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Below are the five obits for Obit writer B.
Obit #1: Michael P. Shaw
The family's paid notice announced the death of Michael P. Shaw, aged 53, a family man who worked the pits for his truck-racing son and encouraged his daughter to become a nurse.
The ordinariness of his midlife was all the more surprising given his youthful career as a professional wrestler, during which he portrayed deranged and dangerous villains.
His gimmicks were many. He portrayed Makhan Singh, a turbaned bad guy; Man Mountain Mike, a hillbilly; Norman the Lunatic, an asylum escapee; the Mad Monk and Friar Ferguson, unsympathetic holy men; and, infamously, Bastion Booger, a grotesque character with a name to match.
As the latter, he wore skimpy, stained tights, the grease spots said to be remnants of spilt food. The costume barely contained his reported 401-pound mass, ample bosoms hanging over straps crossing his chest.
With a shaved head, a fuzzy goatee, and eyebrows shaved to half their normal length, he presented a fearsome image. He was said to stink “like old stale chili” in the memorable description of one television announcer.
Bastion Booger also possessed a lump between his shoulder blades. During one match, the female wrestler Luna Vachon rubbed the protuberance, an affectionate gesture that caused the fleshy monster to become smitten.
Alas, Vachon had professional and romantic ties to Bam Bam Bigelow, so Bastion Booger's unsubtle advances were parried. The rejection fuelled his ill temper.
(Vachon, who possessed one of the most impressive mullets seen outside a hockey rink, died on Aug. 27 in Florida. She was 48. Born in Georgia, she was raised in Quebec after her mother married the wrestler Paul Vachon, known as the Butcher.)
Fans remember such capers as Booger stealing an ice cream from a spectator at ringside to rub the frozen dairy treat into the face of his opponent.
His trademark move was called A Trip to the Batcave, a humiliating attack in which he dropped to both knees over a supine victim's face. The hold was not unique to the pro rassling repertoire, where it is described as a Crotch Squash, or a Sitdown Splash, or, more descriptively, a Stinkface. For Booger's hapless opponents, the ensuing olfactory unpleasantness was likely a secondary concern to the real danger of suffocation.
Though he often portrayed bad guys, known as heels, in the ring, the wrestler never felt comfortable with his best-known gimmick.
“I think the Booger character would have worked if I got over as a heel, but my heart wasn't into it,” he once told wrestling chronicler Scott Teal. “I didn't like the character. I didn't like the outfit.”
Like many pro wrestlers, his career began in sporting arenas with less choreography.
He was born on May 9, 1957, to Josephine (nee Robinson) and Edward Shaw at Marquette, Mich. His father worked as a labourer for a lumber company. Mike was raised in Skandia in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where he was a star athlete for the Modeltowners of Gwinn High School.
He earned varsity letters in football, track and field as a shot putter, and wrestling. He won a regional heavyweight title as a senior. On graduation in 1975, he was hired as the school's wrestling coach.
In summer, he was a slugger for the Milwaukee Schlitz, a professional slo-pitch softball team playing on a circuit in the American Midwest. The uncertainty of employment in a sport yet to find its niche led to a decision while at spring training in Florida to abandon softball.
Instead, he enrolled at a wrestling academy in Massachusetts headed by the famed Killer Kowalski, a Canadian-born heel whose professed vegetarianism did not prevent some fans from believing he had once bitten off Yukon Eric's ear.
With a brawny 275 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame, Shaw wound up being promoted on the All-Star Wrestling circuit out of Vancouver. The newcomer fought as Klondike Mike, a bearded Yukon prospector.
It was while fighting as Man Mountain Mike on the Grand Prix circuit in the Maritimes that he briefly left the wrestling ring to present a wedding ring to Kelly Crosby in a ceremony at Guysborough, N.S., on May 2, 1987.
After joining the Stampede Wrestling stable in Calgary, Shaw joined forces with the villainous Great Gama Singh with whom he battled as a team known as Karachi Vice. The despicable, rule-flouting duo were jeered in public even away from the ring, and were so despised, the Calgary Sun once noted, that they generated vile chants from enraged spectators.
