|Date of Birth||October 16, 1898|
|Place of Birth||Kenora, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Mary Park, mother, Swan River, Manitoba|
|Trade / Calling||Labourer|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||1st Labour Battalion|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Date of Enlistment||September 30, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||17|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||May 15, 943|
|Age at Death||44|
|Buried At||Regina Cemetery, Regina, Saskatchewan|
|Plot||Block C Plot 1 Grave 5|
Gilbert Earl McConnell was born on 16 October 1898 in Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora), Ontario, confirmed by his Ontario birth record. His parents Robert McConnell and Eliza Jane Copeland, although from Quebec, were both of Irish origin. They married on 14 May 1890 in Kazabazua, La-Vallee-de-la Gatineau in Quebec. The 1891 census found the couple with their two month old infant son Foster listed in the Cawood and Alleyn area in Pontiac, close to where they had married. By the time of son Herbert’s birth in 1896 they had relocated to Rat Portage where Robert found work as a teamster. It appears that Foster may have died before leaving Quebec. Sadly, after Robert died on 23 April 1900 of typhoid fever, the family unit disintegrated. Eliza and the children moved to Winnipeg and over the next two decades family members were to spend time in the Children’s Home on River Avenue and in Laura Crouch’s Home for the Friendless in both the Furby Street location and on the farm out in West Kildonan.
‘It (The Home for the Friendless) was billed as a Christian refuge of last resort but to the hundreds of vulnerable children and adults who witnessed its horrors, the Home of the Friendless was both a workhouse and prison from which few left unscathed. Established in 1900 as a shelter for unwed mothers, orphans, and destitutes by Kansas evangelist Laura Crouch and a cast of fire-and-brimstone followers, the home quickly mushroomed into a huge operation. Its assets included a four hectare headquarters on Main Street, a rescue home on Furby Street for unwed mothers, a 100 hectare farm in Rosser and a 10.4 hectare farm in West St Paul’ (West Kildonan). (Allison Bray, Winnipeg Free Press, 21 August 1995). According to author Len Kaminski, the home ‘used classic indoctrination techniques including fear and intimidation, starvation, long hours of work with little rest, being cut off from family and community, and being forced to participate in religious services for hours on end.’ The homes were closed in 1929 due to failure to pay taxes, with Crouch and her followers moving to British Columbia to open another home that also closed amid controversy.
Likely in the Furby Street location, Eliza gave birth to daughter Mildred Isabel in June of 1905 and son Arthur Clyde in May of 1909, both given the surname of McConnell. The 1906 census listed Herbert and Gilbert as inmates in the Children’s Home on River Avenue while Eliza and Mildred were living in the District of MacDonald. A border crossing of 1908 had Eliza and Gilbert going to Forest River in North Dakota, and another one in 1911 listed Mildred, coming from the Home for the Friendless, on her way to Johnstown in North Dakota. By the time of the 1911 census Herbert had been sent to William and Mary Vickey’s farm near Hamiota to work as a farm labourer and Gilbert had been adopted by William and Mary Ann Park of Swan River, both in Manitoba. Eliza, Mildred, and Clyde were living in the Furby Street home at the time of the census. By the time of the 1916 census Mildred and Clyde had been moved to the West Kildonan farm while Eliza remained at the Furby Street home where she was listed as a ‘helper’ in a later census. Although Clyde was still there, by the 1921 census Mildred was no longer listed as an inmate in the West Kildonan home/farm. Further trace of her was not found.
Gilbert’s adoptive father William Park was born in Scotland while his adoptive mother Mary Ann McCraary was from Plainfield in Hastings, Ontario. The couple married on 12 November 1903 in Winnipeg. Mary Ann had previously been married to William Henry Pope and had a daughter from the marriage, Hellen Bertha Pope, born the same year as Gilbert. Although the 1911 census listed Gilbert as their adopted son, his surname was given as McConnell on the census. By the time of the 1916 census he had assumed the Park surname.
