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Thunder Bay and The Poppy: Orpington

***This article was originally published August 22 2016***

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.

The efforts to link Thunder Bay with Orpington in England are starting to take off, thanks to the support given by councils and churches on both sides of the Pond. The catalyst for this relationship was the re-dedication of Canadian Corner, a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at All Saints Church in Orpington, Kent. The ceremony took place on Saturday 30 April 2016, one hundred years after the first internment at Canadian Corner.

The service was led by the Bishop of Rochester and featured the Vicar of All Saints, the Mayor of Bromley (the municipality in which Orpington lies), and a representative from the Canadian High Commission in London. The Order of Service largely followed the one used at the original Unveiling and Dedication of the Memorial Cross in 1921.

The Bishop blessed an Information Board which tells the story of Canadian Corner and the 88 Canadian soldiers who were buried there. The Last Post was played and during the two minute silence all that could be heard was the wind in the trees and the birds singing.

This recalled a line from Orpington from Saxon Times to the Great War (1919): The body of your dear one rests in the peaceful village of Orpington, in the shadow of the old church. He lies with his fellow soldiers, in a sheltered corner of the churchyard carpeted with grass and fringed with trees. Above, in the spring time the skylarks sing all day.

The Bishop also blessed a cherry tree, which has been planted just outside Canadian Corner, in memory of Victor Lilia. He was born in 1884 in Ehrin, Finland, the son of John and Fin Lilia. He came to Canada on the Empress of Ireland which sailed from Liverpool on 18 April 1913 and arrived in St John New Brunswick on 25 April. He worked in the lumber camps of British Columbia before moving to Thunder Bay. Victor lived on Robertson Street in Fort William.

The plaque on this tree reads as follows: In memory of Victor Lilia, Native of Finland, Resident of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Died 6 June 1919 at Ontario Military Hospital, Orpington. With grateful thanks to the people of Orpington from the City of Thunder Bay, 2016.

The next blessing was of a maple tree, which was planted on the spot where a yew tree stood for over 300 years before it was blown down in a storm. The Bishop pointed out that it was fitting that a tree so old should be replaced by a young maple to symbolize the ongoing relationship between Orpington and Canada.

The final part of the ceremony took place inside the church, where the Bishop blessed the restored Coat of Arms of Ontario, which used to hang at the old Orpington Hospital. This was built in 1916 as the Ontario Military Hospital and later became the No. 16 Canadian General Hospital.

The Mayor of Bromley has also presented a proposal to the Bromley Town Twinning Association to develop a formal link between Orpington and Thunder Bay.

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 for more information about this project or to contribute personal stories and photos.


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