Shaw wore a turban and billed himself as Makhan Singh, his pale complexion and American birth certificate no distraction for those eager to vilify Indo-Canadian scofflaws.
As a solo fighter, his chief rival was up-and-coming Owen Hart with whom he swapped the North American heavyweight championship belt in a series of much-appreciated bouts. (During one match, Hart bushwhacked Singh by beating him over the head with the heavy, bejewelled belt.)
During this period, Shaw developed great skill at ballyhoo, whipping crowds into a frenzy with his patter on the microphone.
Even on the street, he was a target, as open cans of pop were hurled at him and his wife. The intense animosity his character generated only eased after he took part in such community events as flipping flapjacks during the Calgary Stampede.
“He walked a fine line between love and hate,” Kelly Shaw said recently.
A move stateside led to the adoption of a new gimmick – Norman the Lunatic, a wild-haired asylum escapee who wore an institutional smock with the number 502 stencilled on the chest.
Originally a heel, Norman became a baby face as fans showed sympathy for a character taunted even by his own manager, who waved an oversized key as a threat Norman might be again incarcerated if he did not perform well.
Sympathetic fans showered Norman with stuffed teddy bears, which he donated to local children's hospitals.
The World Wrestling Federation offered him a tryout, saddling him with unsuccessful religious gimmicks before conjuring Bastion Booger, who was supposed to be a sewer-dwelling creature but found a following as a simple slob.
In a career that saw him fight in all 10 provinces, Shaw also performed in Mexico as Aaron Grundy and in South Africa as Big Ben Sharpe.
It was widely thought that Shaw suffered from never having a character to match his ability in the ring. Pro Wrestling Digest summed up his career as being one when “bad gimmicks happen to good wrestlers.”
Shaw operated a wrestling school, did promotional work for a casino, and, most recently, supervised security of Michigan mines and ports for the General Securities Corporation.
Michael Paul Shaw died of a pulmonary embolism at his home on Sept. 11. He leaves Kelly (née Crosby), his wife of 23 years; a son; a daughter; a brother; his mother; and, a grandmother.
Obit #2: Chuck Davis
Chuck Davis unearthed forgotten tales from Vancouver's rollicking past, providing a history for a city whose memory sometimes seems no deeper than its latest property boom.
Davis, who died on Saturday, three days after his 75th birthday, was an amateur historian who frequented archives and libraries. He mined documents and yellowed newspaper clippings, scavenging facts and oddball nuggets for his books and articles.
A man of boyish enthusiasms, he had an anecdote for every occasion. After a dramatic public announcement of a diagnosis of untreatable lung cancer, he told reporters about one of his recent finds. In 1909, the city acquired the first mechanized ambulance in the Dominion. The crew proudly took it on a tour of the city, during which they struck and killed a pedestrian.
The absurdity of that tragedy struck him as humorous, and one could not help but admire a man whose appreciation of the macabre was undiminished in the face of his own death sentence.
Davis was one of the city's most familiar figures, an avuncular presence for nearly a half century as author, lecturer, quizmaster, cruciverbalist, television host, and radio announcer. No living person knew more about the city and its past, earning him the nickname Mr. Vancouver.
He edited two urban encyclopedias – The Vancouver Book (1976) – and The Greater Vancouver Book (1997) – and was at work on a third, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, which he described as his magnum opus. He had 17 titles to his credit.
An amiable man with a hearty laugh, Davis was, in the words of one of his many friends, a “delightful shambles.” His many passions did not extend to his wardrobe, which often consisted of rumbled shirts and formless sweaters of unappealing pattern. He worked from a home office through which passage was made treacherous by paper stalagmites of uncertain stability.
Though such an appearance could hint at carelessness, Davis was devoted to facts, wasting no effort to track down accurate details. Such painstaking research caused some of his projects to stretch beyond deadline, testing the patience of publishers.
A large man with a round face and a ready grin, he had a magnificent, stentorian voice, as befitted a former staff announcer for CBC Radio. He used it to good effect when displaying his gift as a natural storyteller. He displayed little ego and was so self-deprecating he eagerly retold tales in which he was the butt.
Some years ago, he informed a colleague about his ambition to write an omnibus history of the Lower Mainland, promising the book would be “fun, fat, and filled with facts.”
