This article is a departure from previous biographical pieces about the soldiers of the 18th Battalion because of the personal experiences of the author in the geographic area in which this story unfolds. Thus, it is more personal and subjective with the attendant personal observations and valuations of someone that has been there and has a familiarity with the area.
Special thanks to Steve Clifford for pointing me in the right direction for sources. His kindness in helping me is much appreciated and without this help this part of the 18th Battalion’s history would have remained uknown.
Thanks to my parents and their generosity the privilege of boating and vacationing in the Georgian Bay area was part of the many wonderful life experiences I have experienced.
Georgian Bay is a large bay to the east of the main body of Lake Huron and is part of the Great Lakes system of lakes geographically located approximately 760 kilometers west of Quebec City and the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean Its 15,000 square kilometers of area include the rock of the Canadian Shield and one of the longest fresh water beaches in the world and has areas of marked demarcation between the deciduous forests of Southern Ontario.
The specific areas that I experienced and are related to the area in the south-eastern part of the Bay bounded by Christian Island to the west, the towns of Penetang to the south and Midland to the west, and Fryingpan Island to the north.
Georgian Bay is a place of beauty and history. The Western European involvement in this area began with the creation of a Jesuit Mission on the Wye River, east of current day Midland, Ontario, in 1639. The Mission of Sainte-Marie was established to minister to the indigenous Huron population and was to only last a decade when it was abandoned due to tribal conflict with the Iroquois. Its location at the base of Georgian Bay had strategic value to the French traders as their route to and from their base in Quebec City, and later, Montreal was important as the way the waterways, lakes and rivers co-joined to allow the movement of trade goods and furs between the interior of the Canadian wilderness to the mercantile center of the French Colonial presence in North America.
Then, as now, the Bay is not to be trifled with. It is a body of water with a beauty hard to describe to those not present as its geographic mix of the softwood forests of Southern Ontario demarcated with a line where the coniferous forests and the granite of the Canadian Shield begins. This is readily evident at Beausoleil Island (part of the Georgian Bay Islands National Park) where the south part of the island is covered with trees and grasses of the southern Ontario and climes and then, suddenly and dramatically, the land changes to the that of the Canadian Shield with its multi-coloured granite rock and denser collection of coniferous trees.
With this beauty comes an often-under-estimated danger. The waters of Georgian Bay are fraught with dangers. Shoals, hidden rocks, and other hazards to navigation abound and even in today’s world of GPS navigation and charts often seen at the marinas about the region are boats having their propellers and lower-end units repaired or replaced due to a moments inattention or a captain’s misjudgement during navigation or maneuvering. The Bay claims lives every year from these hazards and the sudden, changing weather of the Great Lakes Region.
It is in the context of a time before these sophisticated tools of navigation that our story ensues…
Lieutenant William Sinclair McClinton[i]
William Sinclair McClinton was born in Elmvale, Ontario January 24, 1894 to a family deeply involved and embedded with social, religious, and political environment of the Elmvale and Midland area. Dr. McClinton’s father was Dr. J.B.H. McClinton and it from news numerous news articles from the Barrie Examiner and the Northern Advance from 1910 to 1940 both men were newsworthy for their contributions to the community. Dr. McClinton’s father was intimately involved with education, religion (especially the local Presbyterian ministry) while Dr. W.S. McClinton was known for his involvement with sports (baseball, golf, and hockey), medicine, and his military career.
Lt. McClinton was active in the local militia, with experience with the 35th and 48th Regiments and was a medical student (University of Toronto, class of 1917) when he enlisted with the 4th Battalion at Valcartier, Quebec on August 22, 1914. He was on strength with that unit until September 21, 1914. It is unclear from his service records but he is released from the 4th Battalion to be attached to the 35th Simcoe Foresters from January 18, 1915 to November 1915 and was shown on the 37th Battalion paylists. Lt. McClinton is mentioned in several articles while he is serving with the 37th Battalion. The Barrie Examiner edition dated February 25, 1915 lists him as being a member of the 3rd Contingent and then later, on April 1, 1915 Lt. McClinton went to Toronto, Ontario at Exhibition Park for a 10-day special course focusing on musketry. His service record show him being attested Niagara Camp on June 19, 1915.