With his occupation given as labourer, his date and place of birth as 16 October 1897 in Kenora, and his mother Mary Park in Swan River as next of kin, Gilbert signed his attestation paper at Camp Hughes in Manitoba on 30 September 1915. The 45th Battalion recruited throughout Manitoba and was mobilized at Brandon, Manitoba. Gilbert was listed on the 45th Battalion’s Nominal Roll as a Private, embarking for Great Britain aboard the Lapland on 1 April 1916. However according to his service record he arrived in England on 25 March.
In mid April Gilbert was admitted to Moore Barracks Hospital in Shorncliffe with a case of measles, discharged on the 31st. In June he was transferred to the 8th Battalion, taken on strength in the field on the 21st. The 8th Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles) was authorized on 10 August 1914, recruited in Brandon and Winnipeg, Manitoba and Kenora and Port Arthur, Ontario and embarked for Great Britain on 1 October 1914. It disembarked in France on 13 February 1915, where it fought as part of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war.
By late August of 1916 Gilbert was admitted to the No 4 Stationary Hospital in Arques having dislocated the cartilage in his knee while entraining. It appears that he may have had a previous injury to the knee while training at Camp Sewell. He was invalided to England to the East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital in September, eventually discharged from the Canadian Convalescent Hospital Woodcote Park, Epsom in mid November. Early in the new year Gilbert was transferred to the 1st Labour Battalion, arriving in France on 16 February 1917. In mid April he was admitted to he No 1 South African General Hospital in Abbeville with knee problems, transferring to the Royal Herbert Hospital in Woolwich in England in early May. Transferred to Woodcote Park, Gilbert was discharged on 8 June. Following a series of transfers in England, it was decided that Gilbert would be returned to Canada, arriving in St John, New Brunswick aboard the Grampian on 17 March 1918. He was discharged from service as medically unfit for further war service on 6 April 1918. His intended residence was given as Swan River.
Gilbert’s brother Herbert enlisted in 1916 in Winnipeg with the 100th Battalion, serving overseas with the 78th Battalion. Wounded three times, he returned to Canada in June of 1919.
According to his WW2 service record, by 1926 Gilbert was living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and working as a motion picture projectionist. At some point his adoptive parents William and Mary moved to New Westminster in British Columbia. Around 1940 Gilbert moved to Regina in Saskatchewan to work at the Famous Players Metropolitan Theatre. As given in his service record, on 16 August 1941, in Regina, he married Wilhemina Helen (née Gilbert) Laudon. Previously married to Heinrich Laudon, Winnie had a daughter who was born in 1935, Vera Constance.
Gilbert enlisted with Royal Canadian Air Force on 1 February 1943 in Regina. His occupation was given as projectionist and his wife Winnie Park in Regina as next of kin. The names of his parents were given as unknown. The interviewing officer’s assessment described Gilbert as a good type, sincere and keen to serve, and neat and well mannered.
While training at the No 2 Bombing & Gunnery School in Mossbank, Saskatchewan, Gilbert suffered a heart attack and died on 15 May 1943. At the time of his death he was survived by his wife Winnie, stepdaughter Vera, brother Herbert McConnell in Vancouver and brother Clyde McConnell of Winnipeg. According to Herbert’s obituary of 1964 he was also survived by a sister Connie MacKenzie (Mildred?) who was living in Calgary at the time. Also surviving were his adoptive parents in New Westminster. He was predeceased by his birth mother Eliza Jane on Furby Street in Winnipeg in 1928 (Brookside Cemetery). Herbert died in 1964 and Clyde in 1984, both in Vancouver. William Park died in 1943 in New Westminster and Mary Ann Park in 1954 in Coquitlam. Following a full military funeral, Leading Aircraftman Gilbert Earl Park was interred in the Soldiers Plot in the Regina Cemetery. He is commemorated on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, the Saskatchewan Virtual War Memorial, and on page 201 of the Second World War Book of Remembrance in Ottawa.
By Judy Stockham
Gilbert’s gravemarker photo: courtesy of mrbloggins on findagrave.com