South Baymouth museum celebrates the unveiling of community founding son’s WWI Silver Cross medal

SOUTH BAYMOUTH— Island residents from across Manitoulin gathered at the Little Schoolhouse and Museum in South Baymouth this past Sunday for the official unveiling of Valentine Christopher Wilman’s WWI Silver Cross medal which the museum acquired earlier this year.

“We are here to honour a young fellow who was a fisherman as his father was, his father actually helped build this school house,” noted Little Schoolhouse and Museum Curator Susan Hart. “At 23, Valentine Christopher Wilman joined the army for WWI. He did not stay overseas long and passed away in a English hospital of measles and pneumonia. This medal should have been sent his mother upon his death (Elizabeth Martha Wilman (nee) Bennett). We don’t know where it is has been all these years but we are happy to have it here on Manitoulin now and to honour him today.”

Tehkummah Township Reeve Eric Russell was on hand to say a few words and present the museum with a certificate of congratulations from Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha.

Reeve Russell also read a message from Alogma-Manitoulin-Kapaskasing NDP candidate Carol Hughes.

“The story of the reclamation of these medals is a story of things going right and people making sure of that outcome,” Mr. Russell read from Ms. Hughes’ letter. “It speaks to the community spirit, pride and the strong sense of local history that is forged by museums like the Little Schoolhouse.”

Former museum chair Jane Deyell spoke of how the medal came to the museum thanks to a Canadian history buff Dave Thomson of St. George.

As The Expositor previously reported, Mr. Thomson notified The Expositor and the Little Schoolhouse and Museum in the fall of 2012 of a WWI military Medal for Bravery in the Field belonging to WWI veteran Henry Boyd Chisholm of South Baymouth that was listed for sale on eBay. Thanks to generous donations from Islanders, funds were raised to purchase the medal for the museum.

Earlier this year, Mr. Thomson discovered another medal, the Memorial Cross, belonging to Mr. Wilman and once again contacted the museum, as well as Tehkummah Township, and the medal was purchased and brought home.

Private Wilman was born in South Baymouth on May 18, 1892 to parents Valentine Sr., a founding community member, and Elizabeth Wilman.

War Pensioners President Colin Pick presents a Canadian flag to Private Wilman’s two great nieces, Nancy Leeson and Collen McGauley.
War Pensioners President Colin Pick presents a Canadian flag to Private Wilman’s two great nieces, Nancy Leeson and Collen McGauley.

“Mr. Wilman Sr. was one of the earliest pioneers on the south side of the Island, having come with his grandparents who were of United Empire Loyalist stock from Pennsylvania, from Quebec in 1873 to Walker’s Point on the south shore of the Island where his uncles Christopher and Peter had already established a trading post,” states his obituary published in the Recorder in 1923. “They had another at Gore Bay, being among the first white settlers there. Old residents will remember the loss of the “Sea Horse” when both Mr. Wilman’s uncles were drowned, also Mr. Love, Mr. Turly and another. They were on their way to Sarnia with their fish. Shortly after this Mr. Wilman moved to South Bay Mouth where he resided until his death.”

Private Wilman enlisted to serve in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in October 1915. He served in the 37th Battalion, Canadian Infantry for only a short time, passing away at Isolated Hospital in Folkestone on April 2, 1916 of measles and pneumonia. He was buried at the Shorncliffe Military Cemetery.

President of the Canadian War Pensioners Colin Pick attended the event on Sunday and spoke about Private Wilman.

“I was asked to say a few words about why Private Wilman died and why he was a veteran,” explained Mr. Pick.

“My neighbour was a WWI vet and he described the Somme and Passchendaele as a sea of mud,” said Mr. Pick. “Where he would have done his training in England would have been muddy, damp and hard. If he didn’t die of disease in England he would have in France. Many died of disease.  Private Wilman was a veteran. He signed up to serve.”

Mr. Pick also made a presentation to the museum, donating a number of flags, many of which Private Wilman would have served or sailed under.

Vietnam veteran Wayne Gordon, who helped with the presentation, also donated a flag to the museum, a POW MIA flag.

The medal unveiling concluded with the Sergeant Charles Golden Silver Star Memorial Rifle Team paying tribute to Private Wilman with a gun salute and a flag presentation to his two great nieces, Nancy Leeson and Colleen McGauley.

“He was our great uncle on our father’s side,” said Ms. McGauley. “We didn’t know him, but it is nice that he is being honoured today.”

The exhibit for Private Wilman and Private Chisholm is on now at the Little Schoolhouse and Museum, 113 Church Street, South Baymouth. The museum is open May to October, daily from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Please call 705-859-3663 for more information.