Amazing Story – Commemorating A Long-Missing WW1 Soldier By Renovating His Canoe, And Taking It Home

All types of tributes are made to fallen soldiers, known and unknown, who died in the First World War.  Medals can be awarded posthumously, a grave marker can have ‘Known Only to God’ inscribed upon it, or ‘A Soldier of the Great War.’

Perhaps the greatest remembrance is an object that brings the memory of that person back. Such is the case of an antique red canoe that once belonged to Gunner Bob Hamilton who disappeared after being seriously wounded in August 1918 and was presumed dead even though his family made determined efforts to find him.  He died at the very young age of 19.

Dana Fountain pilots the ‘Bob Hamilton canoe’ once used by Hamilton on Lake of Bays, 200 kilometers north of Toronto, Canada, before he enlisted in the Canadian Army when just 17 and went to Europe to fight.  A shell exploded near his position probably causing a serious head wound.  In the process of being transferred between medical services far behind enemy lines he vanished.

For years his family tried to determine his fate. They enlisted the public, hopeful that a returning soldier would have knowledge, wrote to officials asking for information, even traveled to France searching for clues from the 1920s – but all to no avail. Hamilton joins the list of about 11,000 Canadian soldiers unaccounted for and assumed deceased.

A brother of Bob’s moved it to Sault Ste. Marie where in time it was given to the Fountains who were close friends.

The craft saw much use for many decades despite being stolen and surviving a fire. To stop leaks before a lengthy canoe trip, it was quickly painted red.  It was called the ‘Bob Hamilton canoe.’

They realized the sorrow, said Dana’s father, Bruce Fountain, who decided to restore the decaying canoe before it disappeared, too.

He says he didn’t know he was doing it for Bob, but he thinks so.

The canoe journeyed again to Toronto to remove the paint and replace the ribs with new ones. In the meantime, he became intrigued by Bob Hamilton and scoured military records, conventionally and online. He had no better luck than Bob’s parents in resolving the mystery but did locate a sad note written almost 100 years ago stating how exhaustive inquiries failed to yield any information which would warrant believing Hamilton was alive.

Dana houses the canoe at a cottage that by chance is at the township of Lake of Bays, CBC News reported.

There he’s paddling the canoe a century later on the same lake Bob used prior to World War I, said Fountain, shaking his head.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE