Images are unavailable offline.

Courtesy of family

Earl James Linklater: Veteran. Husband. Hero. Godparent. Born June 5, 1920, in Toronto; died Dec. 27, 2019, in Sault St. Marie, Ont., of natural causes; aged 99.

If any one man singularly embodied the spirit of a community, it was White River’s E.J. (Charlie) Linklater. Charlie lived most of his life in this small town north of Lake Superior. He always led from the front and he set an example by the work he did and the life he lived, punctuated by liberal doses of humour.

Like many in the community, Charlie worked on the railway. “I basically did every job there was on the railroad,” he later told a historian. As a young man working on the railway, he was struck in the head by a metal plate. The injury almost killed him and left a permanent indentation in his head. He liked to say the injury “knocked his brain where it should be.”

Story continues below advertisement

In June, 1940, Charlie enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He trained in Oshawa, Ont., before deploying overseas and transferring to the Royal Air Force where he served in the 608th Squadron. Charlie flew a Lockheed Hudson Bomber throughout Europe and North Africa and often transported high-profile passengers, including, once, the Prime Minister of Greece.

Despite exemplary service, Charlie also possessed a derring-do befitting a pioneer from a rugged frontier town. Once, while testing a plane under repair, he buzzed the base, flying low over soldiers playing soccer, then spotted a car coming up the road, so he dipped one wing toward the vehicle. The passengers leapt out and the car careened into the ditch. Unfortunately, one of the passengers was the RAF Vice-Marshal. Charlie received a court-martial and confinement to barracks but would continue flying until the end of the war.

Upon returning to White River, Charlie went back to work at Canadian Pacific Railway. He also met the love of his life. Unbeknownst to either of them, Charlie had carried Mary Radul with him throughout the war. Before departing overseas, Charlie stole a photograph from his parent’s friend’s house so he could say he had a girlfriend. He called the girl in the photograph “Gina.” Back home, during a celebratory dinner in his honour, he was surprised to see the girl in the photo. They hit it off. Charlie and Mary married in 1947, but he would always affectionately call her Gina.

The couple settled in the community and tried to start a family but they were unable to conceive. Instead, he and Mary became godparents to many of the town’s children. Charlie “fathered, grandfathered and mentored most people in White River over the years,” said lifelong resident Joyce Anderson.

An avid sportsman, he founded the baseball league and helped run many of the town’s sports clubs; he supported many business-improvement plans, including the credit union and White River’s much-used community centre. He was also the the perennial master of ceremonies for Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Charlie’s family helped found the local All Saint’s Anglican Church in 1904, and here he took on most roles, including treasurer, People’s Warden, Priest’s Warden, server, funeral director and lay reader. In the absence of a priest, Charlie would often conduct sermons. In the absence of a janitor, he would act as plumber.

When Mary’s health failed, she moved into long-term care in Wawa, Ont., an hour’s drive away. For years, Charlie would make the near-200 kilometre round trip every day to see his Gina. Mary died in 2010.

Story continues below advertisement

In his final years, Charlie was not only White River’s oldest resident, but also considered a living treasure. He could often be found at the local River City Cafe, telling stories and charming people with his sharp wit and humour. When he died, White River’s mayor praised him as “a local hero.”

C. Nathan Hatton and Nicholas Duplessis are two of the hundreds of people Charlie mentored over the years.

To submit a Lives Lived: lives@globeandmail.com

Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide