On June 10th we were delighted to have our first historical plaque unveiling in Deseronto. As part of a day of activities, Mayor Norm Clark and Major Bill March of the Royal Canadian Air Force revealed this new commemorative part of Deseronto’s town landscape.

Plaque unveiling event

Deseronto Archives Board Chair, Paul Robertson introduced our two guests. This is the first of a planned series of plaques that will be installed around Deseronto, sharing different aspects of our town’s history. The plaque uses images from the Deseronto Archives collection, beautifully arranged by graphic designer Darren Young of youngdesigns and is situated next to the Town Hall, in Rathbun Park.

New plaque in place (photo by Paul Robertson)

Peter Barnhardt signature

Peter Barnhardt signed up in Sudbury, Ontario on this day in 1917. He was born in Tyendinaga on March 11th, 1890, the son of Joseph Barnhardt and Annie (née Doreen), who were both Mohawks.

Barnhardt joined the Toronto Forestry Draft with the regimental number 2251054. He was five feet nine and a half inches tall, with a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. His service record shows that he arrived in England on the SS Missanabie on August 23rd, 1917 and was transferred first to the Canadian Forestry Corps and then to the Canadian Railway Troops Depot. He served in England and in France and returned to Canada in 1919, being demobilized on May 7th, 1919 in Montreal. It’s not clear what happened to him after the war.

Curtiss JN4A C593 upside-down

As part of a day of commemorative events on June 10th, Mayor Norman J. Clark will unveil a commemorative plaque in Rathbun Park, Deseronto, to mark the town’s involvement in the First World War.

Some 300 local people served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and more than 50 men lost their lives while they were attached to the two pilot training camps, either side of Deseronto.

The commemorative plaque was funded by the Council of the Town of Deseronto and coordinated by the Deseronto Archives Board. It is the first of a planned series of plaques aimed at bringing Deseronto’s colourful past to life on the present-day streets of the town.

We hope you will be able to join Mayor Clark and the Deseronto Archives Board in Rathbun Park at 3pm on June 10th for the unveiling of the plaque.

Media release – Deseronto plaque unveiling.

Allan Walton Fraser photograph from University of Manitoba Roll of Honour

Allan Walton Fraser photograph from University of Manitoba Roll of Honour

Allan Walton Fraser signature

Allan Walton Fraser died at Camp Mohawk near Deseronto on this day in 1917. He was born in Emerson, Manitoba on January 30th, 1898, the son of William Fraser and Annie Matilda (née Baskerville) of 215 Spence Street, Winnipeg. He joined the 196th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 1st, 1916 when he was a student at the University of Manitoba, with the regimental number 910044. He was five feet seven inches tall, with a dark complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. On April 26th, 1917 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps with a new regimental number of 70175. He was a cadet in 84 Canadian Training Squadron, learning how to fly at the recently-opened pilot training camp to the west of Deseronto, when he died. This was the first fatality at Camp Mohawk.

The accident was reported in The Hartford Herald newspaper in Kentucky in the following way:

Report of Allan Walton Fraser's death at Camp Mohawk in the Hartford Herald

Report of Allan Walton Fraser’s death at Camp Mohawk in the Hartford Herald newspaper, courtesy of Chronicling America



Deseronto, Ont.—While flying with Vernon Castle at Camp Mohawk, Cadet W. E. Fraser, of Winnipeg, Man., was burned to death. Castle escaped with slight injuries. The two were ascending for instructional purposes when Fraser was seized with nervousness and lost control. The machine swept backward into the hangar and the gasoline tank exploded, setting fire to the hangar. Castle was thrown out when the aeroplane hit the shell.

This photograph shows the burning hangar after the crash.