“Just like you,” the co-worker said.
Charles Hector Davis was born in Winnipeg on Nov. 17, 1935. His parents' marriage soon after collapsed and he only once ever met his mother. In December, 1944, his father, who operated three modest confectionaries, moved with the boy to the West Coast. They lived in a former squatter's shack built over the Burrard Inlet shoreline. It lacked electricity and shook ominously when freight trains rumbled past.
Two years later, fire destroyed the shack and the homeless boy appeared in a photograph on the front page of a local daily.
A teacher's etymological examination of the origins of “breakfast” – the act of breaking, or interrupting, a fast – sparked in the schoolboy a lifelong fascination with words. (Davis was a demon at Scrabble.) He also began compiling lists of such facts as the rivers of Australia and the prime ministers of Hungary. His father jokingly suggested he compile a list of his lists, which became much of his working life.
The boy and his father moved to Toronto, where they lived in rooming houses. Chuck sold copies of The Globe and Mail at the intersection of Queen and Bathurst streets, offering passersby a patter of slick talk (“almost like speaking in tongues”).
Since the neighbourhood included many Poles and Ukrainians, he asked another vendor for a Slavic word for newspaper. He later discovered that the day's poor sales were the result of his trying to sell newspapers while bellowing the Polish word for feces.
His formal education ended at 13 midway through Grade 8. At 17, by which time he had held 23 different jobs, he decided he wanted to fight in Korea. He enlisted with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in June, 1953.
“That war ended in July,” he wrote, “so I guess someone notified the North Koreans. They didn't tell me when I joined that you had to be 19 to go over, anyway.”
He found his calling while stationed overseas in West Germany. At 5 p.m. on March 21, 1956, Mr. Davis, a private, had the honour of making the inaugural broadcast on CAE, a 250-watt Canadian forces radio station.
On discharge later that year, he returned to Canada to launch a radio career in Ontario, working for stations in Kingston, Kitchener, and Kirkland Lake before accepting a job at CJVI in Victoria. He worked for the CBC in Prince Rupert, B.C., before being transferred to Vancouver.
A boom-and-bust mentality transformed the city every few years, as land speculation offered dizzying changes to streetscapes, as well as to demographics. Davis decided to create what he called an “urban almanac” for a port city no longer as sleepy as it once had been. He recruited dozens of writers for a compendium of history and information. Printed on cheap newspaper stock, which gave it the semblance of a telephone directory, The Vancouver Book proved enormously popular. The library staff told Davis that it was the second-most purloined title in the collection. The most-stolen title was Hitler's Mein Kampf.
The Greater Vancouver Book proved a critical success, winning two major literary prizes, but a financial disaster – the only black ink in the enterprise was in the book's 904 pages.
His most financially successful book was Turn On To Canada, a Grade 3 textbook.
Davis also devised radio game shows such as Look That Up, with Vicki Gabereau.
For the past several years, he has been beavering away on The History of Metropolitan Vancouver. An extensive website, which can be seen at vancouverhistory.ca, offers a flavour of the rich anecdote and telling detail he uncovered in his research.
Students, historians and journalists owe him a tremendous debt, as his diligent work has made any project about the past so much easier.
The announcement of his ill health sparked tributes, many of which were overdue. The city declared a Chuck Davis Day last month and he was awarded the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for his literary work. A plaque in his honour was placed on the Writers' Walk at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
Davis leaves Edna, his wife of 45 years, and a daughter, Stephanie.
Obit #3: Chuck Eisenmann
The star of the heartwarming Canadian television series The Littlest Hobo was a dog who showed an uncanny knack for arriving at a time of peril. After performing heroics, the shrewd stray resisted entreaties to stay, preferring instead the open road.
The vagabond canine – in truth, several look-alike German shepherds – was handled by Chuck Eisenmann, himself a wandering spirit.
Eisenmann, who died on Sept. 6 in Roseburg, Ore., spent decades promoting what he described as a unique, modern method for teaching animals – four-legged performers and their two-legged owners alike. He rejected the word trainer, preferring instead to be thought of as an educator.
“Any dog has the seeds of genius,” he pronounced. “The educated dog has the power to reason and to act on the conclusions reached.”
