Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 5, 1875
Place of BirthAlexandria, Glengarry County, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinDuncan Hugh McDonnell (father), Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingMarine Engineer
ReligionRoman Catholic
Service Details
Regimental Number820827 and VR-1407
Service RecordLink to Service Record
BattalionNiobe, Acadia
BranchRoyal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentJune 13, 1916
Age at Enlistment41
Theatre of ServiceCanada
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathSeptember 1, 1941
Age at Death66
Buried AtBrookside Cemetery, Winnipeg

McDonell, Donald John

Stoker Donald John McDonell enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in June 1916 and served for seven months before transferring to the Naval Service. He spent two years in the navy and returned home in February 1919.

Donald was the oldest son of Duncan Hugh McDonell (MacDonell) and Margaret Ann Kerr of Kenora, Ontario. Duncan and Margaret were married in January 1874 in Alexandria, Glengarry County, Ontario. Donald was born in Alexandria on 5 January 1875 and he had two sisters, Flora and Mary Belle, and a brother James Hugh. The family was living in Alexandria for the 1891 census but about five years later they moved to Rat Portage (now called Kenora), in northwestern Ontario. At the time of the 1901 census Donald was living with his parents and working as a steamboat fireman. For the 1911 census he was recorded as a railway engineer and in 1916 when he enlisted he was a marine engineer. He served on the ferry the Argyle on Lake of the Woods for several years, both before and after the war.

Donald enlisted in Keewatin on 13 June 1916, signing up with the 141st ‘Bull Moose’ Battalion. The unit was based in Port Arthur and in August the recruits from the Kenora area were sent to Port Arthur to train. Late that fall Donald applied for a transfer to the Canadian Naval Service and the transfer was approved in December. He was discharged from the 141st Battalion on 19 January 1917 in Port Arthur and a short time later he left for the east coast. He completed his enrollment application for the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve on 29 January in Halifax and he was accepted for service in the Atlantic Sub-Division.

Donald served on HMCS Niobe for the first five months. The Niobe had been used for patrols earlier in the war but by 1917 it was permanently anchored in Halifax harbour and used as a depot ship. In April Donald learned that his mother was very ill and he was given a leave of absence to return to Kenora. She passed away on 25 April, before he arrived home, and her funeral was held two days later.

Donald served at sea on HMCS Acadia from 21 June to 4 December 1917 then he was back on the Niobe until 31 January 1918. He was at sea again on the Acadia starting on 1 February 1918, getting a promotion to Stoker 1st Class on 1 April. The Armistice ended hostilities in November and he was discharged on demobilization on 10 February 1919. He was awarded the British War and Victory Medals.

Donald returned to Kenora and he was married there on 16 February 1920. His wife, Ada Howard, was the daughter of Matthew and Sarah Howard of Kenora. Ada had immigrated to Canada from England in 1916 to join her father, who was living in Winnipeg at the time. Two of her brothers served in the war, Clifford Howard with the Royal Navy and Frederick Howard with the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve.

Donald and his wife lived in Kenora for several years. Donald worked on steam boats and for the railway and they had six children: Hugh, Matthew, Robert, Ethel, Margaret and Patsy. In 1924 Donald applied for service in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve but he wasn’t accepted due to being over the age of 30. He and his wife moved to Winnipeg around 1928. They lived in St. Vital and he continued working as a steam engineer. He passed away in St. Boniface Hospital on 1 September 1941, at age 66. His funeral was held three days later and he’s buried in the Field of Honour at Brookside Cemetery. The Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve was renamed the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve after the First World War and Donald’s gravemarker is engraved with R.C.N.V.R.

Ada died in a nursing home in Gananoque, Ontario on 19 August 1984 and she’s buried in Gananoque Cemetery.

By Becky Johnson

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