Embarking in Canada on November 27, 1915 Lt. McClinton trained until ordered to join the 18th Battalion on April 15, 1916 and he joined the Battalion in the field the very next day. He served with the 18th Battalion until he December 17, 1916 where he was tasked with returning to Canada to complete his medical studies.
During that time, Lt. McClinton distinguished himself during a trench raid on the night of July 26/27 as the “bombing officer” and from this action he earned the Military Cross:
For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led a bombing attack on an enemy trench with great courage and determination. He displayed great courage and determination throughout and set a splendid example.
Military Cross Citation. London Gazette. No. 29824. 14/11/16. Page 11079
From this front-line experience, Lt. McClinton transited back to Canada and was struck off strength with the C.E.F. January 9, 1917 to complete his four year medical studies eventually serving in the Canadian Army Medical Corp, District No. 2 (Toronto, Ontario). He was married to Clara Crawford in Toronto July 27, 1918[ii] and was demobilized in Ottawa on November 7, 1919.
In the 1920’s the now Doctor “Doc” McClinton attended to the practice of medicine and took to sport, especially baseball and hockey. From the social columns, Dr. and Mrs. Clinton lived first in Oro Station, just north-east of Barrie, Ontario and then took up residence in Midland some time prior to 1926.
On the last day of October in 1930, very late in the season, Dr. McClinton and two other men went out in a 24-foot motor launch to do some fishing. They left Penetang/Penetanguishine and traveled out of the deep, protective bay past Magazine Island, so named as it was used to store ammunition for the naval establishment there during the early 1800s, and once out of the bay they passed Whisky Island, so named as smugglers were purported to hide liquor on this island. The launch probably passed to the east side of the island and proceeded roughly north-north-east until they passed the southern tip of Beausoleil Island and turned west. By the time the were even with Sawlog Bay the waves would have increased in height as the prevailing westerly winds have a clear reach between Giants Tomb Island lying north of the mainland. The wave would have whitecaps and a wave length and amplitude would determine how much water they
shipped. It is most likely that they passed to the south of Giants Tomb Island[iii] unless on of the party had superior knowledge of the waters to the north of the island as the water is shallower and there are hidden shoals and other hazards. Once past the southern tip of Giants Tomb their boat would turn right and head north to The Watches, a set of rock outcrops approximately 4.5 miles north-west of the northern tip of Giants Tomb. This was their final destination as they planned to fish in the shoals of The Watches.
The party fished and was successful catching some fish. They lunched but, as apt to occur anytime of the year, the weather changed and out in that exposed area their concern for their safety motivated them to start the return journey back to Penetanguishine. From their previous route, they now had ten miles of exposed navigating with, mostly likely, a following sea which can make the handling and the motion of a vessel very unpredictable.
It was during this return trip the Dr. McClinton disappeared and drowned.
The news story outlines the testimony of the other men of the party and it brings up several questions. They relate that they realized that Dr. McClinton was missing and that, “As he did not return his companions went aft to see what was keeping him, but his cap floating some distance behind…” Later in the news article A.L. Fitzgerald estimates that up to 5 minutes may have passed before his companion, Sheppard, noticed Dr. McClinton missing.
This is a curious statement. The men relate that they realized that Dr. McClinton was missing and that at some time, not clearly determined in the news article, they saw his cap floating in the water. They also admit that up to 5 minutes may have elapsed from the time that Dr. McClinton went aft to see after the fish and him going overboard.
The reason for concern in regards to this information is based on several factors. Assuming a speed of ten miles-per-hour on the return trip their boat would have traveled approximately 8/10ths of a mile (4,399 feet/1341 meters). Turning the launch about and attempting to retrace its path precisely is impossible at that time. There were not precise aids to navigate a return heading and with the waves and distances between landmarks, coupled with other barriers to visibility (the precise state of the weather conditions is unknown) would have made it a near miracle to discover a hat floating on the water. Even finding something lying on the surface under such conditions is near impossible. The article does not state if Fitzgerald and Sheppard retrieved the hat. It would be interesting to know if they did.