Accompanied by his pack, he made thousands of personal appearances to promote his technique, as well as the movies in which the dogs starred.
His promotional material promised “the world's greatest intellectual dogs! Hear them talk, add, subtract! See them do feats of intelligence! See the world's only dog with a 5,000-word vocabulary in three languages!”
By the late 1960s, Eisenmann was a guest on television talk shows, appearing on The Steve Allen Show with the comedian Henny Youngman and the folk-rock band the Youngbloods.
In 1972, he conducted a demonstration for the benefit of the psychology club at the University of British Columbia, as recounted in Weekend Magazine.
He commanded his dog, London, to jump into the air.
The dog jumped.
“This time, London, when I say ‘jump' it will mean lie down and put your paws over your eyes … London, jump!”
The dog dutifully lay down and covered its eyes.
He expounded on his theories in a series of softcover instruction guides with such titles as Stop! Sit! and Think and A Dog's Day in Court.
Before finding fame as a dog expert, he owned a nightclub, worked as a sports editor, enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and served as commandant and athletic director of a military school. Four years of military service during the Second World War interrupted a professional baseball career that included pitching for teams in Ottawa and Vancouver.
Charles Paul Eisenmann was born on Sept. 22, 1918, in Hawthorne, Wis. After graduating from high school, he joined the peacetime U.S. Army at the age of 18.
A gifted athlete, the right-hander pitched for a service team in Hawaii, according to research by the baseball historian Gary Bedingfield. Scouts noticed the 6-foot-1, 195-pound hurler with a looping curveball, and he was signed to a contract, beginning his pro career with the Henderson Oilers of the Class-C East Texas League.
A stint with the Vancouver Capilanos, a Class-B team, the following summer led to an eventual promotion to the old San Diego Padres, two levels below the majors. He pitched in just three games before swapping his red-and-white flannel uniform for army greens five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 1943, having graduated from officer school, the second lieutenant pitched for the Signal Monarchs in an eight-team league featuring American, Canadian and British soldier athletes in London.
He followed the Allied armies through northwestern Europe after having organized in Paris the first baseball game to be played on liberated French soil.
After returning stateside several months after the war, he resumed his playing career in the high minor leagues. After three seasons, he gained his reward with a promotion to the Chicago White Sox at the end of the 1948 campaign. But he was not called on to pitch before season's end and, as it turned out, sitting on the bench at Comiskey Park was as close to a major league appearance he ever made.
He pitched in 17 games for the Ottawa Giants in 1951, another way station in a career that also saw him play in Louisianna, Washington state, Oklahoma, Tennessee, New York, Alabama and California.
At 34, he was released, though he refused to give up the game. He worked briefly as an umpire in California and took turns on the mound for semiprofessional teams in Nebraska and North Dakota.
It was while operating a nightclub in the offseason that he got his first dog, which he named London after the city that had so bravely faced down the Nazis. Ever after, his top dog carried that name. The dog accompanied him to the ballpark in summers. One newspaper account described London's panoply of tricks: “The dog brought keys from Eisenmann's car, bowed to the crowd, brought a bat and a broom to the pitcher, ran the bases, brought a ball bag from the mound, told how old he is (five), imitated a kangaroo, closed a door, turned out a light, played dead, untied a boy and did a little typewriting.”
In 1955, with his master managing the Kearney Irishmen, London was sent onto the field during a game to bring a warmup jacket to the pitcher, who had reached first base. The dog mistakenly went to the pitching mound before spotting the pitcher and completing the delivery. But the delay caused the other team to protest and the umpires banished Eisenmann and London from the field.
The rhubarb attracted the attention of Life magazine, which devoted a two-page spread to the pair.
In turn, the article was noticed by Dorrell and Stuart McGowan, brothers who had in mind an idea about the adventures of a homeless dog. The Littlest Hobo, a movie released in 1958, told the story of a stray who befriends a boy and rescues his pet lamb from a date with the slaughterhouse.
This was followed two years later by My Dog, Buddy, starring London in the title role in a story of “a huckleberry-faced boy and his dog.”
