Leo Fortin and his brothers in 1960 who served for Canada too.Leo Fortin
Leo Fortin's Crew and the ship Arrow, 1944.Léo Fortin
Leo Fortin and his friends with a Black Bear they killed during their service, 1944.Léo Fortin
Leo Fortin's Bunk Bed with equipment, 1944.Léo Fortin
Leo Fortin at St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, January 29, 2010.Historica Canada
"They also sent parachutes with bombs to start forest fires. When a forest fire started, we had to go and put it out, sometimes even at night."
I started in aviation because one of my brothers started in the army at the end of 1939, beginning of 1940. He was one of the first ones in the army to go overseas. I was too young to start in the Armed Forces, but when I turned 17 and a half years old and, with the consent of my parents, I started in aviation. To begin, I went to the recruitment centre in Montreal and on September 2, I started primary training in Lachine [Quebec]. From Lachine, I was sent to Toronto to go to English school. And then from Toronto, I was transferred to Vancouver. They called it...in the south of Vancouver, they had a name for the place...And then from Vancouver, I was transferred to Tofino, in the north-west of Vancouver Island. From Tofino, I was transferred to Ferrer Point [radar station], one of their bases. We were only 33 on the base. There was a boat that came every 11 days for the rations. There was milk, powdered eggs and the dessert was always pumpkin. If something went wrong with the boat, we had to wait 22 days to get any rations.
We were at the radar station because there were Japanese submarines that were bombing the Pacific coast. They also sent parachutes with bombs to start forest fires. When a forest fire started, we had to go and put it out, sometimes even at night. There was a generator for the electricity. The electricity was cut off at 11:00 each night. There were always two doors for the buildings because at night, it had to be dark everywhere, with no light. We had to close one door before opening the second to enter the building. I was there for a bit longer than one year.
When I was in Lachine, those who couldn't speak any English were sent to Toronto. Those who could understand and spoke a bit of English were sent to the West and other places like that. I had never been to Toronto, but even though I could speak a bit of English and understand, I said that I couldn’t speak a word so that I could go to Toronto. (Laughs) So I went to Toronto. There, I took classes in the morning and the afternoon; suffice to say that I was good enough in English. So they gave me a job as a waiter in the officers’ mess hall. I only had to go in the afternoons and evenings to serve meals to the officers. The rest of the time I could go into town, or anywhere. But the thing is, when we went out, we had a ‘bunk bed’ card, that's what they called it, with a bed number on it. If an officer or sergeant passed by us and thought we hadn’t done something, he would say, “Give me your bunk bed.” So we couldn't go out anymore since we didn't have our bunk bed card and when we came back, we gave our name and then they gave us our bunk bed. (Laughs) What a story. I liked it there, but one night some of the guys who worked with us set fire to a waste basket with paper inside. Then the next morning, we were all transferred to Vancouver.
While we were in Toronto, we stayed at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, on the water. They also had bunk beds there and they wanted to put us with the animals during the exhibition. It always smelled like cement and things like that. I told them that I had a bit of a cough and things like that, so they put me downstairs in the chicken coop where it was drier! (Laughs) When we went out, there was the Sainte Agathe Canteen. My wife was of Italian origin and the Canteen would invite us once a week for a dance. We arrived there and we took a name from all of the girls’ names. We took a name and we could dance with that girl. At the end of the night, the girl had a lunch for us, so we would sit down and eat together. I went there and when it was over, the girls were still there, but we had to leave, we couldn’t take the girls out. I knew a girl who knew my would-be wife, and so they spoke and my wife said, “Sure, we can meet there.” So that's where I met my wife, at the Sainte Agathe Canteen where we weren't supposed to go out together. We met in 1943 and wrote to each other, but we didn’t get married until 1947.