Sunday, 20 December 2020

Peterson Family Christmases, London, Ontario, Canada, 1952-1965

Note: Many thanks to all those who directly or indirectly contributed to the contents of this post.


My parents Charles T Peterson (1913-2007) and Jay Peterson (1920-1976) were very much into celebrating Christmas.  My brothers Stu, Chris (1954-2009) and Don, and myself, enjoyed Noel-inspired art, music and other joys of the season when we lived at 283 Dufferin Avenue in London, Ontario, Canada.  This was during the early 1950s to early 1970s.

One of the factors that contributed to our Christmas spirit was we lived very close to Victoria Park.  On December 5, 1958, the park's lights, celebrating the annual Christmas Wonderland, were lit for the first time.  I looked forward to the yearly displays in the park.

1952 - Leith Peterson's Christmas Gift Wrap Chow Down

On my first Christmas in December 1952, I did not have a fulsome grasp of the meaningfulness of the season.  I was more interested in chowing down on gift wrap.

Leith Peterson chowing down on Xmas wrap, December 1952

1954 - Jay Peterson's 1954 Christmas Card

My mother designed beautiful artwork for Christmas cards.  In recent years, I have frequently incorporated her creations into my own seasonal greetings.  You can find images of them in other posts on this blog.

But her 1954 one, which graced my 2018 card, is a new addition to this blog.

Jay Peterson's 1954 Xmas card image

1955 - Stu and Charles Peterson Enjoy a Christmas Song Book

In December 1955, my brother Stu and my father enjoyed looking at a Christmas song book.  This image appeared on my 2020 card.

Stu & Charles Peterson enjoy Christmas song book 1955

1964-1965 - Print Shop at Leith, Ontario

In 1889, my maternal great-grandfather, C A Fleming (1857-1945), spent his first summer in Leith, Ontario, in a rented log cabin.

(I am named after this village, which is located about six kilometres east of Owen Sound.)

By 1900, C A and other members of my mother's side of the family had built cottages at Leith.  My grandfather, J Stuart Fleming (1892-1989)'s summer home was part of the "Fleming compound," along with the cottage my family stayed in.

C A, his sons Howard, George and my grandfather Stuart, were all involved in the printing business.  By the age of nine, my grandfather had learned how to set type and run a printing press.

Grandfather wanted to maintain the printing tradition in the family, so he set up a "print shop" in a cottage in the Fleming Compound.  A number of my relatives, including my brothers Stu and Chris, learned the printing trade at the shop during the summers.

My brothers printed personalized stationery and Christmas cards.  Below is a scan of their business card.

Stu & Chris Peterson's Print Shop Business Card, ca. 1964-1965

The stationery and Christmas card proceeds were given to the Owen Sound Branch of the Canadian Save the Children Fund.

During the 1964 to 1965 period, a photo of my brothers working at the then 100-year-old press in Leith, was published in the Owen Sound Sun-Times and the Save the Children Fund magazine entitled The World's Children.  

On March 29, 1965, there was also a write-up about my brothers' photo in the Sun-Times.  In addition, the article mentioned how the money was distributed to charity.  Below is the headline from this article, where my brothers' work was mentioned, and the relevant excerpt from the article.

Owen Sound Sun-Times article excerpt, March 29, 1965

The above newspaper excerpts were "Originally published in The Owen Sound Sun Times, a Division of Postmedia Network Inc."  See the end note at the end of this post for further information.

1965 - Leith Peterson's "The Christmas Story"

My brothers Stu and Chris were more into doing work at the print shop than I was, but in 1965, my grandfather suggested I create a Christmas card.  He asked for not only a drawing, but also a write-up about what Christmas meant to me.

I do not remember many of the particulars of this print shop adventure, other than I had to carve the design into what I believe is called a linoleum block.  Below is the first page of the four-page card.

Leith Peterson's Christmas Story, 1965

Obviously, I did not inherit my mother's artistic abilities.

I also composed a three-page write-up (still have the draft I composed on a typewriter).  I had to set the type to create the words for the printing press block.  This meant pulling the individual letters out of drawers and setting them in the proper order to put in the press block.  This was no easy task for a 13-year old in Grade 8 like me.  Stu and Chris had much more experience in the printing trade than I had.

Below are pages 2 to 3 of my card.

Pages 2-3 of Leith Peterson's Christmas Story, 1965

And here is the final page 4 of my card:

Leith Peterson's Christmas Story final page 4, 1965

I realize reading this small print on my Christmas Story card might not be easy, so I have transcribed the text below.