London and younger understudies Toro and Thorn starred in two other movies, The Marks of Distinction and Just Between Us, the latter in which a dog jumps from a trestle and leaps onto the wing of a taxiing airplane.
In 1963, the CTV network added to its schedule a new show, also named The Littlest Hobo. It was billed as an adult action series, airing in the early evening. The program got solid reviews and found a global audience in syndication. The series, which lasted three seasons, was filmed at the Hollyburn Film Studios in West Vancouver and other locales in British Columbia.
The altruistic Alsatian rescued a prospector from death in the desert, thwarted a bank robbery, and stopped another dog from attacking a politician on the command of his evil owner, portrayed by Eisenmann. Along the way, London befriended a Cuban refugee, an ex-prize fighter, a lumberjack, a bronco rider, a nightclub singer, the owner of a Chinese restaurant, and a deaf and mute aboriginal boy. Then the hobo would drift along to the next town, riding the rails to adventure.
The series was revived in 1979 for a six-season run. By now, Eisenmann had seven dogs (two of them female) to satisfy a hectic schedule. The series, filmed in Ontario, attracted such actors as a teenaged Mike Myers and the venerable Al Waxman. It was syndicated to more than 40 countries.
Eisenmann had a simple philosophy to explain his success with dogs: “A dog thinks just as a human does, and if you treat him as a stupid animal eventually he will act that way. That's why I act positive around my dogs and treat them as friends.”
Eisenmann leaves two daughters, four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and a sister.
Obit #4: Dwight Armstrong
The man known as Gary Mitchell rode the bus to his job as an apprentice printer and enjoyed the occasional glass of beer at a nearby Toronto tavern. He took correspondence courses, watched shows on an abandoned television he had repaired, and paid his $22 weekly rent for a furnished room in cash.
On a Saturday evening in April, 1977, he was arrested by four plainclothes Toronto police at a restaurant on Yonge Street.
His landlord and coworkers were surprised to learn he was actually Dwight Alan Armstrong, 25, of Madison, Wis., a fugitive who had spent seven years on the most-wanted list of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Armstrong had been a long-haired teenager – a high-school dropout – when he and an older brother, with two accomplices, parked a van loaded with fertilizer and fuel oil outside Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin campus in his hometown. They lit the fuse before fleeing.
The resulting blast failed to destroy its target – the Army Mathematics Research Center, on upper floors of the building – but it caused damage to several surrounding buildings and injured three civilians. It also killed a 33-year-old postdoctoral fellow who was conducting a late-night superconductivity experiment. Robert Fassnacht, a father of three, was the victim of a twisted plot by radicals to bring home the violence of a war they opposed.
Armstrong, who has died of lung cancer, aged 58, later expressed regret and remorse at the death, though he was unrepentant about using violence to protest the Vietnam War.
Dwight Armstrong was born on Aug. 28, 1951, the youngest of Ruth (nee Kennedy) and Donald Armstrong's four children. His father was a machinist who worked his way into a white-collar job as a purchasing agent. Baseball and Boy Scouts were parts of an ordinary middle-class upbringing.
Dwight worked as a cook, dishwasher and railroad switchman. He became radicalized by his brother Karleton's opposition to the war in Asia.
On New Year's Eve, 1969, the brothers stole a two-seat Cessna from a nearby airport. Dwight had worked as a maintenance man for the company that owned the plane before being fired for refusing to cut his hair.
With less than 30 hours experience at the controls, Dwight flew through snow flurries before reaching their target, the Badger Army Ammunition Plant at Baraboo. Three homemade bombs were tossed from the plane, but they failed to explode, fizzling in the snow.
The New Year's Gang, as they styled themselves, tried other attacks, these also failing. In one case, Karl threw a firebomb inside a campus building he had wrongly identified. The device failed to ignite.
As foolish were these attempts at sabotage, the one success was devastating. The brothers, joined by recruits David Fine and Leo Burt, stole a Ford Econoline van, which was then filled with legally purchased fuel oil and 700 pounds (318 kilograms) of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The van was parked alongside Sterling Hall. A warning call was made to police from a nearby telephone booth before Dwight drove the four men away from the campus.
At 3:34 a.m. on Aug. 24, 1970, the predawn stillness was shattered by a tremendous explosion heard for miles around.
