.ca : 2010.
 From Then to Now, 1847 to 2007, a history by the Weston Presbyterian Congregation, http://westonpresbyterian.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/WestonPCHistory.pdf
Ten generations before I was born, and for at least three generations before that, my French-speaking ancestors settled in Port Royal on the Annapolis River.
They probably arrived as colonizers in 1603. That’s when France’s King Henri IV set up “La Cadie” between the 40th and 46th parallels south of the Saint Lawrence River. For a good idea of how they lived, visit the Port-Royal National Historic Site.
Just before, or just after, the birth of François Allard III, his parents left the region for Quebec.
I imagine they refused to swear allegiance to the British monarch.
For at least three generations, French settlers like them fought with local Mi’kmaq people against British settlers in New England. Throughout the years, many cross-border conflicts and trade ship privateering occurred. The worse early incident led to Port Royal’s destruction by fire in 1613. It was rebuilt and skirmishes continued for a century, with the French and Mi’kmaq remaining strong.
The siege of Port Royal in 1710 marked the beginning of the end of French dominance in the region.
On October 5, 1,880 British and New England soldiers arrived at Goat Island just south of Port Royal in five warships with accompanying transport and bomb galleys. First, they blockaded supplies, food and water from getting into the town. Then they began moving men and equipment into the Annapolis River to get ready to attack the fort. One transport capsized killing 23 men. After that, they moved more carefully, landing safely.
Canons attacked the fort for a week. By the end of the day on October 12, the French gave up. The terms of surrender were signed the following day.
According to the University of Moncton researcher N.E.C. Griffiths, surrender terms said:
that the Inhabitants within Cannon shot of the Fort of Port Royal, shall remain upon their estates, with their Corn, Cattle and Furniture, During two years in case they are not Desirous to go before, they taking the Oaths of Allegiance & Fidelity to Her Sacred Majesty of Great Britain.” 
Over the next three years, Port Royal became Annapolis Royal and La Cadie became Nova Scotia. Sometime during this period, my family shed their maritime roots for landlubber status.
The 1714 Acadian Census shows a family headed by François Allard living in Port Royal with his wife, one son and two daughters. If these are my ancestors, François was either a second son who came later or his birthdate is wrong.
More likely this was a different family.
According to my grandmother’s records, my nine times great grandfather Jean-Baptiste Allard and his wife Anne Elisabeth Pageau had François III on February 3, 1719.
It’s hard to figure out why her records show him as the third person to hold the name “François” with his father clearly identified as Jean Baptiste. She does show his grandfather as Jean François but his great grandfather’s name was Jacques. He doesn’t get it from the other side for sure. The men in Anne Elisabeth’s family were Thomases going back at least two generations.
My grandmother’s notes show François III’s birthplace as Port Royal, although I found a family tree online that shows a man with the same name born to parents with the same names in Charlesbourg, Quebec.
Either way, by the time François III got married in November 1741, he and his wife Barbe Louise Bergevin definitely lived in Charlesbourg, Quebec. Their daughter, Marie Louise Allard, would be born on November 3, 1742, at Notre Dame de Quebec. Any links to the shores of the Annapolis River were lost forever.
Meanwhile, Acadians in Nova Scotia refused to swear allegiance to the Queen of Britain. Wars continued in the region until 1758. The expulsion of the Acadians, which began in 1755 and continued until the British Conquest, led to Longfellow’s famous poem about Evangeline and Gabriel.
By then, my ancestors were well-established in Quebec.
We have none of the deported Acadians in the family; only people who originally settled La Cadie.
 Griffiths, N.E.S. (2005). From Migrant to Acadian: A North American Border People, 1604-1755, ISBN 978-0-7735-2699-0. University of Moncton, McGill-Queen’s University Press. p235.