Leith Peterson's 1965 "The Christmas Story" Text

Well it's that time of year again, when snow and song and sleighbells fill the sky; when the air is full of a strange magic and when the long packed away happiness that only comes once a year is reopened.  

If is Christmas.  Of all the wonders of life there is probably not anything as nice as, enjoyed most, and as longwished [sic] for as this time of the year.  But why do we enjoy Christmas so much? Ask anyone in this school from Grades Two to Eight and the main answer would be "presents."  Each likes presents, each wants presents, and each, more likely than not, will get presents.

But deep down inside, everyone knows that this is not the only reason why Christmas is so well liked.  If we were to study and break down the basic fundamentals of Christmas, we'd find that each feels just a little bit closer to God at Christmas than at almost any other time of the year.  This we show in more ways than one, by songs, and well, maybe even Santa.  Santa, as everyone knows, is a jolly, sweet and lovable old man who packs up each year in a big sack everything from rattles and razors to gallop off on reindeer from the frosty North Pole to give a little bit of fun to everyone.  This he lavishly displays in store windows that seem so dull until Christmas comes around.

If we were to show some non-Christian about Christmas, probably the first place we'd take him would be to the colourful store windows down town [sic].  They show so much of this time of the year with their talking dolls, their walking caterpillars and their so carefully fashioned creches.  Anyone who does not like to go Christmas shopping is someone who maybe doesn't really appreciate a few of those marvellous happy moments of Christmastime.  But then, there are other joyful moments to the Yule besides this.

In Victoria Park each year in this city is a Christmas show "of funny jack-in-the-boxes and whirling Santas" to which many schools contribute.  The P.U.C. does a fine job and strangely we never tire of it.  You can see the little children's eyes glisten as they stare up at those lovely and brilliant Christmas trees, those gigantic candy canes and those "ride 'em reindeer."  Santa? Well we always see Santa and in this joyful image we also find happiness.

But as that jolly old elf and his reindeer trot merrily back through the snow drifts to the North Pole, there is another part of Christmas that we should never forget since this is why it all came about.

At the bandshell at the back of the park the lights shine each night from a hundred stars.  But above them all is one star which the wise men and the shepherds both followed on that familiar night many, many years ago.  Whey did they follow this star?  Well under that brilliant gem is a small, quiet and dark stable from which, in the manger came the light of the world.  He was wrapped in swaddling clothes; He was born in a simple inn -- and his name was -- Jesus Christ.

To every person, of every creed, of every colour, of every nationality, and of every custom, He is a symbol, maybe the future of the United Nations someday, and maybe the hope of a poor tired invalid, but He is the Christmas we know and the Christmas that will never be undone.

Leith Peterson's 1965 "The Christmas Story" - Conclusion

On page four, you will see in my grandfather's handwriting "Leith May/65" so I must have designed the card at the print shop in May of 1965.

P.U.C. stands for the Public Utilities Commission of the City of London.  The PUC was responsible for parks from 1914 until 1993.  The PUC was also disbanded in 1993 and its duties were dispersed over a number of different departments.

You will note [sic] after "longwished." This is not one word and should read "long wished."

There is also a [sic] after "down town," because it should be one word "downtown."

I do not know whether these errors were caused by my lack of ability to set type or were simply spelling errors.

If I were to compose such a Christmas story today, I would not be so Christian-centric in my presentation.  I realize there are many religions in the world, and, although I personally like to think of Jesus Christ as a universal saviour, I recognize people of other cultures may not share this view.

I do not remember what happened to my Christmas story card after that.  But I have enjoyed rediscovering it and the memories it brings back of the Victoria Park of my childhood.


During this trying pandemic period, I find it comforting to re-examine a time in my life when things were not as complicated as they are now.  I enjoyed simple pleasures like viewing Yuletide art and displays and writing about what gave me inspiration.

End Note: Sometime after the 1965 period, The Owen Sound Sun Times dropped the hyphen from its name.  It is now a Division of Postmedia Network Inc.  In March 2020, I consulted with a Postmedia rep regarding publishing older Sun Times articles.  She said if there was no author named, and it was published more than 50 years ago, I should be fine to reproduce.  This was because after 50 years, it would be in the Public Domain.  However, she said to provide the following credit: "Originally published in The Owen Sound Sun Times, a Division of Postmedia Network Inc."

