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J. Arthur (Art) Hawtin

RCAF officer, prisoner of war, teacher, rancher. Born on Nov. 12, 1921, in Kinmount, Ont.; died on Dec. 9, 2014, in Orillia, Ont., of cancer, aged 93.

As a boy in the 1920s and '30s, Arthur Hawtin's favourite activity was to travel with his father from their home in Beaverton, Ont., to the ranch lands of Carden Township, northeast of Lake Simcoe. There they walked for hours, checking long stretches of wooden fences and searching for any wandering cattle from their herd at the Windmill Ranch, which the family operated for nine decades.

Arthur was always proud that, years later, he could share the peacefulness and natural beauty of his 1,600 acres of the Carden Alvar with his wife, their three children, and four grandchildren. As he reflected on the calmness of the area, he often referred to himself as "one of the lucky ones."

He was in high school when the Second World War began; after graduating he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, alongside his older brother George, and trained as a navigator. In the spring of 1943, when Arthur was 21, his plane was shot down over Nazi-occupied Holland. For the next two years he was a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III near Sagan, Germany, the site of what became known as the Great Escape in March, 1944. As he later recalled, "The morning after the Great Escape, we stood [outside] for hours. We didn't know what they were going to do with us."

Uncertainty about the future was a challenge for him. "You had to make the best of [life in the camp," he remembered. "We organized sports, lectures, theatre, and band to pass the time." He particularly enjoyed a lecture given by a Texan who talked about cattle ranching. Arthur's letters to his parents were always optimistic: "Hope the cattle are doing O.K. and that I'll take over soon," he wrote in 1943.

As Soviet troops neared the camp in January, 1945, the prisoners were force-marched out, first to a naval jail, then deeper into Germany; Arthur was liberated by British troops in May, and he was soon home in Beaverton. Over the next five years he started a lumber business with brother George, married Noreen Williamson, and earned a forestry degree from the University of Toronto.

Arthur ranched with his father, and later with Noreen, until his late 80s. Then, he was pleased to see the unique lands of the ranch come under the protection of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Couchiching Conservancy and other groups for future generations of nature lovers and bird watchers to enjoy.

In 2004, 61 years after bailing out of his fiery plane, Arthur and Noreen were invited to the Netherlands, where they visited the site where he went down. "You can still see the dent in the ground where the plane crashed," he noted in amazement. As the senior surviving officer, he had to identify the bodies of his three crew mates for Nazi authorities. "We were all in our early 20s. They were all fine boys," he once recalled.

His appreciation for young people continued through his career as a math teacher at Brock High School in Cannington, from 1957 to 1973. For years after he retired from teaching, former students would update him about their lives. Whether he heard stories of accounting careers or motherhood, he was always pleased if they were happy.

He was once asked, "What was your happiest day?" Without hesitation, he replied: "Each day." When he passed away, peacefully from cancer, Noreen, his wife of 66 years, was by his side. Family and friends know we were the lucky ones to have him in our lives.

Janet Hawtin is Arthur's daughter.

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