Allan Walton Fraser crash

From Sergeant Devos’s photographic collection, 2009.09(38), courtesy of Denzil Devos

The official report from the Royal Flying Corps gives a slightly different version of events:

Allan Walton Fraser RFC casualty card

Casualty Card on Allan Walton Fraser’s death, courtesy Royal Air Force Museum

…Date of Casualty: 30.5.17
Where occurred: Camp Mohawk Deseronto
Type of Machine: Curtiss JN4a.
Nature and Cause of Accident: Machine whilst making a turn at the height of 200 ft suddenly put her nose down, frightened pupil who gripped control wheel & pilot unable to right machine which struck roof of hangar and burst into flames.
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: 2/Lt W.B.T. [V.W.B.] Castle (Injured)…

Vernon Castle was a well-known Broadway dancer who had travelled to England to join the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. He was one of the flight instructors at Camp Mohawk. After experiencing this accident, Castle insisted on taking the more dangerous front seat in the cockpit of the Curtiss JN-4 training aircraft used by the Royal Flying Corps in North America.

A Court of Inquiry was held on June 1st, at which Vernon Castle described the accident and gave his views on the wheel versus stick controls for training aircraft:

Allan Walton Fraser Court of Inquiry - Vernon Castle's evidence

Detail from Attorney General’s 1917 file RG4-32/1145 at Archives of Ontario

1st. Witness. (Contd.) Question from the President:-

“Please give us your reason why you think the “Curtiss” with wheel control is an unsuitable machine for school work”


“I consider the wheel control unsuitable because you have not the control and quick action with the wheel that you have with the stick control”.

Question from a member:-

“Do you think you could have averted this accident if you had had the stick control?”


“I really think I could”.

(Signed) Vernon Castle.

It was also noted by the Court of Inquiry that this aircraft had no instruments. Castle did not believe that instruments would have prevented this accident, but the Court expressed the opinion that stick controls offered more safety than wheel controls and that “all school machines of this type should be fitted with instruments”.

Allan Walton Fraser was interred in the mausoleum at Glen Eden Memorial Garden/Riverside Cemetery in Winnipeg.

Joab Walter Powles signature

Joab Walter Powles, a bushman, signed up in Toronto on this day in 1917. He stated that he was born in Newport, Brant, Ontario on March 11th, 1872 and that his current address was Deseronto. He gave his next of kin as his father, Isaac. Joab may be the son of Isaac and Julia Powless (both Mohawks) who was born in Tyendinaga in 1869.

Joab joined the Toronto Forestry Draft with the regimental number 2250975. He had previously served as a private in the Simcoe Foresters for two years. He was five feet five and a half inches tall, with a medium complexion, grey eyes and black hair.

Thomas Bernard Marrigan signature

On this day in 1917 Thomas Bernard Marrigan, a bookkeeper, signed up in Kingston, Ontario. He was born in Deseronto on November 13th, 1892, the son of John Marrigan and Margaret (née Hayes). Margaret died of pneumonia in Mill Street, Deseronto in 1907. When Marrigan enlisted he gave his home address as 425 Jarvis Street, Toronto and his next of kin as his father, John, who was still living in Deseronto.

Marrigan joined the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery with the regimental number 349757. He was five feet six inches tall, with a medium complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.

Thomas Bernard Marrigan survived the war. He died in Kingston at the Hotel Dieu Hospital on October 6th, 1934 of endocarditis. He was buried in Deseronto.

Leo Clarence Dubey signature

Leo Clarence Dubey, a bartender, signed up in Montreal on this day in 1917. He was born in Deseronto on February 9th, 1894, the son of Honoré Dubé and Helzilda (née Desjardine). Leo was working as a telephone operator in Deseronto at the time of the 1911 census.

He joined the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery with the regimental number 349761. He was five feet six inches tall, with a dark complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair. His service record shows that he arrived in England on December 7th, 1917 on the SS Megantic and joined his unit in France on February 27th, 1918. On July 17th he was admitted to hospital after being injured in an accident while on duty, receiving bruising to his chest and abdomen. He was discharged two weeks later.

On November 2nd, Leo was admitted to hospital again, suffering from a fever. He remained there until November 18th, but somehow found time to be charged with drunkenness and “being in Paris Plage without a pass” on November 14th. For this he was sentenced to forfeit two weeks’ pay. Perhaps he had been celebrating the end of the war that day; on December 24th he was back in hospital suffering from a venereal disease.

Dubey was transferred to England on January 26th, 1919 and arrived back in Canada on the SS Minnekahda in March. He was demobilized in Kingston on March 29th, 1919. In 1921 he was living in Montreal with his younger brother William, working as a clerk.