The photographer, Archie MacDonald, mentioned in the March 29, 1965 article above, may still own the copyright to the photo of my brothers in the print shop.  MacDonald's copyright could be in effect until 50 years after his passing.  Canadian copyright law is complicated when it comes to photography in newspapers, so I cannot be sure.  It would depend on the arrangement MacDonald had with the Sun-Times at the time the photo was taken.  Because I am not certain, I will not publish it here.  However, I am glad I have a copy of the newsprint version of the photo in my files.


Brock, D J.  (2011).  Fragments from the Forks: London Ontario's legacy.  London, Ontario: London & Middlesex Historical Society.

Fleming, C G. (August 20, 1989).  Leith Reminiscences of 100 years.  Leith, Ontario (unpublished).

MacDonald, A. (1964, Winter).  [Photo of Christopher and Stuart Peterson using 100-year-old printing press at Leith, Ontario].  In The World's Children, p. 101.

Owen Sound Sun-Times.  (1965, March 29).  Did you know? [excerpt].  Owen Sound Sun-Times, p. 5.

Owen Sound Sun-Times.  (1964?).  [Photo of Christopher and Stuart Peterson using 100-year-old printing press at Leith, Ontario].  Owen Sound Sun-Times.

Whebell, C, & Goodden, H. (2015, July 6).  London.  Retrieved from Canadian Encyclopedia:

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Honouring My Cousin, RCAF Pilot Officer George Howard (Geordie) Fleming, Killed in Action, August 15, 1941

Note One:  Several family members gave me the go ahead to write about Geordie.  They also provided useful background information.

Note Two:  Kudos to David Alexander for his valuable insights.  And thanks to Laura Stirling, public services assistant at the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library, for helping me find newspaper articles.

Note Three: Photo of Ray Fleming (no relation) included with permission.  Appreciated the help he gave me with this post.


When I was growing up, my mother Jay (nee Fleming) Peterson (1920-1976) frequently mentioned how sad she was that her cousin, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Pilot Officer, George Howard (Geordie) Fleming, lost his life during the Second World War.

Geordie Fleming, 1940

On September 30, 1940, Geordie joined the RCAF.  He trained at various locations in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.  On March 17, 1941, he received his wings and was overseas by mid-April of that same year.  Two months later, he was participating in operational flights over enemy territory with the First Canadian Bomber Squadron.  After a few weeks, he became captain of his bomber.  The crew conducted regular forays, including at least one over Berlin.

On the night of August 14-15, 1941, the bomber was returning from a raid over Germany, and was within a short distance of the Pocklington, Yorkshire base, when it was attacked by either an enemy air or naval craft.  It came down in flames over the east coast of England, killing all six men on board.  Investigators were able to confirm it was the aircraft, based on objects found in the wreckage.

Geordie's tragic passing had a negative effect on not only my mother, but also her siblings and cousins.  It particularly upset Mom that Geordie was engaged to be married to fellow Owen Sounder, Louise McCormick, yet he was shot down by enemy fire before the wedding could take place.

Jay (nee Fleming) Peterson, ca. early 1940s

On the Canadian Virtual War Memorial (CVWM) site at Veterans Affairs Canada, there is an entry for Geordie, which includes details about his commemoration at Runneymede Memorial, Surrey, United Kingdom.  This memorial includes the names of 20,000 "airmen who have no known grave."

Geordie's 275-page service file can be downloaded from the Second World War (SWW) Military Heritage section of the Library and Archives Canada site.  This is where you will find such documents as his attestation paper, correspondence and last will and testament.

Geordie's Pre-Enlistment Life, 1917-1940

Geordie was born Jun 7, 1917 in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada, to Howard and Martha (nee Tipper) Fleming.  My Great-Uncle Howard's younger brother Stuart was my grandfather.

Howard and Martha (Mattie) Fleming, ca. 1945-1953

Geordie completed his schooling at the Owen Sound Collegiate and Vocational Institute (OSCVI) in 1935.  In June 1937, he graduated from Pickering College in Newmarket, Ontario.  Then he found employment in the Folding Paper Box Dept. of Fleming Publishing Co. Limited in Owen Sound.  (Fleming Publishing was established by his grandfather and father in 1916.)

Much can be learned from reading Geordie's service file on the LAC site.  He was described by his superiors as "tall," "slender," "healthy," "refined," and "of high intelligence."  Sports and community work took up much of his spare time.  He was a member of the Church of Christ (a.k.a. Disciples Church), like his parents and many of his other relatives.  Found among his possessions at the time of his death was the New Testament.