Time would have been of the essence. The waters of the Bay at that time are typically 8.7 degrees Celsius and can be as low as 4.2 degrees Celsius. Even at the higher of the two temperatures hypothermia can lead to exhaustion or unconsciousness in 30 to 60 minutes and with an expected survival time of one to three hours.[iv] Given the sea state and winds, coupled with the imprecise return route finding it is unlikely that Ferguson or Sheppard would have found Dr. McClinton, assuming he was still swimming or floating on the surface. As the article makes no mention of Dr. McClinton wearing any manner of personal flotation device and given the era of the accident the likelihood that he was wearing a life jacket is negligible. The men searched for Dr. McClinton for “45 minutes” where they called off their search. It is not clear why they did so but a statement later in the article indicates that the weather got so bad that, “It was considered unsafe for launches to venture beyond the gap on Friday afternoon or night…” The authorities considered the weather so bad that they secured a 36-foot launch, and later the Canadian Coast Guard tug, The Murray Stewart[v], with an overall length of 119 feet was considered necessary given the state of the water.
It is in this context that the tragedy of Lieutenant McClinton is very real to me. Having navigated the waters he did and had been out on Georgian Bay in a 24-foot-boat solo as late in the season as our Canadian Thanksgiving. If someone has swum in relatively shallow waters off Giant’s Tomb during a Victoria Weekend in May and feeling just how cold the water was then one’s imagination can extrapolate how cold the water would have been that Canadian Thanksgiving as I navigated our 24-foot power boat from Penetang to Twelve Mile Bay. It is not hard to imagine how long one would have survived if they had fallen overboard.
The weather is remarkably changeable in this region. It can be benign and balmy and then convective heating in the summer results in thunderheads and then storms and the winds can become up to hurricane force in very little time. The fishing party experienced such a change and even in a twenty-four-foot boat decided that the better part of valour necessitated a return to safer waters. It is impossible to determine the sea-state at the time of the accident and one has to imagine the breaking of the white-caps and the unpredictability of waves created by a sudden increase in wind velocity. The boat was probably pitching fore and aft; side to side, and off the beam making it hard to move about the boat and a sudden unexpected pitching motion from an unexpected quarter could have led to the demise of Lieutenant McClinton.
The weather quickly became so bad that the search party was called off and they waited for the arrival of larger boats to search and recover the body. There was even an attempt to use a boat with portholes in the hull and dynamite[vi] to raise the body and the search went on for ten days after the disappearance of Dr. McClinton, with no result.[vii]
This tragedy is representative of the dangers of Georgian Bay and is a sad end to a valiant and popular soldier and citizen. The tragedy was further deepened with no body being recovered and eventually the efforts for finding the deceased ended as the time from the accident increased and the approach of winter weather and freeze-up would prevent any further recovery efforts.
To add further to the pain of the family Dr. McClinton’s body was recovered off Fryingpan Island, approximately 14 miles from the Watches, though he probably fell overboard south of The Watches. This discovery instigated Mr. Sheppard, one of the party in the boat during the fishing trip, proceeding to the area with an Officer Wright from Midland to identify the body. After the confirmation of the body’s identity the family had a private service at their home and Dr. McClinton’s body was interned at the Quaker Hill Cemetery in Uxbridge, Ontario.
When researching the soldiers of the 18th Battalion there are times that the events and places these men experience and lived are far away. There is not point of reference as I am not a person of the early 20th Century in Canada. Dr. McClinton’s story is very tangible and accessible. I have shipped water during a very windy day with the sea state such that the incorrect loading of the vessel I was piloting had the potential of causing problems with water broaching into the cabin and damaging the engine. Our boat cruised out to Hope Island and no further into the open portion of Georgian Bay proper as a precaution in case the weather changed. The weather has changed to a blowing gale lifting furniture and throwing it meters from where it was and having to set out to the dock during this storm to assess and secure our boat so it did not break free.
