Fitzsimonds Brothers

Stephen Fitzsimmons was the fourth of five children, but was the first to join the army.

The Fitzsimonds family lived on a farm near Huntingdon, Quebec. There was John and his wife Mary Ann, and their five children; Elsie, Norman, Harold, Stephen, and John Francis (Jr.). The family originally came to Canada and this farm four generations earlier as Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine in 1845.


Stephen Fitzsimonds was the fourth of five children born to John and Mary Ann Fitzsimonds, but was the first to join the army, enlisting on September 15, 1916 at the age of 20. He lived in Huntingdon, Quebec. He attended McGill University’s Canadian Officers Training Corp. He was pensioned by the Canadian government after having his appendix removed in France in an army hospital during the Great War. His enlistment record says he attended McGill’s COTC, the Canadian Officers Training Corp. McGill describes Corp. this way: “The McGill University Contingent, C.O.T.C., was founded in 1912, a few years before the outbreak of World War I. The function of the C.O.T.C. was to provide military training for McGill students and staff. Initially only infantry training was given, but later, beginning with World War II, training in all the different arms of the service was provided. As such, new recruits were trained in map reading, military law, organization, administration, and upon completion were sent to a branch of service in which they could best contribute their talents and skills, such as cavalry, artillery, infantry, flying corps, engineers, signals, medical corps, army training corps, and so on”.


Norman was born the second child and the oldest son of John Henry Fitzsimonds and his wife, Mary Ann in Huntingdon, Quebec in 1891. As a young man Norman heeded a call that went out to all able bodied men from the government of Canada to go west and help harvest the crops. It was 1911 and there was a shortage of manpower to bring in the harvest and the government paid young men in the east to travel west and work on farms each autumn until the harvest was complete.

He worked in Alberta during the fall of 1911 and returned again for the harvest in 1912. This time he did not go back home to Quebec when the harvest was done. For a time he worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway digging a line through the Roger’s Pass in the Rockies.

On October 11, 1917 he and a friend, a Mr. McGinnis, went to Calgary and signed up in the army. Norman had learned how to keep machinery going over the years and his mechanical skills served him well in the army.

He arrived in Bramshott, England on May 24, 1918 and was listed as an Engine Fitter (Tech). He was soon on loan to the Royal Air Force as a mechanic working on war planes and was shipped to France. $15.00 per month was sent to his father as a separation allowance or wage.

After the armistice, while still in Europe, Norman was part of a group of soldiers who were enjoying some of the spoils of war putting the German planes through their paces. The planes were started by one man cranking the propeller by hand and another man pulling him out of the way of the now spinning propeller, so he would not be hit by it. This required some practice and precision. One time however the second man was not there perhaps or was too slow and Norman’s hand was hit by the prop. The engine had backfired and caught Norman’s hand breaking the first, second and third metacarpal bones in his left hand. This injury sent him to the hospital in Abbeville, France and eventually would end his career in the army. He was discharged on December 11, 1919, two years to the day since he had enlisted.

Amazingly, one of the other soldiers sawed off the tip of the propeller that hit him and brought it home to Norman as a souvenir. The type of propeller is a Garuda. Note the piece missing on the bottom of the point where it may have hit Norman in the hand. His son, Jack, is in the photo with the tip of the propeller which is still in his possession.

When he returned home he went to work in a Ford dealership in Edmonton as a mechanic. Life was good and he married his sweetheart, Mary McAra. Norman was 31 when he married Mary. He had done his travelling and running around. He was happy to settle down and devote himself to family life. Together they had children Helen and Jack, with Jim on the way when the stock market crashed in 1929. He tried to continue working as a mechanic but soon few people had functioning cars and if they did, they could not afford to have someone else work on them. Norman was only paid for work done and so with no work there was no pay. With no money in hand, he managed to trade their house in Edmonton for a farm near Westlock, Alberta, 45 miles north of Edmonton and the family moved to try out a new life there.

Norman had a few things to learn about farming in northern Alberta as the climate was different in Alberta than in Quebec. However the family did not go hungry. They grew as much of their food as possible and hunted and fished for the rest. Little food had to be purchased. There was an intricate barter system with the local store where Mary traded her highly prized butter for other goods they could not grow or make themselves. Soon Jim and Ken arrived and the family was complete.

Norman’s small army pension from his hand injury helped to sustain the family in the toughest of times during the depression. Even so, the depression took its toll and there were many farms bought and then lost to the bank when the owner could not keep up any sort of payments. Normand and Mary found themselves in this predicament and in 1937 they finally settled on their last farm 4 ½ miles north of Dapp, Alberta near Westlock where they farmed for many years.

Norman also took ill with pneumonia in 1935 and spent days in the hospital with hallucinations associated with his fever. At a time when there were no antibiotics illnesses like this frequently spelled disaster. He had little else for treatment other than steam and mustard plasters. No one expected he would recover! Eventually he did, but was never the same again physically. So in the depths of the depression Mary’s brother came from Vancouver and ran the farm for full year until Norman was able to take over again. His oldest son was only 9 years old and so the children were not able to help much.

The family lived on this farm until Norman was too ill to work any longer and then in 1953 he and Mary went to live with their son Jack and his wife Enid in Edmonton. He passed away on December 26, 1954 at the age of 64 years of age. An autopsy after his death revealed he had unknowingly contracted tuberculosis, likely as a young man before leaving Quebec, and had never been treatment for it. This must have been a large burden to carry around with him while he struggled to keep house and home together for his family. Undoubtedly all the physical punishment his body had taken contributed to his early demise! Norman is buried in the Field on Honour in the Edmonton Cemetery.


Harold Alton Fitzsimonds was born July 24 1894, the 2nd son and third child of John Henry Fitzsimonds and his wife, Mary Ann. He was born and lived on a farm near Huntingdon, Quebec. Harold’s family had lived settled in this area around 1845, likely fleeing from the Potato Famine in Northern Ireland.

He joined the army in August, 1918 when he was 24 years of age. His brothers Stephen and Norman were also in army. There was one brother left at home, John, who was also not old enough to join the army. He was discharged in January, 1919.

He went back to the farm to help his father and brother with the business of farming. Sadly he did not live a long life and passed away in august of 1923. He is buried in the Gore Road Cemetery along with his parents and younger brother, John.

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