Fleming Family Involvement During the War Years

It is not surprising that Geordie joined the RCAF because many of his immediate and extended family supported military intervention to protect Canadian soil.  His uncle George (1889-1971) served in the First World War, rising to the rank of colonel in the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles regiment.

In 1913, his grandfather, C.A. Fleming (1857-1945), his father Howard (1883-1956), his uncle George and his uncle (my grandfather) Stuart (1892-1989) invested in Richardson, Bond & Wright (R B & W), an Owen Sound printing firm that was originally established in 1853.

This Fleming business team helped guide the company through both the First and Second World Wars.  C.A. was president, 1917-1945, and Howard was vice-president, 1917-1947.  George held a number of different positions during the war years, including president, vice-president and general manager.  My grandfather Stuart was secretary-treasurer, 1913-1926, and general manager, 1917-1926.

The federal government authorized R B & W to publish an extensive amount of material used by the armed forces and government agencies during the Second World War (SWW).  Millions of sugar, meat and butter ration books were produced.  From 1945 to 1947, the firm also printed code books for the Allies, and received a citation for doing so from the United States and Canadian commands.

The company's SWW work is documented in a 125th anniversary (1853-1978) book that was published in 1979.  (In June 1978, the company changed its name to RBW.  RBW was acquired by TC Transcontinental Printing in 1992.  The Owen Sound branch is called TC Transcontinental RBW Graphics.)

Howard's prominent role in the Owen Sound communications field also contributed to the SWW effort.  In 1904, his father C.A. and he invested in the local newspaper business, with their efforts leading to the creation of the Owen Sound Sun-Times in 1918.  The Sun-Times provided extensive coverage of the SWW, including local casualties.  In fact, Howard was the Sun-Times publisher at the time of his son's tragic death.

Because of the difficulties involved with delivering newspapers during the war, Howard realized that providing SWW coverage over the airways was also important.  Consequently, he helped establish the local radio station, CFOS, in 1940.

Geordie Among OSCVI Former Students Who Died During the SWW

Detailed information about former Owen Sound Collegiate and Vocational Institute (OSCVI) students who lost their lives during the Second World War can be found in David Alexander's 2017 Master thesis.  It can be downloaded from the University of Waterloo website (see the bibliography for further details).  Alexander is eminently qualified to write about this topic because he is a former student who spent his entire teaching career at OSCVI.

Alexander contends the OSCVI's SWW dead had different experiences from their First World War (FWW) counterparts, but their legacy has been overshadowed by the FWW "traditional methods of remembrance."  He points out that former students like Geordie came of age during the 1920s and Great Depression, at a time of increased technological advancement and globalization.  Consequently, they need to be viewed through this unique lens.

Geordie Fleming with hockey stick, ca. 1930

In terms of the OSCVI war dead, Geordie was the "first recorded fatal combat casualty as a result of direct enemy action."  Royal Air Force (RAF) or RCAF airmen accounted for 37 of the 60 who lost their lives.

I agree with Alexander that FWW flying ace Billy Bishop (1892-1956) may have had an influence on former students like Geordie joining the RCAF.  Bishop attended the Owen Sound Collegiate Institute (which became OSCVI when the vocational wing was added in 1924).  In addition, he was appointed Director of Recruiting for the RCAF in January 1941.  Most people associate this flying ace with the FWW, but he also played a major role in the SWW.

Bishop had a cameo role in a 1942 picture (by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz) that was filmed mostly in Ottawa, Ontario.  It was a joint production of Hollywood, the Government of Canada and the RCAF.  Captains of the Clouds--a phrase Bishop had used in a speech--was the title.  Production started in July 1941, so shortly before Geordie was killed.  It is very possible that Geordie would have been aware of not only Bishop's role in recruiting, but also his cameo in the film, particularly since the RCAF was involved with the film production.

Billy Bishop "Borrowing" My Grandfather's Suit, ca. 1912-1913

Geordie may also have been privy to an unverified piece of family lore.  My Grandfather, Stuart Fleming, attended Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario (graduated in 1913).  At the same time, Bishop was at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC) which is also located in Kingston.

Bishop entered the RMCC in 1911, but failed his first year.  The second year he did much better, but during the third he was caught cheating.  He was not known for his academic abilities, so it is not surprising that, in 1914, he left the RMCC to join the Mississauga Horse cavalry regiment.

