|Date of Birth||March 3, 1894|
|Place of Birth||Kenora, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Mary Anne Lavoie (mother), Kenora, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Gasoline expert/motor mechanic|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||1st Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Branch||Canadian Machine Gun Corps|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||January 2, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||20|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||February 15, 1975|
|Age at Death||80|
|Buried At||St. Patrick's Cemetery, Thunder Bay, Ontario|
|Plot||Block 13, Row 1, Plot 17|
Private Wilfred Lavoie joined the 52nd Battalion in 1915 and served overseas for four years. He returned to Canada in September 1919 with a war bride.
Wilfred was the son of Wilfred Lavoie Sr. and Mary Ann McKeon of Kenora, Ontario. Mary Ann’s family emigrated from Scotland when she was a child and by 1881 they were living in Rat Portage (later called Kenora). Wilfred Sr. was from Baie-Saint-Paul, Charlevoix County, Quebec. They were married around 1881 and they had at least six children: Thomas, Rosa, Mary (died at age two), Joseph, Wilfred Jr. and Alfred. They lived in the Kenora area except for a short time spent in the U.S. where their daughter Rosa was born. Wilfred was born in Rat Portage in March 1894 (or possibly 1893). Over the years Wilfred Sr. worked as a hotel keeper, contractor and butcher. By the time of the 1911 census he and his family had moved to the township of Jaffray, just outside of Kenora, and he was a dairy farmer.
The war started in August 1914 and Wilfred enlisted on 2 January 1915, when recruits were being raised for a third overseas contingent. The local lads were briefly attached to the 44th Battalion but they were transferred to the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion when it was organized in mid-March. The 52nd was based in Port Arthur and the Kenora volunteers were sent there in June to join the rest of the unit. While they were training the 1st Canadian Division was fighting in France and Belgium. Men were needed to replace casualties in front line combat units and battalions in Canada were asked to send reinforcements. Wilfred was sent to England with the 2nd Reinforcing Draft in September 1915, one of 250 men from the 52nd Battalion. He embarked from Montreal on 4 September on the SS Missanabie and arrived in England nine days later.
Wilfred was transferred to the 12th Reserve Battalion and he trained with them for the next five months. On 29 February 1916 he was drafted to the 2nd Brigade Machine Gun Company and sent to France, arriving at Le Havre on 2 March. Due to illness it was late May before he joined his unit in the field. That fall the Canadians were at the Battle of the Somme and they spent the winter of 1916-17 near Arras, across from Vimy Ridge. Following the capture of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 the Canadians stayed in the area, holding the new front line. In August they were at the Battle of Hill 70 but Wilfred was away at the time on leave.
In March 1918 the Canadian machine gun units were re-organized and Wilfred was transferred to the new 1st Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps. He served with them for the next year. The Canadians were heavily involved in the last three months of the war, starting with the Battle of Amiens in August 1918. Wilfred had two weeks leave in October and while he was in England he got married. His wife, Ethel Emily Mills, was born in Lambeth, London in 1896 and their wedding took place in London. Afterwards Wilfred returned to France and about a month later the Armistice ended hostilities. His unit crossed into Germany in early December and stayed there with the occupying forces until January 1919 when they returned to Belgium.
Wilfred had two weeks leave in the UK at the end of February and when it was over he was kept in England and transferred to the Canadian Machine Gun Corps Depot. Married soldiers were among the last to return to Canada. Wilfred and Ethel embarked from Liverpool on the SS Minnedosa on 2 September, arriving in Quebec about a week later. He was discharged on demobilization on 14 September in Quebec City, with his intended residence listed as Kenora. His brother Alfred Henry Lavoie had also enlisted and he served in France with the Canadian Forestry Corps.
Wilfred and Ethel lived in Kenora for about ten years and their first son, George Wilfred, was born there in 1920. Around 1930 they moved to Fort William where Wilfred worked as an engineer at the Great Lakes paper mill. Their second son, William, was born around 1934. Ethel died in Fort William on 8 November 1944, at age 48. George was in Italy at the time, serving with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. Sadly he was killed in action just six weeks later, on 20 December 1944. He is buried in Ravenna War Cemetery in Italy.
Wilfred was retired by the mid-1950s and he continued to live in Fort William until at least 1963. He passed away in Deer Lodge Veterans Hospital in Winnipeg on 15 February 1975, a few weeks before his 81st birthday. Wilfred and Ethel are both buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Thunder Bay.
By Becky Johnson
Photo at the top is St. Patrick’s Cemetery. Grave marker photo courtesy of Lynda Piilo.