|Date of Birth||August 18, 1889|
|Place of Birth||Clent, Worcestershire|
|Next of Kin||Ada Houghton (wife), Kenora, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Gasoline Engineer|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Branch||Royal Canadian Navy|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||October 23, 1917|
|Age at Enlistment||28|
|Theatre of Service||Canada|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||November 9, 1977|
|Age at Death||88|
|Buried At||St. Vital Cemetery,Winnipeg, Manitoba|
Ordinary Seaman Fred Houghton joined the Naval Service in October 1917 and served in Canada for four months. He survived the horrific explosion in Halifax harbour on 6 December and he was discharged in February 1918.
George Wilfred Houghton, known as Fred, was the son of John Houghton and Sarah Elizabeth Guest. John and Sarah were both born in Clent, Worcestershire, England. They were married there in 1872 and over the next 17 years they had at least nine children. Fred, who was probably the youngest, was born in Clent on 18 August 1889. When the 1891 census was taken his family was still living in Clent and his father was employed as a shepherd. By 1901 his parents had moved to Aston on the outskirts of the city of Birmingham. Fred, age 11, was not at home at the time as he was living in a charitable institution. Although it was called Old Swinford Hospital it was actually a boarding school that provided an education for underprivileged and orphaned boys. The school was located in Oldswinford, Worcestershire and when the 1901 census was taken Fred was one of 165 boys living there, all aged from 8 to 14.
Around 1910 Fred immigrated to Canada and settled in the town of Kenora, Ontario, where he found work as a car repairer for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was married in Kenora on 27 August 1912 to Ada Loutitt, the daughter of Thomas and Kate Loutitt. Ada was born in Manitoba in 1892 and her family moved to Rat Portage (later called Kenora) when she was a child. Fred and Ada had seven children: Edna, Ralph, Nora, Ethel, Helen, Tom and Fred Jr.
In April 1913 Fred’s mother and two of his brothers, Albert John and Percival Bert, arrived from England via Portland, Maine, their destination listed as Kenora. The war started the following year and both Percival and Fred enlisted. Percival was living in British Columbia and he enlisted in Victoria, signing up with the 48th Battalion in March 1915. Fred joined the Royal Canadian Navy on 23 October 1917 and he was sent to Nova Scotia, where he served on HMCS Niobe. The Niobe had been used for patrols earlier in the war but by the time Fred enlisted it was permanently anchored in Halifax harbour and used as a depot ship.
On the morning of 6 December 1917 a collision in the harbour caused the huge and disastrous Halifax Explosion. About 2,000 people in and near Halifax were killed and another 9,000 were injured. Fred was on the Niobe at the time and he wrote a letter to his wife describing the events of that day. The letter was printed in the Kenora Miner and News on 19 December. Fred said he was on the deck of the Niobe at the time of the explosion and the blast threw him back about 15 to 20 feet. He wasn’t injured even though large chunks of shells and pieces of debris were landing on the ship. He was able to get to shore with another Kenora lad, Arthur Chaloner, and they helped with the wounded civilians. Many houses had been flattened by the massive explosion and other homes were on fire. Fred spent several hours bringing the wounded – men, women and children – to dressing stations. He said the horrific injuries really shook him up, especially the children, and he was relieved to get back to the ship.
Fred served for another two months, getting discharged on 15 February 1918. His brother Percival also survived the war and returned from overseas a year later, in February 1919. Fred went home to his family in Kenora and when the next census was taken, in 1921, he was working as a dispatcher for the CPR. His mother passed away in Kenora in 1923, at age 74, and she’s buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. Fred had a long career with the CPR, working for them for about forty years. He was a member of the Kenora branch of the Canadian Legion. His wife Ada died in 1951, at age 59, and she’s buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. By the following year Fred was remarried and living in Winnipeg. His second wife Violet Irene Hazel MacFee (née Hill) was a widowed school teacher with three children.
Fred retired in the mid-1950s, when he was about 65, and lived in Winnipeg for the rest of his life. His oldest son Ralph died in July 1977 and Fred passed away later that same year, on 9 November, at age 88. Violet survived him by exactly four years, passing away on 9 November 1981. Fred, Violet, Ralph and his wife Lorraine are all buried in St. Vital Cemetery in Winnipeg.
By Becky Johnson