Thursday, 15 November 2012

The McFadden family chair in Rivers, Manitoba

Rivers United Church
Rivers United Church

Earlier this year I attended an event at Rivers United Church and came across this chair. I thought I would take a picture and see what I could find out about the McFadden family members that it commemorates. 

A. Lothair / Wheatland; B. Rivers; C. Brandon (source)

James McFadden was born in Armagh, Ireland in 1866 and came to Canada in 1890, settling in Ontario. Five years later he came to farm at Lothair, Manitoba, 50 km north west of Brandon. It was home to less than 50 people and the nearest train station was 15 kilometers north at Oak River. (Around 1900 Lothair appears to have merged with another small settlement five kilometres north and they became known as Wheatland.

On April 10, 1895 James married Albertha Louise Evans, born at Lucan, Ontario, and the couple settled on the farm and began a family that eventually consisted of seven children: daughters Annie, Alice, Esther and sons Chester, Earl, William and Hugh.

Rivers, pre-1914 (source)

In 1907 the McFaddens moved to a new farm at nearby Rivers, Manitoba. It was one of dozens of new Manitoba communities created in 1907 -08 with the arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway's transcontinental line. (Rivers is named for
Charles Rivers Wilson, the GTP's chairman at the time.) Within six months of the railway's arrival Rivers and the surrounding area had 650 people, by late 1908 that rose to nearly 1,000. It was incorporated as a village in 1910.

James and Albertha continued to grow their family and farm. They were active in Rivers United Church and the Rivers Orange Lodge.

April 11, 1935, Winnipeg Free Press

In April 1935 family threw a surprise 40th anniversary party for couple. It was likely a very welcome celebration after years of drought and Depression. There would be tough times for the family just around the corner, though.

James died on
September 28, 1939 at the age of 72. The family then lost Hugh.

Hugh Charles McFadden was born in Rivers on July 3, 1913 and attended Rivers Secondary School where he was on the executive of the school newspaper. After graduation it was on to United College. There, he was active in track and president of the history club. His peers elected him as the College's representative on UMSU in 1939 (at the time United College was still part of U of M) and class valedictorian in 1940.

Hugh excelled as a member of the debating club. In January 1940 Western Canadian universities held a debating tournament in Winnipeg. Hugh McFadden and Don Gow were chosen as the team to represent the U of M. They finished with a 2 - 1 record but the U of S took the tile.

After graduating with a BA (Hons) in May 1940 it was off to the University of Toronto to pursue his Masters in Economics and perhaps even a PhD.

November 29 1941, Winnipeg Tribune (Source)

While at U of T he met fellow student Joan Harrison Mayhood of Calgary. She had graduated from the U of Alberta and was pursuing her masters in Social Sciences. The two were married at Winnipeg on November 28, 1941.

December 4, 1943, Winnipeg Tribune (source)

Just days after the wedding Hugh signed up with the RCAF. In the spring of 1942 he was off to Regina for training, where Joan lived with him over the summer. He got his wings as a navigator in September and was posted as an instructor to RCAF Station Rivers then on to RCAF Station Rockcliffe. In Autumn 1943 he was assigned as a navigator to the newly created 168 Squadron, an air mail transport division whose job it was to get the huge backlog of mail to troops overseas.

April 6, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune / CP (source)

On April 2, 1943 McFadden was the navigator for a crew of five aboard a converted B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber taking off from Prestwick, Scotland. A Canadian Press story of April 6, 1944 explains:

The Big Flying Fortress piled with mail to servicemen in the Mediterranean area from their relatives in Canada was just taking off when it suddenly banked sharply and spun to the ground. It immediately burst into flames and attempts at rescuing the crew were fruitless.

McFadden and his crew mates are buried in the Monkton and Prestwick Cemetery, Scotland.

The crash investigation reached no official decision but suspected that the cause was the load shifting on takeoff as the plane (No. 9207) did not have a full set of cargo restraints installed.

At the time of his death, wife Joan was living in Eastview Ontario.

Hugh's mother Albertha died in November 1945 at the age of 73. 

John, Hugh and Albertha are commemorated by the McFadden family chair in the Rivers United Church.

Hugh Charles McFadden Find a Grave.com
Hugh Charles McFadden Canadian Virtual War Memorial
B-17 Flying Fortresses at Prestwick Airbase British Pathé
CFB Rivers Today Hillman
Chapters From My Official Life C. Rivers Wilson


April 5, 1944,Winnipeg Free Press

April 6, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune

The above story is compiled from various online sources including the Manitoba Vital Statistics database and the archives of a number of newspapers. They are not from interviews with living relatives or friends of the family. I will correct any omissions or inaccuracies from these sources if you contact me by email or though the comments section.


Kate said...

This was very interesting to read. I grew up in Rivers and knew the McFadden family.

Robyn A. said...

Thanks for posting! This is my husband's family.