|Date of Birth||May 18, 1894|
|Place of Birth||Davidson, Saskatchewan|
|Next of Kin||Cassie Gillespie Benson, wife, 475 Toronto Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Trade / Calling||Shipper|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Address at Enlistment||475 Toronto Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Date of Enlistment||20/03/1916|
|Age at Enlistment||21|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||07/12/1965|
|Age at Death||71|
|Buried At||Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Plot||Last Supper 143 B1|
Robert John (Bobby) Benson was born on 18 May 1894 in Davidson, Saskatchewan. His parents Hans Benedikt Johannesson and Rosa Gudmundsdottir were from Iceland, marrying on 22 July 1876 in Grenadarstadur, Sudur-Thingeyjarsysea. The couple gave birth to two children in Iceland, Egill (George) in 1875 and Vestium (Weston) in 1879. At some point after Weston’s birth the family immigrated to Canada, settling in the Territories (now Saskatchewan) where Bobby’s father found work as a railway section foreman. Children born in Saskatchewan were Rebecca (1884), William (1886), Conrad (1888), Bertha (1891), Harvey (1893), and Bobby. The forenames are the anglicized version of their Icelandic names. Initially various surnames were used for the parents and children, with the children eventually using Benediktsson (shortened to Benson) and Bobby’s parents later known as Ben and Rosa Johnson. By the time of the 1906 census the family had moved to Winnipeg where Ben became a foreman at a cartage company.
Bobby and Harvey became very involved in playing hockey in the city. The Winnipeg Falcons hockey team was founded around 1911 with a roster of entirely Icelandic-descent players who were not able to play on the other Winnipeg teams because of their heritage. The Falcons eventually joined the Monarchs, Winnipegs, Kenora and Brandon to form the Manitoba Independent League, an intermediate league. The team improved to win the independent league’s title in 1915 and finally achieved one of its goals, to join the city leagues, when it was admitted to the section of the Winnipeg Senior League.
On 2 July 1913, in Winnipeg, Bobby married Cassie Gillespie. Born in 1892 in the district of Thorah in Ontario, Cassie was the daughter of Archibald and Effie (née Gillespie) Gillespie. Her parents married in 1883 in Nottawasaga, Simcoe, Ontario and by the time of the 1901 census the family was living in Winnipeg. Bobby and Cassie gave birth to son Lorne Robert later that year.
With the outbreak of the war most of the team enlisted for service overseas, with seven of the players joining the 223rd Battalion. Bobby enlisted on 20 March 1916 in Winnipeg. Although he had previously been working as a lather, his occupation was given as shipper. His wife Cassie on Toronto Street was given as his next of kin. Bobby’s brother Harvey had enlisted with the 223rd Battalion previously that month. During training in Canada, both fellows played for the 223rd O.S. Battalion Hockey Club in the Winnipeg Patriotic League, 1916/17.
As a Private with the battalion, Bobby arrived in England aboard the Justicia on 14 May 1917. First taken on strength with the 11th Reserve Battalion upon arrival, in September he was posted to the 27th Battalion and was in France by the 9th. In March of 1918 Bobby was awarded a Good Conduct Badge. That October he sustained a shrapnel wound to his knee and was admitted to the No 7 Canadian General Hospital in Etaples on the 11th. Near the end of the month he was transferred to the No 6 Convalescent Depot, discharged in early November. He rejoined the 27th Battalion on 14 November and was granted a fourteen day leave to the UK later that month. In February of 1919 Bobby was appointed Lance Corporal. In mid April he returned to England and embarked from Liverpool for Canada aboard the Northland on 13 May. Bobby was discharged from service on demobilization on 26 May in Winnipeg.
Bobby’s brother Harvey was also taken on strength with 11th Reserve Battalion upon arrival in England and transferred to the 27th Battalion in November of 1917. In the spring of 1918 he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps, first promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant. Harvey arrived back in Canada in late May and was discharged from service on demobilization in Toronto on the 27th.
Bobby and Cassie continued to live in Winnipeg after the war, with Bobby’s occupation given as lather on the 1921 census. Also listed on the 1916 and 1921 censuses with the family was daughter Evelyn although in all likelihood she was the daughter of Bobby’s brother Conrad and wife Eva Pariseau as suggested by her birth record and later documents.
The Winnipeg Falcons rebuilt the team, having lost two players overseas in the war. For the 1919/20 season they were the Manitoba League champions, beat the Fort William Maple Leafs to win the Western Hockey championship, and then defeated the University of Toronto club to win the Allan Cup that qualified them as Canada’s Olympic entry in the games in Antwerp, Belgium. This was the first year that hockey was part of the games and the Falcons won the gold medal. The team is commemorated on the Winnipeg Falcons Hockey Club website and on the Historica Canada website among others. In 2014 Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute video about the Falcons, with CBC television releasing a feature video about them on Remembrance day the same year.
Bobby turned professional the next year, playing for a number of teams including the Saskatoon Crescents (1920-1921), Calgary Tigers (1921-1924), Boston Bruins (1924-1925), Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatoon Crescents (1925-1926), Moose Jaw Maroons (1926-1927), Minneapolis Millers (1927-1929 ), Seattle Eskimos (1929-1931) and the Hollywood Stars (1931-1932). He retired from professional hockey after that season and returned to Winnipeg. Bobby then went on to coach the Brandon Junior Native Sons (1932-1933), Portage la Prairie Junior Terriers (1938-1939), Kenora Thistles (1939-1940), and Winnipeg Falcons (1940-1942). In later life he worked as a clerk for Eatons.
Bobby’s wife Cassie died on 6 June 1942 in Winnipeg and is interred in Brookside Cemetery. On 29 June 1944, in Winnipeg, Bobby married widow Gudny Rose (Jean) (née Dennison) Powell. Jean had married Charles Gordon Powell in 1928 in Winnipeg, the couple giving birth to daughter Loverna in 1930 in Moose Jaw.
Bobby died on 7 September 1965 in Deer Lodge Hospital in Winnipeg. At the time of his death he was survived by his wife Jean, son Lorne and his wife Audrey, step daughter Loverna Goldhawk and her husband Cecil and their three children, brothers Harvey of Winnipeg and Connie of Chicago, and sister Rebecca (Chris) Thompson of Walhalla, North Dakota. He was predeceased by his father (1921), mother (1923), and siblings William (1933), Weston (1942), George (1951), all in the Winnipeg area, and Bertha (James) Holton (1963) in Vancouver. Jean later died on 15 December 1972. Bobby and Jean are interred in Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens on the outskirts of Winnipeg.
Bobby is commemorated as an athlete and coach on the Memorable Manitobans website.
By Judy Stockham
Photographs and newspaper articles about the Winnipeg Falcons are found on a number of websites including the official one as per the link above.
Robert’s grave marker photograph by Ken, findagrave.com.