World War I

A recent accession from the Town of Deseronto included this certificate of Public Recognition which was designed to honour those returning from overseas service after World War II.

If you look closely at the document (click on the image to see a bigger version), you will see that the town mentioned is Halifax and the crests are those for Halifax (as it was before 1964) and Nova Scotia. Pencilled annotations state ‘Your crest here’ and ‘Ontario crest here’ and the name Deseronto has been pencilled in next to the main block of text, where it would replace the word Halifax.

What is not clear from the certificate is whether the Town went ahead and ordered their own version of the certificate for servicemen returning to Deseronto. Did any Deseronto veterans receive such a thing? Has anyone seen a certificate like this among the papers of a friend or relative?

The statistics on the Archives’ Flickr account show that the most popular image that we’ve put on the site is this picture of an aircraft crash, c.1917:

Plans are well under way for the launch of C.W. (Bill) Hunt’s new book, Dancing in the Sky. The book was originally started by Al Smith, who began to write about the World War I training airfields around Deseronto. Al collected stories from people who had worked at (or had otherwise been involved with) the two camps (Camp Mohawk and Camp Rathbun) and amassed a number of photographs. Bill took over the project in 1998 and broadened the research to include the other Royal Flying Corps Canada locations in Ontario. The photographs collected by Al Smith are now available for research in Deseronto Archives (under the name J. Allan Smith Collection). The book is being published by Dundurn Press this month.

The Deseronto Public Library will be the venue for this launch on the 7 March 2009 at 2.00pm. We’ll be mounting a display of photographs and other historic materials relating to the Deseronto camps, and refreshments will be served. Bill Hunt will then talk about his book. Greenley’s Book Store will be there with copies of the book to buy (which I’m sure Bill will be happy to sign!) and there will also be a raffle draw with a chance to win a copy of the book and a selection of other goodies.

It is shaping up to be a great event, so if you have a chance to, please come along that afternoon! The invitation (a PDF file) has more details.


The Archives’ collections on the World War I flying camps have been hugely boosted recently by the acquisition of a series of photographs which belonged to a flight instructor in Camp Mohawk. Sergeant Christopher Paulus Devos (pictured here as a cadet in 1916) was an Englishman who was in No. 84 Canadian Training Squadron throughout its period of operation, in Camp Mohawk and in Camp Taliaferro in Fort Worth, Texas. He was one of only two English airmen of the original squadron to survive and return to England after the war. He compiled two photograph albums recording life in the camps.

Sergeant Devos’s son, Denzil Devos, has kindly scanned in the pages of the Camp Mohawk album and donated them to the Archives. He has also copied some of the Fort Worth album, including photographs of Captain Vernon Castle and some aerial shots of Toronto. We have been able to share all these images through our Flickr account. There are many images of crashed aircraft in the group, but a few show the lighter side of Royal Flying Corps life, such as this group shot of airmen “poshed up” for a night out in Belleville on a bus from the Hotel Quinte:

The book launch today was a resounding success. Every single one of the copies of Dancing in the Sky brought to the library by Greenley’s Bookstore was sold, with a long waiting list for the next delivery.

Piles of books before they were all sold
Bill Hunt must have a very sore right hand tonight after signing over forty copies of his book. There was quite a long line of people waiting for him to autograph their copies at one point.

We estimate that 135 people came to hear Bill talk about the training of pilots in Canada during the First World War. His talk was full of interesting facts and contained a number of insights into the great impact that the arrival of the air cadets had upon the economy and people of Deseronto.

Bill was at pains to point out how important the archival record has been in helping him to research this volume: the diaries and photographs left by the young pilots have been a wonderful resource. Music to an archivist’s ears! We put together a display of photographs from the book, library books and original materials from the Deseronto Archives’ collections, as a side-show to the main event:

It was a wonderful afternoon and a tribute to the huge amount of work that went into the preparation, particularly by Deseronto’s Librarian, Frances Smith, by Dana Valentyne of the Deseronto Revitalization Program, and by the Chair of the Deseronto Public Library Board, Don Simpson. Many thanks to them, to Deseronto’s Mayor, Norm Clark, for a great welcoming address, and to the sponsors of the raffle prize: Greenleys Bookstore, The Chocolate Room and the Small Town Café and Bakery. Thanks also to Lori Brooks of the Deseronto Job Information Centre (whose domain was requisitioned for the book-signing) and to everyone who came – you helped to make this event a huge success.

Did you miss the chance to explore Deseronto’s Doors Open sites on May 28, 2011? Or perhaps you weren’t able to visit all of them?

Fear not! We’ve made all the Deseronto site brochures available here for you to look at. Just click on the images below to get a large version that you can print off or read online.

Deseronto Cemetery [site 22]
Camp Rathbun [site 23]
St. Mark’s Hall [site 24]
Grace United Church [site 25]
Public Works Garage: former aircraft hangar [site 26]
Naylor’s Theatre [site 27]
Deseronto Post Office [site 28]
Deseronto Town Hall [site 29]
Rathbun Memorial Park [site 30]
McGlade Funeral Home [site 31]
Foresters’ Island [site 32]
Former industrial sites [site 33]
Church of the Redeemer [site 34]
St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church [site 35]
Founding of Deseronto [site 36]

Bob Almey, 1918, 2011.18 (9)

J. Robert (Bob) Almey (1895-1989) was one of the last group of pilots to be trained at Camp Mohawk, one of the two Royal Flying Corps establishments near Deseronto in the First World War. The photo here shows Bob in his Royal Flying Corps uniform. It was brought into the Archives for scanning a few weeks ago by Bob’s grandson, Rob Woodward.

The war ended before Bob Almey was posted to Europe, which was fortunate for him, given the short life expectancy of pilots on the front line in those days. Bob returned to his studies at the Ontario Agricultural College (now the University of Guelph) and completed his degree in horticulture. In 1921 he was appointed as Manitoba’s first ever provincial horticulturalist.

He went on in 1928 to work for the Canadian Pacific Railway as their Chief Horticulturalist. In this role, Bob was responsible for landscaping the surroundings of 2,000 railway stations across the West of Canada, giving new immigrants and visitors a favourable first impression of the region. By the 1940s, 11,000 packets of seeds were being distributed to stations each year, while CPR greenhouses across the Prairies and British Columbia grew 600,000 plants a year, of up to 125 varieties.

Gladiolus mortonius from Sericea on Flickr

Bob Almey knew each station so well that he could “recite from memory their layouts, the variety of flowers they grew and the amounts needed”. He retired in 1960 but continued to be active in the Manitoba horticultural community (being particularly famous for his gladioli) until his death in 1988.

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