Georgian Bay has a beauty all its own. It is not, necessarily, any more beautiful than other rough, remote areas of the world but it does express through its power in the weather the harsh fact that even though you may be only 10 miles from a town of a reasonable size and facilities there is no one there that can help you fast enough if you encounter trouble. Dr. McClinton and his compatriots did not have the benefit of two-way radio, global positioning systems, and other technologies but note that even with these technologies the Bay is no a forgiving Mistress. If the weather is bad that technology makes our inadequacy against nature more noticeable.
Dr. McClinton passes into history. He led a vibrant life. Active in local sports, community and military life he joined the 1st Contingent in a bid to go “over there” but his previous military experience and education slated him to become an officer. He served with distinction and survived the trenches and was transferred to the C.A.M.C. so he could use his medical skills in Canada. His family’s stature and activities in community and religious life was marked by numerous article and updates in the Barrie, Ontario newspapers.
Married for twelve years it appears that Dr. McClinton and Clara McClinton had no children and this only serves to make the drowning of Dr. McClinton more tragic.
[i] A note on sources. Thanks to Steve Clifford (Twitter at @jake_a_loo and his very, very good web site at https://militaryandfamilyhistory.blog ) for referring the author to www. http://search.ourontario.ca for news articles pertaining to the McClintons. From one article Steve referred me to a plethora of interesting and illuminating news articles spanning the life of Dr. McClinton allowed me to get a better picture of the man and the times in which he lived. The Barrie Library has a key word searchable database for newspapers and the articles can be saved in PDF electronic format for future reference.
[ii] Northern Advance. August 8, 1918. Page 9.
[vi] The use of dynamite to recover bodies was used in the 1800s to approximately 1950s. See Means to recover Ottawa County native’s body is explosive for more information.
[vii] Dynamite Fails to Raise Doctor’s Body. Via the Midland Free Press from the Barrie Examiner Page 3. The date at the source indicates November 27, 1930. This date may be correct but is almost a month after the drowning.
Transcriptions and Images of News Articles
MIDLAND M.D. FALLING OFF BOAT, DROWNS
Dr. William S. McClinton Meets Death on Fishing Trip
ACCIDENT NOT SEEN
Two Companions Busy in Front of Launch Fail to Notice.
William S. McClinton, Midland well known physician, sportsman and military man, met death by drowning last Friday while on a fishing trip on the Georgian Bay.
Leaving Penetang at 9.30 on Friday morning in a 24-foot launch, Dr. McClinton, with A.L. Fitzgerald and T.C. Sheppard, of Penetang, proceeded to the shoals near the Watches about 13 miles from Midland and 6 miles north-west of Giant’s Tomb. The reached the fishing grounds safely where they had some good sport. After they had their lunch the weather became heavy and they decided to turn back. Hardly had they started on their homeward trip when Dr. McClinton left his friends in the cabin to see that their catch, near the back of the boat was safe. As he did not return his companions went aft to see what was keeping him, but his cap floating some distance behind, told its own story of the disaster. The launch was turned about at once, but no human being could live more than a few minutes in the icy waters and no trace of him could be found though his companions cruised about for 45 minutes.
“On the way home I was steering the boat,” said A.L. Fitzgerald. “McClinton had just eaten his lunch and was sitting somewhere beside Sheppard, then he went back.”
“The roar of the engines and the continual splash of the wave would make it impossible to hear a call or splash of anyone falling overboard. When McClinton went back, Sheppard saw him. I didn’t see him go. There was no yell or sound. Between the time he went overboard and the time we missed him may have been five minutes. I’ve no way of telling.
“When Sheppard yelled that McClinton had gone I was stunned frozen at the wheel.”
It was considered unsafe for launches to venture beyond the gap on Friday afternoon or night, and no provision is made for securing tugs to meet conditions of this nature, no boats were sent out until Saturday when a 36-foot launch was despatched, carrying Provincial Officer Harry Wright and others, and another boat left Penetang. The body has not yet been recovered.