Prior to 2017, RMCC cadets were required to wear their uniforms when off-campus.  Bishop would reportedly feign a family crisis, and go out on the town for several days.  But in order to avoid detection as an RMCC student, he would, as my family understands it, sneak into my Grandfather's boarding house room and "borrow" Grandfather's suit without him knowing it.

Retired RCAF Captain Ray Fleming and Heritage Fair, February 15, 2020, London, Ontario

On February 15, 2020, I attended a Heritage Fair hosted by the London Heritage Council.  The theme of the fair was "Remembering Their Sacrifice: 75 Years After the Second World War & Battle of the Atlantic."  Retired RCAF Captain Ray Fleming (no relation) was an appraiser at this fair.  I showed him a 11" x 17" binder of material I have collected on Geordie, which includes many of the photos that appear in this blog post.

Ray was impressed with what I have collected on Geordie, and let me take a photo of him standing beside the type of uniform Geordie would have worn when he was a "RCAF Leading Aircraftsman undergoing" flight training.

Ray Fleming with RCAF uniform, Heritage Fair, February 15, 2020


If it was not for the Heritage Fair, I probably would have put off doing anything to honour Geordie for a few more years.  My assembling of the information in the binder and my review of the images and text has made me acutely aware of why my mother was so saddened by Geordie's passing.  Now I profoundly share her grief, and hope my retelling his story here will remind people we must never forget the "ultimate sacrifice" of more than 45,000 Canadians during the Second World War.


Alexander, D.R. (2017, December 12).  Dum Vivimus Vivamus: The Lost Identity of the Owen Sound Collegiate and Vocational Institute Second World War Dead (Master thesis}.  Retrieved from the University of Waterloo:

Canadian Virtual War Memorial (2019, November 7).  Pilot Officer George Howard Fleming.  Retrieved from Canadian Virtual War Memorial:

CBC News (2018, December 3).  Ottawa stars in little-known wartime film by Casablanca director.  Retrieved from CBC News:

Fleming, C.G. (December 1994).  C.A. Fleming: Educator, Entrepreneur, Businessman. . .Owen Sound: unpublished.

Library and Archives Canada (2020, February 20).  George Howard Fleming.  Retrieved from Second World War Service Records:

Library and Archives Canada (2020, February 15).  Second World War Service Records.  Retrieved from Second World War Service Records:

London Heritage Council (2020, February 15).  8th Annual Heritage Fair.  Remembering Their Sacrifice: 75 Years After the Second World War & Battle of the Atlantic (brochure).  London, Ontario.

Morrison, K. (July 1991).  J. Stuart Fleming (1892-1989).  Wiarton, Ontario: unpublished.

Owen Sound Sun-Times (1941, August 20).  9 Canadian Airmen Lost Raiding Reich.  Owen Sound Sun-Times, p. 12.

Owen Sound Sun-Times (1941, March 6 or 7).  Arrived in England.  Owen Sound Sun-Times.

Owen Sound Sun-Times (1941, March 18).  Geo. H. Fleming receives wings: Member of Graduating Class of Flying School of Saskatoon.  Owen Sound Sun-Times, p. 5.

Owen Sound Sun-Times (1941, August 16).  Pilot Officer Geo. Fleming is Missing.  Owen Sound Sun-Times, p. 1.

Owen Sound Sun-Times (1942, April 1).  Now Listed as Presumed Dead.  Owen Sound Sun-Times, p. 1.

Owen Sound Sun-Times (1941, November 8).  Hope is abandoned for Pilot Officer G. Fleming Missing Since August 15.  Owen Sound Sun-Times.

Owen Sound Sun-Times? (1956, January 21-30?).  Hundreds pay tribute to Howard Fleming.  Owen Sound Sun-Times?

Powell, J. (2018, July 18).  Remember this? Captains of the Clouds.  Retrieved from OttawaMatters:

RBW Inc. (1979).  1853-1978: 125 years of providing opportunity for people of purpose and skill.  Owen Sound: RBW Inc.

TC Transcontinental (2020, May 8).  Acquisitions and Expansions, 1986-1995.  Retrieved from TC Transcontinental:

Toronto Daily Star (1956, January 20).  Owen Sound Publisher, Howard Fleming, 73, Dies.  Toronto Daily Star.

Wikipedia contributors (2020, March 14).  Billy Bishop.  Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Wikipedia contributors (2020, April 8).  Captains of the Clouds.  Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Wikipedia contributors (2020, April 18).  Royal Military College of Canada.  Retrieved from Wikipedia: