|Date of Birth||October 19, 1883|
|Place of Birth||Francestown, New Hampshire|
|Next of Kin||Very Rev. Charles Cahill, St. Boniface, Manitoba|
|Trade / Calling||Clerk of Holy Orders|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Branch||Canadian Chaplain Service|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Date of Enlistment||March 16, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||32|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||November 18, 1959|
|Age at Death||76|
|Buried At||St. Henry's Oblate Cemetery, Belleville, Illinois|
Reverend Father Arthur James Labonte was born on 19 October 1883 in Francestown, New Hampshire. His father, Emery Labonte, was born in St. Dominque, Quebec and moved to New Hampshire as a teenager. He found work in stone quarries in the Francestown area. Arthur’s mother, Marie Hibbert (Hebert), was born in Burlington, Vermont but her parents were from Quebec. Arthur’s birth was registered as Arthur Julius Labonte and he was the third of at least four children. His mother died of consumption in Francestown in 1893, at age 35.
Arthur immigrated to Canada when he was about 15 years old. When the 1906 western Canadian census was taken he was a priest living in St. Boniface, Manitoba, with his year of immigration listed as 1898. He served in churches in the St. Boniface and Winnipeg area until February 1916, when he left for England to join the Canadian Chaplain Service. The Chaplain Service had been organized as a distinct branch of the Canadian forces in August 1915 and hundreds of clergymen of all denominations volunteered to serve with the troops, both overseas and at home.
Arthur embarked for England on the SS Missanabie on 26 February 1916. He enlisted in London, England on 16 March, giving his home address as Winnipeg and next of kin as the Very Reverend Charles Cahill of St. Boniface. His occupation was Clerk in Holy Orders and he said he had served with the garrison in Winnipeg. After serving for three months at Moore Barracks Hospital he was sent to France in June and attached to No. 3 General Hospital in Boulogne. Just a few weeks later he was transferred to the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade and he was with them from July 1916 until February 1917. Chaplains held church services and Bible studies; officiated at funerals; organized sports, musical concerts and other recreational activities; operated canteens; ministered personally to the troops; visited soldiers in hospitals and prisons; sent letters of condolence to relatives of those who died; and wrote letters for illiterate or wounded soldiers.
In February 1917 Arthur was posted to the 3rd Infantry Brigade headquarters and he served there until December 1917. During that time he had ten days leave in Paris in June and two weeks leave in the UK starting on 30 November. When he returned in mid-December he was transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps District 12 headquarters. After ten months there he was posted to the 2nd Brigade Canadian Engineers in October 1918, and he was in Mons, Belgium when it was captured on 11 November. He remained with the Engineers until April 1919 when he returned to England. His last few months were spent at No. 11 Canadian General Hospital in Shorncliffe. Arthur stayed in England until September 1919, when most of the Canadian troops had been sent home. He sailed for Canada from Liverpool on the SS Araguaya, arriving at Halifax on 19 September and getting his discharge one week later.
After the war Arthur was the parish priest at Notre Dame du Portage Church in Kenora, Ontario. He was very interested in the welfare of the community and he became involved in several local organizations. He was an active member of the Children’s Aid Society and he served on the executive of the Kenora Branch, British Empire Service League, working with returned soldiers. Arthur was instrumental in bringing the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary to Kenora in 1926 and that same year he oversaw the construction of a convent for them, next to the Catholic school. When he left Kenora in July 1928 the congregation held a large social and expressed their appreciation for his devotion to duty and the privilege of having him as their pastor for nine years.
From Kenora Arthur moved to Fort Frances, where he served from July 1928 until April 1934. His next parish was in International Falls, just across the border in Minnesota, and he was still serving there in 1942 when he completed his World War II draft registration card.
Arthur passed away in Roberts County, South Dakota on 18 November 1959, at age 76. He’s buried at St. Henry’s Oblate Cemetery in Belleville, Illinois.
By Becky Johnson