Orillia Honors WWII Hero with New Waterfront Monument, Sole Survivor Recounts Fateful Day

Orillia, Ontario — A poignant chapter in Orillia’s history was honored on Sunday as the city commemorated the unveiling of a new World War II monument dedicated to the tragic explosion of the Fairmile Q116. This event was particularly significant as Norman Johnstone, the last living witness and survivor of the incident, was present among the hundreds of spectators and officials gathered at the scenic waterfront ceremony.

The monument serves as a somber reminder of October 13, 1943, when a deadly explosion claimed the life of 16-year-old Stanley Peacock, an air cadet from Orillia who was working as an electrician’s apprentice on the ship. The tragedy also left six men with severe injuries.

During the unveiling, 97-year-old Johnstone, who was also onboard during the explosion, shared his harrowing experience with attendees. He vividly recounted how the explosion tore through the engine room, violently ripping apart the ship’s planking. The force of the blast was so powerful that it hurled Peacock nearly 80 feet from the vessel, while Johnstone himself was blown back by about 12 feet.

Rob McCron, curator of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 34 Museum, highlighted the heroism displayed during the incident. He noted that two firefighters were awarded King George medals for their acts of bravery. These individuals not only rescued several crew members but also prevented the fire from spreading further, saving much of the waterfront area.

The Q116, despite its catastrophic damage, was rebuilt and eventually launched as the last Fairmile ship constructed in Simcoe County. After its repair, it was rechristened the H.M.C.S. Reindeer and continued to serve on the Great Lakes during the war.

The new monument not only commemorates the young lives altered and lost but also celebrates the communal resilience and heroism that arose from the ashes of that fateful day. It stands as a historical testament to the sacrifices made by those at the Orillia waterfront during World War II, ensuring their legacy endures for future generations.

This memorial symbolizes the importance of remembering our past, no matter how painful, to honor those who have suffered and those who rose to the occasion with valor. It also serves as a beacon of the enduring spirit of the Orillia community and its strong links to Canada’s broader wartime contributions and sacrifices.