Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 5, 1874
Place of BirthLucknow, Ashfield Township, Huron County, Ontario
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinEwan Chambers (son), 1030 Hillcrest Avenue, Calgary, Alberta
Trade / CallingPhysician (Specialist)
Service Details
Regimental NumberN/A
Service Record Link to Service Record
BattalionMedical Services
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Army Medical Corps
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentCalgary, Alberta
Address at Enlistment212 Seventh Avenue West, Calgary, Alberta
Date of EnlistmentSeptember 19, 1915
Age at Enlistment41
Theatre of ServiceCanada
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJanuary 25, 1920
Age at Death46
Buried AtUnion Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta
PlotSection N, Block 4, Lot 1

Chambers, William John

Dr. William John Chambers enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in September 1915 and served in Canada for almost four years. He was discharged in June 1919 and died in a tragic train accident seven months later.

William was born in Lucknow, Ashfield Township, Huron County, Ontario on 5 January 1874. His parents were Hugh Chambers, a farmer, and Elizabeth McRae. William had three older sisters, Jane, Annie and Martha, and a younger sister, Charlotte. A brother, John McRae, had died as an infant in 1872 and Charlotte died in 1884 at age eight. After completing high school William attended medical school at the University of Toronto. When the 1901 census was taken he was living at home in Ashfield and working as a teacher. He graduated from medical school in 1902 or 1903 then studied further in England, earning a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians (London) and a diploma from the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland. He specialized in eye, ear, nose and throat problems and became a member of the Ophthalmological Society of Great Britain.

Sometime after graduating William moved to Kenora, Ontario where he worked with Dr. William James Gunne. Also living in Kenora at the time was Olive Watson Buchanan, a young woman he may have met in England. Olive was born in June 1887 in Stockton on Tees, England, the only child of Charles and Lizzie Buchanan. She came to Canada around 1910 and when the 1911 census was taken she was staying with a family on Seventh Street in Kenora. After spending several years in Kenora William moved to Calgary, Alberta and established a successful practice there. He also provided medical services at the local children’s clinic and he was held in high regard by the medical community in Calgary.

William and Olive were married in Lewisham, London, England on 26 July 1913. Olive and her parents were living in Welling, Bexley, London at the time and William’s address was the Ivanhoe Hotel in London. The Kenora Miner and News carried a long article about the wedding (in the 27 August 1913 issue) and mentioned that the couple received many telegrams of congratulations from England, Scotland, the U.S. and Canada. Following their honeymoon they arrived in Canada in late August on the SS Megantic and spent some time in Toronto before returning to Calgary. Their son, Ewan Buchanan, was born in Calgary on 8 December 1915.

By the fall of 1915 the war was in its second year and William signed up with the Canadian Army Medical Corps on 19 September, getting a commission as a Captain. His Officers’ Declaration was completed sometime after the birth of his son and listed Ewan as his next of kin. When the 1916 census was taken William, Olive and Ewan, age seven months, were living on Sixth Street West in Calgary. William served in Canada with Medical Services for almost four years and was discharged on demobilization on 7 June 1919 in Calgary. Around that same time Olive and Ewan travelled to England to visit relatives, sailing from New York and arriving at Southampton on 7 July. They ended up staying in Great Britain until March 1920.

In January 1920 William was returning from a short business trip to New York when the train he was on was involved in a tragic accident. It happened on the morning of 25 January near Corbeil, a small village southeast of North Bay, Ontario. The engine had stalled due to cold weather and the train was struck by another engine approaching from behind. William was one of eight people who were killed, all of them in a rear passenger car. At least a dozen others were injured. William’s remains arrived in Calgary on 2 February and his funeral was held at the Pro-Cathedral Church the following day. He is buried in Union Cemetery.

Olive and Ewan returned to Canada in late March, arriving on the SS Melita with Calgary as their destination. In 1925 they moved to Santa Monica, California. Olive’s parents, Charles and Lizzie Buchanan, immigrated to the U.S. the following year and when the 1930 census was taken they were all living together in Santa Monica. Ewan graduated from John Hopkins University with a medical degree in 1943. From April 1944 to October 1946 he was a U.S. army surgeon, serving with the 6th Corps in France. Following the war he had a long career as an obstetrician in Baltimore, Maryland. He married Laurette Warren Debnam in Baltimore in May 1952 and they had two children.

Olive passed away in 1977 and she’s buried with her husband at Union Cemetery in Calgary. Ewan died in Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore in November 1999, at age 83, and his wife passed away in 2005.

By Becky Johnson

Grave marker photo provided by City of Calgary Cemeteries.

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