Dwight Armstrong was shocked by the spectacle of what he had unleashed.
“It looked like an atom bomb had gone off,” he once told magazine journalist Michael Fellner. “The sky was all red. Debris was still rising in the air, almost in slow motion, forming a mushroom cloud over the city. It was eerie.”
The quartet fled, getting away even after being pulled over by a suspicious police officer. They sought help from anarchists in Ann Arbor, Mich., only to be turned away. The four split into pairs, the brothers making their way to New York City, where they survived by panhandling and shoplifting.
In a two-part series published in Wisconsin magazine in 1986, Fellner described Dwight Armstrong's underground life as one of impoverishment featuring several close scrapes.
The brothers originally holed up in Montreal, which turned out to be a poor choice for a haven after the invocation of the War Measures Act in response to two kidnappings by militant Quebec separatists. An apartment next door to their hideout was raided by police.
The brothers moved to Toronto, where Dwight survived by panhandling and selling copies of the Guerrilla underground newspaper. He was arrested for vagrancy but not fingerprinted, so left jail after one night on $25 bail.
When daily newspapers reported the fugitive had been spotted at a Toronto youth hostel, Dwight fled to Vancouver, where a thriving counter-cultural scene offered support.
(Meanwhile, Karl Armstrong was arrested by the RCMP in Toronto in 1972. He fought extradition for a year before being returned to Wisconsin, where he got a 23-year prison sentence.)
Dwight later returned to Montreal, where he found work as a hospital janitor under the name of Martin Fairchild.
In January, 1975, he flew to Calgary before catching a bus to Milk River near the border with Montana. He planned to walk across the frontier by following railway tracks, a cockamamie scheme in wintertime. A blizzard forced him back. He returned to Toronto, where a girlfriend agreed to help him enter the United States. They drove to Kingston, Ont., where he paddled across the St. Lawrence River. The girlfriend met him in a car on the other side.
He then flew to San Francisco, where he was eventually arrested for shoplifting cheese. He spent five days in jail before being released because of overcrowding. Though he had been interviewed in custody by an FBI agent, his true identity was not uncovered. Dwight returned to Toronto, where, after 18 quiet months, he was arrested on April 9, 1977.
He was the third bomber to be captured. David Fine had been arrested in California a year earlier.
A fourth suspect, Leo Burt, narrowly escaped capture at Peterborough, Ont. His whereabouts remain unknown to this day. The FBI still offers a $150,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Dwight Armstrong received a seven-year sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder. He was released from jail after three years. His brother was paroled in 1980. Fine, also sentenced to seven years, was released in 1979 after serving three.
Dwight Armstrong married in October, 1984, and a daughter was born two months later. However, he was soon once again on the lam.
In April, 1987, he fled warrants issued for his arrest after police busted an Indiana-based group that manufactured and sold methamphetamine. He was arrested four months later following a car chase in British Columbia, after which Vancouver police charged him with possession of methamphetamine, stolen property, dangerous driving and two charges of leaving the scene of an accident.
He got a two-day jail sentence before being extradited. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the drug laboratory and was released in 1991. “My life has not been something to write home about,” he told the Capitol Times newspaper in Madison the next year.
In recent years, he worked at a produce company and as a cab driver in Madison, where he also helped care for his ailing mother.
Three years ago, the university unveiled a plaque at the rebuilt Sterling Hall in memory of the research scientist killed in the blast.
On the 40th anniversary of the bombing last month, the school's library and the Wisconsin Story Project installed a booth to record the memories and anecdotes of those who remembered the attack. The tales will be including in documentaries looking at the era of campus protest.
Armstrong died on June 20 at UW Hospital on the same campus on which he had planted a bomb 40 years earlier. He leaves a daughter, his mother, two sisters, and his brother, Karl, who, in warm months, operates the Loose Juice food cart on the university's Library Mall.
Obit #5: Jack Babcock
Jack Babcock never saw No Man's Land, or the poppies in Flanders Field; did not fight at Vimy Ridge, or at Passchendaele; never flew a biplane in the skies over Europe; never attacked a U-boat, or a Zeppelin.
