Flying ace's monument unveiled in Toronto
Published Thursday, September 22, 2011 9:37PM EDT
A monument honouring First World War flying ace William Barker, one of Canada's most-decorated war heroes, was unveiled in a Toronto cemetery on Thursday, more than 80 years after his death.
The monument at Mount Pleasant Cemetery is meant to raise awareness of Barker's heroics, which include downing 50 enemy planes and being shot three times while in a dogfight with 15 opponents.
He received the Victoria Cross for bravery, but is relatively unknown among modern Canadians. His successes were often overshadowed by fellow plane-wrangler Billy Bishop -- whose cousin, Jean Kilbourn Smith, Barker ended up marrying.
Hundreds of people attended the Thursday afternoon ceremony to mark the new Barker monument. The event included a fly-past by two vintage warplanes, including a Sopwith Snipe, the type of aircraft he piloted during the First World War. A CF-18 fighter jet also flew overhead.
A Royal Canadian Air Force honour guard stood watch over the ceremony, which was attended by Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley and air force commander Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps.
"No one in Canadian history has matched the record of decorations held by William Barker," Deschamps said.
As Onley dedicated the monument, which is made of bronze and granite, he hailed Barker as "Canada's greatest pilot ever."
A plaque on the monument refers to Barker as the "most decorated war hero in the history of Canada, the British empire and the Commonwealth of nations."
Prior to the monument's construction, Barker's remains were marked only by a small plaque inside his wife's family crypt. Barker died in a flying accident in Ottawa in 1930.
His grandson, Ian Mackenzie, told the Canadian Press he's happy to see his grandfather get the recognition he deserves.
"He shouldn't have been hidden away in the private crypt of this family," said Mackenzie, who will attend the ceremony with his brothers Alec and David.
"They should have built a public monument for him. So this is kind of our duty, we felt for a long time and we're finally accomplishing it. So it's a very fine day for us and proud day for us."
Mackenzie said Killbourn Smith's father didn't think highly of Barker, something that may have affected his burial place. The family was among Toronto's high society, and Barker was just a young upstart from Manitoba.
But in 2009, Ipsos Reid pollster John Wright reached out to Barker's family and Onley about dedicating a monument to the decorated pilot who went on to other great achievements despite returning from the war with bullets lodged in his legs and an elbow.
"He had 50,000 people at his funeral, was able to start the island airport, had the first commercial airline ... (was) the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs and he's buried in a crypt that says Smith and no one knows who he is," said Wright.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV's Jill Macyshon