Death came knocking: the search for an Ottawa neighbourhood’s fallen

Two photos of men, one wearing a flight suit and goggles and the other a military uniform.
Ottawa residents Warrant Officer Class II James Edgerton “Ted” Doan (left) and Corporal David Alexander Rennie, both members of the RCAF before the Second World War, died in September 1939. PHOTOS: “Mystery Plane Found in New Brunswick”, by James Cougle via Vintage Wings of Canada website

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Young men and woman who are killed on active service are said to have paid the “supreme sacrifice”. I guess that is true. There’s not much more you can give than that. But I posit that the greatest sacrifice of all is borne by the families of those killed in the line of duty. Aviators, soldiers and sailors who die in battle are lionized, and rightly so, but it’s their mothers, fathers, wives and families who are conscripted to carry the burden of that sacrifice to the end of their days.

The neighbourhood I live in is called the Glebe. It’s a funky 130-year-old urban community in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada—red brick Victorian homes, some stately, some working class, excellent schools as old as the neighbourhood, tall trees pleached over shady streets, open-minded and highly educated people, happy kids, diverse, desirable and timeless, close to everything, surrounded on three sides by the historic Rideau Canal.

People come from all over the city, the country, even the world to walk its pathways, attend its festivals and sporting events and skate the canal. You may find a more upscale neighbourhood, a trendier one, a more affordable one, but you will never find a better one.

It is a truly perfect place to raise a family, build a business and live out a life as I have done. It is safe, historic, dynamic, walkable, serene and peaceful . . . but once, it must have felt like the saddest place on earth. Its shady avenues ran with apprehension and despair, its busy serenity masked the constant high-frequency vibration of anxiety and the low pounding of sorrow. Behind every door and every drawn curtain hid anxious families. Behind many were broken parents, heartbroken wives, memories of summers past and lost, the promises of a future destroyed, children who would never know their fathers. These were the years of the Second World War, and the decades following that it took to wash it all away.

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