Excerpt from The Beleaguered

In the spring of 1915, while Jim was enlisting in the No. 4 Canadian General Hospital, Eddie was investigating joining the British Royal Navy Air Service or the Royal Flying Corps. Jim’s eventual announcement to our family that he had enlisted coincided with an announcement by Eddie to his family of his plans. But where Jim was able to independently pursue his means of enlistment, Eddie was not. The Imperial War Office wanted qualified airmen to join their two flying corps. Eddie needed to obtain flight qualifications before enlisting. Those qualifications did not come cheaply. He could not obtain them without a source of income (and the time to earn the necessary funds) or support from his father. Eddie’s father refused to provide the financial support. “Go and join the infantry, if you must,” his father said. “It’s much safer. We want you to come back after the war.” While Jim received basic training before leaving on the SS Corinthian and afterward at Shorncliffe, Eddie began work at his uncle’s knitting mills, hoping to save enough money to pay for and receive his basic air flight training before the war ended.

It was investments like the one Aunt Rose ultimately made that enabled Eddie to receive the qualifications he required, for just as Eddie left that conversation at our house with a seed planted for a future military role as an aeroplanist, Aunt Rose left with a similarly germinated mind.

In late January 1915, her resources having been rejected by both Eddie’s uncle and Jane’s father and no other local industrialist having made a proposition for their use that she considered reasonable, Aunt Rose turned her sights in another direction. What Brampton needed, she came to believe, was a flying school. Flying schools needed land. Aunt Rose had plenty of that. Once again, she began meeting with men, but this time instead of receiving them in her premises, she was received in theirs. She met with the mayor; the town councillors; J.R. Fallis, the local Member of the Provincial Parliament; Richard Blain, the local Member of Parliament; educators, military men, and the president of the motor league. All were intrigued by the proposal—some enthusiastic—but not a single one of them would support it without the support of one person. That one person was not a pilot, or a banker, or an insurer, or a by-law officer. That one person—the linchpin to the entire scheme—was the well-known Peel philanthropist, William Gage. Over a decade earlier, Gage had purchased [a large lot in the downtown area and donated it] to the town of Brampton for the purpose of creating a large park.

“William Gage?” Father said one Saturday afternoon as Aunt Rose was apprising us of the status of her inquiries. “Why would the support of a book publisher be necessary to the creation of an aero club?”

“Apparently he has made the creation of such a club, and the training of airmen his great cause.”

“I see. But if it is his cause, why would it be difficult to obtain his support?” Father asked.

“The thinking is that there cannot be too many of these schools. He is well along in supporting one outside of Brampton,” Aunt Rose explained.

“Rose, you know lots of people,” Mother said. “Can you not find someone equally prominent who would support a school in Brampton?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “He’s created a foundation to support young airmen. He has on its board the most prominent people you could think of, including the Duke of Connaught.” The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn was Queen Victoria’s third son, then the Governor General of Canada.

“Maybe you could approach Sir John,” Mother suggested, referring to John Strathearn Hendrie, the Duke of Connaught’s provincial counterpart but no actual relation to him.

“William Gage has already done that too. He has the support of all of the provincial lieutenant governors. They’re working with Doug McCurdy of the Aerial Experimental Association to create the school. The federal government is going to provide them with the land—one hundred acres near Lakeshore and Dixie Road—at Long Branch.”

After hours and hours, days and days, and months and months of meetings, Aunt Rose came to the reluctant conclusion that she was once again too late. Efforts were too far along for the creation of the Long Branch flying school. A time might come for a Brampton flying club, but it had not yet arrived.

“What can I do?” she asked William Gage one day, conceding that her vision for a club in Brampton could not then be realized. She told us about the conversation later that night.

“Make a monthly donation to my foundation,” William Gage answered.

“A donation?” Aunt Rose asked. “I had wanted to make an investment.”

“It will be the best investment you ever make,” William Gage replied. “It will allow us to train the airmen we need to win the war.”

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