Humphrey Beaudin

Two gentle heroes shared a kindred spirit and a penchant for winning boxing matches. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali is pictured here with the British Army of the Rhine and Canadian Army boxing champion. Humphrey Beaudin was inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.

A gentle warrior has found his rest

LITTLE CURRENT—The streets of Little Current became a little less bright and cheerful upon the passing of one of her favourite sons, Humphrey Beaudin, on April 26. Mr. Beaudin was known to greet people on the front street with a gentle humble smile that belied the incredible depth of his world experience as sailor, soldier, butcher, postmaster and pastor. To those meeting him on the street, there was little sign of his postwar and ongoing battle with the demons of post traumatic stress disorder.

Mr. Beaudin was sailing with the Paterson Steamship Company vessels on the Great Lakes, working as a wheelman on the big ships as they plied the fresh water oceans when he felt the pull of a call to duty. It was on a journey to Thunder Bay on one of the big ships in the 1940s that he decided he was going to sign up to fight in the Second World War.

“He told the captain that he was getting off in Thunder Bay to join up and that he wouldn’t be back,” recalled Mr. Leeson.

An avid traveller, Humphrey Beaudin is pictured here with his first wife Betty during one of their travels to the Grand Canyon.
An avid traveller, Humphrey Beaudin is pictured here with his first wife Betty during one of their travels to the Grand Canyon.

“He wanted to volunteer for the navy,” said Little Current historian Sandy McGillivray, “but I guess they had all the sailors they needed so he wound up in the army.”

That decision was to prove fateful for the cheerful young man. Although he was to wait for six months following his June 26 enlistment in Toronto, he found himself in Europe on Christmas Day, 1944 as part of the Essex Scottish Regiment (the same regiment in which his brother Charlie served) and by January 1945, he was in the thick of the fighting in Holland.

The battles Mr. Beaudin served in reads as some of the most storied in Canadian military history—the Hochwald Forest and the crossings of the Rivers Maas and the Rhine, where the hand to hand combat was as brutal as those on the shores of Normandy.

But for the heroic actions of one of his compatriots, Mr. Beaudin might well not have survived to return to Canada’s shores. Hung up on a strand of barb wire and under fire from a German machine gun, that soldier ignored protocol and turned back to free Mr. Beaudin. “I never knew his name,” said Mr. Beaudin, who regretted not being able to recommend his saviour for a medal.

In another incident, Mr. Beaudin was one of 12 soldiers crossing a ravine when they came under intense enemy fire. He was only one of four to survive that encounter. “War was scary for a young fellow,” he said of the incident.

Those memories remained with him for the rest of his life, leaving him to struggle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was only in his later years that Mr. Beaudin was to find some relief in treatment for the condition. Like most of his generation, he was to face a life with a stiff upper lip, with only his family and faith to support him as he soldiered on through life.

“It was many years before he finally went to get help,” recalled his wife Eunice. “He really thought that he was going crazy.” Ms. Beaudin credited the members of the War Pensioners of Canada with helping him in that battle. “They would go over to Sudbury once a month and I think talking about it with them helped a lot.” Most servicemen from the “greatest generation” who had been through the horrors of that conflict generally avoided talking about their experiences, which made it challenging to help. In talking with those with common experiences, some relief could be found.

“He really tried very hard to not let it show,” said Ms. Beaudin.

In the months following the war, while serving with the occupation forces, Mr. Beaudin won the welterweight championship of the Canadian Army and the British Army of the Rhine (the latter including all of the forces under British command in the occupation zone).

An Expositor article of the day described the event. “An Island boxer, Private Humphrey Beaudin of Little Current, proved he could punch with the best of them, winning the welterweight division (up to 147 pounds) of the 30th Corps championship in 1946 in Hanover, Germany, as part of the Canadian Army Occupation Forces (CAOF).”

It seems that Private Beaudin, or ‘Beau’ as he was known to his fellow soldiers in the 3rd Battalion of the North Shore Regiment of the Royal Canadian Army, did not take up the sport of boxing until he joined the army and went overseas. But in the 29 three-round bouts that followed his taking up the sport, even as he was fighting the Germans in Holland and later in Germany, he never suffered a defeat and was never knocked down—even during a six-round fight against the welterweight champion of Wales.

“Beaudin’s superior boxing ability, as well as his capacity for taking punishment without showing distress, won him the points that gave him the verdict and welterweight championship of the 30 Corps,” reads a report from that era.