In 1916, he volunteered for the Canadian army, another Ontario boy eager to leave the family farm to see the world. The late discovery of his tender age – he was just 15½ – saved him from being ordered to the trenches in France. The disappointment he felt then was tempered over the years by the knowledge that legions of his peers were cut down in their youth.
More than 60,000 Canadians died in the Great War, a terrible toll from which emerged in this land a greater sense of nationhood. Mr. Babcock escaped the bloodletting with the signing of the armistice halting “the war to end all wars.”
Seeking opportunity, he settled in the United States, where he emerged from obscurity decades later as the last known Canadian veteran of the First World War.
The unrequested burden of representing all the soldiers, sailors and airmen who served in the conflagration fell to a man whose war record, as he readily admitted, reflected little more than a youth's eagerness for adventure.
“I didn't do any fighting,” he said.
For all the killing, for all the slaughter, Mr. Babcock never fired a shot in anger.
Although he did not see action, he proved a most worthy representative of his brave generation.
He entertained visiting Canadian dignitaries, including cabinet ministers and military officers, at his home in Spokane, Wash. The centenarian willingly accepted as his duty the responsibility to speak with all reporters and military historians keen for insight on his wartime experience. He did so with good humour, even as his hearing failed in recent years, making conversation difficult.
Mr. Babcock readily acknowledged the importance of youth serving their country in uniform although he warned against the savagery of battle.
“I hope countries think long and hard before engaging in war, as many people get killed,” he once told an interviewer from Veterans Affairs Canada. “What a waste, not to mention the relatives who are left to mourn.”
He politely declined any suggestion his death be marked by a state funeral, as he felt his own contributions were not worthy of such an honour. It was said his wish was to have his ashes scattered in the mountains.
A vibrant man well into his 11th decade, Mr. Babcock golfed until recently and regularly attended church. He had brilliant blue eyes, their clarity all the more striking for his shock of thick white hair. He attributed his longevity and his positive outlook to his second wife, 29 years his junior, who doted on him. He was a rare man to have celebrated a 30th wedding anniversary more than once.
Two years ago, he regained his Canadian citizenship, which he lost when he became a U.S. citizen in 1946.
John Henry Foster Babcock, who was born in the final months of the reign of Queen Victoria, enlisted to serve King and Country under her grandson, George V.
His prosperous and hard-working father, James Babcock, of German ancestry, owned a sawmill and a farm on which he raised cattle in Frontenac County, Ontario. He had five children when his wife and sixth child both died in childbirth. After marrying Isabelle Anne Foster, a woman of Irish stock 10 years his junior, he fathered five more children. Jack was his eighth child and third son.
The family's fortunes suffered when James Babcock was killed felling a tree in March, 1907. Jack was six. The family lost the farm, although the boy remained to work as a servant for the new owners.
He remembered being with an older half-brother when approached by an army lieutenant and sergeant in 1916.
“They were hard up for men,” Mr. Babcock told me five years ago. “They asked me if I would like to enlist and I said, ‘Sure.' So, they signed me up. The next Monday morning I walked to the little town of Sydenham about 10 miles away. There were about 35 men who had been recruited and we drilled in the town hall.”
(Albert Manily Babcock enlisted three weeks after Jack. He was serving in France with an engineering unit when injured. “He was building a narrow-gauge bridge across a big shell hole,” Jack Babcock said. “He got buried up to his hips in sand and had to get help to get out. He came back home, had a nervous breakdown.” After studying at McGill University in Montreal, he became a minister.)
Jack Babcock's enlistment papers, dated Feb. 4, 1916, describe his “apparent age” as 18, even though they gave his correct birth date, 1900.
Standing 5 feet, 4½ inches, he signed as Foster Babcock in a schoolboy's uncertain scrawl. He was assigned to the 146th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Mr. Babcock was posted to the armoury at nearby Kingston, Ont. He once recalled marching down Princess Street, where he was embarrassed to have been spotted by an uncle – wearing long pants that did not reach his ankles. He was then sent to the base at Valcartier, Que., where he underwent a physical.
“I was fit but I was underage,” he said. “But for some reason or another my name wasn't posted with those who were turned down, so I put my pack on and got on the train for Halifax. Of course, the company commander, who knew my age, had me step aside when I was ready to get on the boat.”