Dr. W.S. McClinton, only son of Dr. and Mrs. J.B.H. McClinton, was born at Elmvale. He served with distinction in the Great War and on returning from overseas went into practice in Midland with his father. Keenly interested in sports, he excelled in various games. When a student in Toronto he was one of the best amateur boxers in Ontario. His last visit to Barrie was a few weeks ago when he acted as referee for the boxing bouts in the armouries. Some years ago he was pitcher for the Midland baseball team and was also a hockeyist. He was a member of the Midland Golf Club and was a keen hunter and fisherman. Dr. McClinton had many friends and to them his death came as a great shock.
Some years ago he married Miss Clara Crawford, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Crawford of Oro Station who survives him. They had no family.
Source: The Barrie Examiner. November 6, 1930. Page 1. Found by Steve Clifford via Twitter @jake_a_loo .
Dynamite Fails to Raise Doctor’s Body.
(Midland Free Press)
Efforts to location the body of the late Dr. W.S. McClinton, who drowned off The Watches, on Friday, October 31, are being continued every day when the weather will allow boats to operate on the shoals of that area.
Last Saturday the Government boat, “Murray Street,” went out to assist the searchers and during that day about thirty charges of dynamite were exploded but without producing any results. The boat returned to the scene on Monday.
Men and boats are continually on the look out at The Watches and patrol the area every day weather permits and will remain there for another ten days in the hope of recovering the body.
Every know means has been used in finding a boat with glass port holes in the bottom, but without results.
Source: Barrie Examiner. November 27, 1930. Page 3. (Note that this article appears almost one month after the drowning. It is unknown why it was published this date.)
BODY OF MIDLAND DOCTOR IS FOUND
Dr. W. McClinton Drowned October 31st, Found on Thursday Last
Over nine months after he had been drowned in Georgian Bay, the body of Dr. W.S. McClinton was found on Thursday last on the shore of a small island, near Copperhead, 15 miles north of where the drowning occurred. A resident of Frying Pan Island, Mr. McNamara, found the remains floating on the shore on one of the smaller islands in the vicinity and notified the Provincial Police in Parry Sound, who in turn communicated with Officer Wright, at Midland. On Friday morning Mr. T. Sheppard, Penetang, left by boat and identified the body as that of McClinton. It was brought to Midland by steamer from Parry Sound. After being prepared at the undertaking parlors, the remains where taken to the home of the deceased’s parents, Dr. J.B.H. McClinton, where a private service was held Monday morning and internment made at Quaker Hill Cemetery near Uxbridge.
Was on a Fishing Trip
On Friday, October 31, of last year, the late Dr. McClinton, with Mr. A.L. Fitzgerald and T.C. Sheppard, of Penetang, went out in a launch for a fishing trip near the Watches, about 15 miles from Midland, and about 6 miles from Giant’s Tomb. They were on the homeward trip when Dr. McClinton left his companions in the cabin to see that their catch of fish in the stern of the launch was safe, as the weather was rough. He had only been gone a few minutes when his companions went aft and his floating cap told its story.
The launch was immediately turned, but a diligent search of the immediate vicinity failed to disclose any trace of him, as it was impossible to live for a few minutes in the icy waters.
Rough weather made it unsafe for small crafts to venture outside until Saturday, when Provincial Officer Harry Wright and a party of searchers went to the scene of the accident, while other boat went from Penetang.
In the succeeding days every available means, including airplanes and a specially constructed boat with portholes in the bottom, were used in an effort to recover the body, and several parties of searchers, including Provincial Officer Wright, spend days combing the area with grappling irons, but the rough nature of the bottom made the work difficult.
Even after heavy weather forced the searchers to abandon their task, watchers were kept along the shores in the vicinity for several day[s] in the hope the body would be washed ashore.
The late Dr. W.S. McClinton was born in Elmvale in 1895. He distinguished himself in his university course, and again in the great war, winning the Military Cross. Since the war he had practiced in Midland, where he took a keen interest in sports, hunting, fishing etc. He is survived by his wife, formerly Clara Crawford of Oro, and his parents Dr. J.B.H. and Mrs. McClinton.
Source: Northern Advance. August 13, 1931. Page 1.