“I was sure I’d lost it,” he later recalled in an Expositor article recording his induction into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame. “The judges were all British.” His victory was made all the more impressive by the fact that he had his nose broken in the semi-final, which took three operations to repair. “I got through the final somehow,” he commented.

A number of autographed photos document Mr. Beaudin’s relationship with the recently deceased legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. “Ali once let him lace up his gloves for him before a fight,” recalled Ms. Beaudin.

After a stint as a butcher with Canadian Packers, Mr. Beaudin served as the Little Current postmaster for 25 years until his retirement in 1975. His natural good nature and calm demeanor provided a welcome to everyone coming to the mail counter.

Pastor Wes Leeson, one of the officiants at Mr. Beaudin’s funeral service, recalled Mr. Beaudin as a man of God. An elder in the Community of Christ Church, faith had always been a part of his life. “He grew up in the church as a child,” said Mr. Leeson. “The church was a foundation of his life.”

Mr. Leeson recalled Mr. Beaudin’s gentle empathy. “Humphrey was a very spiritual person who enjoyed going places and meeting people,” he said. “He genuinely cared about people and he would listen and do what he could for people whether they were members of the church or not. He is what I hope to be, or what I hope I am, someone who ministers to everybody, no matter who or what they may be.”

Humphrey Beaudin and Dennis Dockerell lay a wreath during a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Little Current Legion.
Humphrey Beaudin and Dennis Dockerell lay a wreath during a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Little Current Legion.

Mr. Leeson described Mr. Beaudin’s quiet gentle and very subtle humour. “He would say something and you would have to think about it for a while,” he said.

Mr. Beaudin was an avid traveller for both pleasure and on church business, attending numerous conferences as part of his church commitment. During those travels he had the opportunity to meet some very interesting people, even rubbing shoulders with one of his personal heros, former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslynn, outside the church the couple attended in Plains, Georgia.

“He teaches Sunday school there whenever he is home from his travels,” noted the late Mr. Beaudin during an interview with The Expositor at the time. “There must have been 700 or 800 people there on Sunday. President Carter stands outside and lets people have their picture taken with him if they want.”

This most approachable and arguably most-loved of living former US presidents is described by Mr. Beaudin as a very down to earth gentleman, reported Expositor writer Jim Moodie.

“His family ran a peanut farm,” said Mr. Beaudin. “You know, to meet him, he is a very humble person.”

Mr. Beaudin attended President Carter’s Sunday school class, where the president gave a stimulating talk on world events, peace (President Carter received a Nobel Peace Prize) and a plethora of world events upon which he has a unique perspective.

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 177 Little Current public relations officer Comrade Roy Eaton recalled Mr. Beaudin’s work with the Royal Canadian Legion. In Mr. Beaudin’s honour, the Legion provided a Legion funeral service to complement the religious services held at the Island Funeral Home overseen by Mr. Eaton. “He wasn’t one for the administration of the Legion,” said Mr. Eaton. “I don’t think he actually ever held a position on the executive.” But when it came to attending services for deceased veterans or joining in a Remembrance Day ceremony, Mr. Beaudin was always on the job.

“It didn’t matter how far away or what the weather was like, if it was raining, hail or snow, Humphrey would be there,” said Mr. Eaton. “He was always ready and willing to go.” An impressive quality, particularly as he approached his later years.

Ms. Beaudin recalled a card she came across just recently from one of her daughters to her step-grandfather. “Thinking of what a blessing you are, generous, loving and kind,” she read. “Not every day a person can say they have a true hero in their life.”

To both his families, that of his late wife Betty and that of his second spouse Eunice, Mr. Beaudin loomed large in their lives.

“He was a truly wonderful man,” said Ms. Beaudin. “Thoughtful, kind—I couldn’t say anything bad about him.”

Mr. Beaudin is survived by his wife Eunice (predeceased by his first wife Betty (nee Lockyer) and proud father of Susan Beaudoin of Toronto and Dennis (predeceased) wife Sharon of Nova Scotia. He was stepfather to Lori (Dave Draper) and Tim Moore (Lisa), a loving grandfather of Christopher, Leilani, Timothy, Darren and step-grandfather of Beth, Cheryl, David and Brittany. He was a cherished great grandfather of Natasha, Darren Jr., Caleb, Lucas. and step great-grandfather of Bryce, Chloe, Ava, Cameron, Sabrina, Spencer, Hailey and Julian.

As for friends on Manitoulin and across the globe, those were countless

He will be missed.