Instead of joining the men overseas, Mr. Babcock wound up toting freight on the docks.
“I didn't care for that. When they called for 50 men to go to the Royal Canadian Regiment, I volunteered. When they asked me how old I was, I said 18.”
The voyage overseas lasted nine days. Mr. Babcock remembers his troopship being escorted through U-boat waters by a light cruiser and three destroyers.
Once again his official documents betrayed him, however, and the eager but underaged soldier was dispatched to a Boys' Battalion at Bexhill-on-sea in Sussex, where non-commissioned officers prepared the youngsters for eventual service in France.
“They drilled us for eight hours a day,” he said. “We probably had the best drill outfit in the Canadian army. That's all we did. We weren't particularly fond of it.”
The only action he saw in the war was a donnybrook at Kinmel Park Camp in North Wales.
“We were there when the armistice was signed” on Nov. 11, 1918, he said. “We got into a beef with some British soldiers and they armed themselves with rifles and bayonets. One fellow got a little obstreperous and they stuck a bayonet through his thigh.”
(Kinmel Park was the site of an infamous riot and mutiny by Canadian soldiers dissatisfied with delays in being returned home. Five were killed and 23 wounded in unrest on March 4 and 5, 1919.)
A fortnight later, the acting lance corporal was back in Canada. “Spent two days in Halifax, two days in Quebec City, and one day in Montreal, and then I landed home.”
At the time Mr. Babcock reminisced about the armistice in 2005, he was one of only three living Canadians to have been in uniform on that day.
He worked as a labourer in Canada before emigrating to the United States, where he joined the army in 1921. His expertise on the parade field earned him promotions and he was soon a sergeant. He left after three years in uniform.
He then found jobs as an electrician, a trade he learned in the army. He later owned his own businesses in oil and natural gas, completing his working life at age 87 in the employ of his son's waterworks equipment business.
He saw great changes in his lifetime, even at his family's Ontario farm. In 1955, aerial photographs revealed the farm as the site of a meteorite impact some 450 to 650 million years ago. An Ontario government plaque today marks the Holleford Crater.
Mr. Babcock's first wife, Elsie, whom he married in 1932, died in 1976.
Some months later, he proposed to one of her caregivers, Dorothy (Dot) Farden, a 47-year-old nurse.
“When I found out how old he was,” she said, “I said no way.”
Her concern was his advanced age. She did not want to attend a funeral too soon after a honeymoon.
Rebuffed, her septuagenarian suitor persisted. He suggested they try dating.
“He said, ‘You like to dance, I like to dance. You like to golf, I like to golf. You like the outdoors, I like the outdoors.' ”
A second marriage proposal was accepted, though the bride insisted her groom promise to live at least another decade.
They celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary on Dec. 26.
Mr. Babcock made the most of his longevity, earning a high school diploma by correspondence at age 95.
He became the last known surviving Canadian veteran after the death in May, 2007, of Percy Dwight Wilson, aged 106.
Mr. Babcock's death leaves Frank Woodruff Buckles, who turned 109 on Feb. 1, as the sole surviving U.S. veteran of the Great War.
On his birthday last July, Mr. Babcock enjoyed one of his favourite treats – long-cut french fries served with tartar sauce.
In recent years, he received several honours, including a commendation from Canada's veterans affairs minister in 2008.
As well, the Royal Canadian Regiment named him regimental patriarch. It was reported he marked the occasion by belting out O Canada.
Jack Babcock was born on July 23, 1900, on a farm at Holleford, Ont. He died on Feb. 18 at his home at Spokane, Wash. He was 109. He leaves his second wife Dorothy, known as Dot, whom he married on Dec. 26, 1976. He also leaves Dot's two adult sons, Eric and Marc Farden. From his first marriage, he leaves John H.F. Babcock Jr., of Newport, Wash., and Sandra Strong, of Hamilton, Mont. He also leaves 16 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Elsie, who died in March, 1976, after 44 years of marriage. He was also predeceased by a grandson, Christopher Babcock, a junior high school teacher who was killed, aged 25, during a rebel attack in El Salvador in 1989.