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It happened in 1973, along Zambia's Zambezi River at Victoria Falls. Zambian soldiers - idly watching tourists on the far shore - suddenly and inexplicably opened fire and killed two Canadian girls. Canada's high commissioner to Zambia at the time was Arthur Broadbridge. It was the darkest moment in his long life as a diplomat.

Born in England, Arthur grew up on a lonely farm in Saskatchewan. His daily six-kilometre trek to school relieved the isolation. There were also country dances. In 1930, Arthur's mother sent her shy, teenage son to a masquerade in the village. To his humiliation, she dressed him as a beer stein overflowing with froth. "It wasn't an easy costume to dance in," Arthur said wryly.

In 1932, the family scraped together the money to buy their 17-year-old son a year of teachers' training. His first job was in a one-room school in Bradgate, where teaching was complicated by a lack of books and supplies. But he was lucky to have work during the Depression.

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Arthur moved to larger schools on the Saskatchewan Prairies. In 1941, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and went to Vancouver to study a new, top-secret technology called radar. Leaving for England in 1942, Arthur served on coastal defence there until he was sent to Africa and participated in the invasion of Sicily and mainland Italy. Arthur was assigned to a multinational tactical support unit that moved northward through Italy from 1943 to 1945. He was honoured by a mention in dispatches.

Arthur came home and married Mavis Davies, who had worked with him as a teacher before the war. They had three daughters - Susan, Wendy and Jennifer. Arthur graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a master's degree in history. He was appointed assistant archivist at the Saskatchewan Archives and, in 1949, was invited to join the foreign service. His postings over the next 28 years included Chicago, Washington, Cairo, Berlin and Lusaka.

In 1977, Arthur retired to Cobourg, Ont. Mavis died that year. Arthur returned to his academic roots as a historian, writing two books: The Church of St. Peter, Cobourg, Ontario, 1867-1978 and a memoir called Early Days . In 1981, he married Ada Uren, widow of a diplomatic colleague. Ada died in 2004 after a series of strokes.

In his final years, Arthur remained a brave, engaged and hospitable man. The qualities he honed as a farm boy in Saskatchewan, teacher in the backwoods and Canadian representative to the world lasted him to the end of his days.

Janet Uren is Arthur's stepdaughter.

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